Well, the Great British Beer Festival yesterday was surprisingly good fun. I've never really been much of an ale drinker, but +Jenny Blacker
wanted to go and a bunch of friends (including +Terence Eden
and +Paul Morris
) were gonna be there, so I figured why not.
As a newbie to ale-drinking, the variety of beers was fantastic — I learnt a lot more about my tastes in ales and was able to sip from the choices of my friends as well, so got to try nearly a couple of dozen ales.
It's a feat of organisation, I know. Having done a tiny part of the organisation of a beerfest at university, I know it really is a lot
of work. And so I should be grateful to Camra for that.
However, I still felt that some things were done because of tradition and that the target audience for decisions were the ale drinkers of a decade or two ago — the stereotypical "bearded old men" — rather than those of us new to ale, those of us responsible for the 40-percentile increase in off-sales of ales — as opposed to the 40-percentile drop in on-sales, as fewer "bearded old men" go to the pub every night and fewer pubs stock the ales we seek to enjoy.
I was disappointed at the utter illogicality of bar layout. Beers were sorted into bars that were alphabetised by county. So Bedfordshire, Berkshire and Cumbria were together with Ayrshire & Arran; Cornwall, Cheshire and Derbyshire were together. But Devon was on the next bar, along with Dumfries & Galloway, East Sussex and East Yorkshire. Presumably, this is how it's always been done. Heaven forfend that perhaps we have the bars ordered geographically? So I could enjoy some Westcountry ales over here
and some Scottish ones over there?
Or maybe golden ales over here
and porters and stouts over there,
Apparently, there are usually ladies' tasting sessions, but they couldn't fit them in this time. Because helping new people who like ale enough to come to a beerfest but are overwhelmed by the selection isn't a priority? Particularly when beers are marketed quite so bloody awfully with sexism abounding.
And then there's the online presence. Now I know that GBBF is mainly run by volunteers; something of this size needs to be, frankly, otherwise the cost would be prohibitive. I know that Camra couldn't afford to hire an agency to builds them a shiny data-driven site, for example. But they don't need to — out of my circle of friends alone, I can think of enough people who like ale enough that they would sacrifice some free time to put together something that allowed one to search for ales on varying criteria. Sure, being able to search by brewery and by bar are important. But what about by bitterness and sweetness? By beer type? By ABV even? Why did they not get in touch with Untappd.com and do some kind of customised site (where you don't have to enter the location and it only lists beers they have there, for example). But the only list of beers being in an crappy Flash magazine of the event guide is, frankly, shameful and illegally inaccessible; it was difficult to use even for me, who only has mild accessibility issues. And lets not talk about their retweeting.
Now don't get me wrong, it was really good to get the opportunity to sample so many beers and, as a result, realise that I do
like ale; it's just I didn't know what to try. I went because my wife likes ale and I thought it'd be interesting enough a day with a few things I could drink, with a handful of friends. Contrary to my expectations, though, I had an exceptional day, tasted some amazing ales and discovered that I actually really enjoy quaffing some of them.
But I think much of my enjoyment was in spite of
the efforts of Camra, not because of them. Still, it was a great day, and lots of it was really well done. The food was awesome, the beers I tried were fantastic, and I never realised that Ade Edmonson's band was quite so bloody awesome.