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Comment: Beer Festivals

As craft beer gets more popular, hits the mainstream and gains a wider audience, so appear the beer festivals.

I love beer festivals. What’s not to love? Lots of different breweries offering up a range of their beers. And often with the brewer serving. At the very least a knowledgeable staff member.

They are also great social events, and provide a nicely relaxed atmosphere to catch up with some friends.

And when they are combined with good food, then it’s almost nirvana. I’m still waiting though for the Bacon and Beer festivals to arrive from the US to reach that final plane.

DSC_5329v2I spent most of this past Saturday at the Bites & Brews Laneway Festival in Brisbane, the latest in a number of beer related festivals happening across the country. And it showed what is great, as well as what is bad amongst the current style of running beer (and food) festivals.

The Beer Festival

Firstly, just having a craft beer festival is great. The more the better. And where that festival takes place under the auspices of a large corporate entity it is even better. It shows that the tide is turning.

PosterThe Bites & Brews Laneway Festival took place at the Shafston Hotel. Not known (at all) for any craft beer, they made the effort to put on a decent craft beer festival. And coupled it with some excellent food trucks that regularly do the rounds of the local craft beer breweries.

I think this is a great move forward in expanding the reach of craft beer beyond the bearded ones into the mainstream. The vast majority of the visitors on Saturday were san beards. In fact, the majority were women, a demographic that most craft beer breweries haven’t quite understood, and certainly aren’t aiming any products or advertising at attracting them.

Festival Layout

Most festivals seem to take place outdoors with the breweries given one of those 3 metre by 3 metre tent stalls. And there they all are in a line, often spread out over several locations selling their wares individually.

DSC_5333v2How can anyone think that this is a great layout? It may be easy and simplistic for the organiser, and allows them to generally charge a fee, but it’s not customer friendly at all. The popular breweries end up with large queues, whilst those in poor locations round the corner at the end, reach fewer people and sell less beer. No-one wins.

The best festivals take place indoors with one (maybe two) bars. The layout of pubs and hotels hasn’t come about by accident. Why not just replicate that layout in an indoor environment? Especially in the Queensland summer, or the Victorian winter.

Use the outdoor areas for seating (of which later).

Probably the best Australian beer festival is the Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular (GABS) in Melbourne each year. It is held indoors, has a couple of bars and has the beer served direct from chilled storage areas. It works. Copy it.

Which brings me onto beer quality

Beer Quality

Being outdoors in the Queensland summer where the temperature is well over 30 degrees Celsius means that the breweries spend most of their time desperately trying and keep the beer cold– both in the keg and then through the serving tap using more ice in an esky.

Add in direct sunlight, and the beer is often served well above ideal temperatures, which is not the best way to showcase craft beer to a new audience.
And if that first taste is bad, then there’s a potential long term customer lost for a long time, if not forever.

Set up a bar with chilled storage and serve the beer properly.

Beer Tokens

I really dislike tokens. First you have to queue to buy them, and then queue again to get your beer.

And then it’s never as simple as one token one beer. There is some unknown weird formula equating beer tokens to different beers. There’s a research project there for someone to work out the correlation.

Why do festivals use paper tokens? Is it another way for the organiser to make extra profit?

Especially at those festivals that won’t exchange any left-over tokens back into cash. And do the breweries actually get 100% of the money, or does the organiser keep a percentage back? Presumably for “admin” and “printing”.

What’s wrong with cash? Seems to work well in pubs and bars?

Seating

I can never understand why there is never enough seating provided.

DSC_5326v2If you want people to stay around and try the beer (and food), then the provision of enough seating seems blindingly obvious. Plus a few tables might help. On Saturday I saw people using wheelie bins as tables to “enjoy” their food.

Save on the hire of the tent stalls and hire seats, tables and shade covers/umbrellas. People will be more comfortable, stay longer and spend more. Simple.

Entrance fees

A big plus for the Bites & Brews Laneway Festival is that it did not charge an entrance fee.

Most do, and it can be anything from a gold coin donation to $25/$30 a head. With such a wide disparity in entrance fees it becomes fairly obvious that this is clearly a huge profit making element for those that charge.

For those organisers that genuinely in the game of promoting craft beer, then don’t charge an entrance fee. Unless you are really offering a good deal with it, such as a set number of beer tastings or a meal. “Entertainment” also isn’t a reason to charge an entrance fee.

Entertainment

Again this festival laid on music. Music is great, and adds to the ambiance and relaxed atmosphere.

But why does it have to be amplified to the extent that no one can hear each other talk? What is wrong with providing acoustic sets that provide a nice background sound to people discussing the beer they are drinking?

At a beer festival, the beer should be the focus. It’s not a gig where you are going to see the band. They are there to encourage to stay and enjoy the event, not try and be the focus.

Overall, I thought that this craft beer festival was a success.

Certainly the number of people attending seemed large, and everyone looked like they were enjoying themselves.

And for a corporate entity like the Shaftston Hotel to play host to a beer festival is a great leap in getting a wider audience to try, taste and enjoy craft beer.

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