Beer festivals are big business for pubs and venues, this is the only conclusion given the number of such events which take place every year.  Just in Calderdale alone there is at least one beer festival every week somewhere in the area during peak season which generally runs from May until October.  One weekend in Halifax there were 3 festivals within half a mile of each other on the same day.  You can do a pub crawl any day of the week, but rarely do you get the chance to do a beer festival crawl.

Some pubs are taking their beer festivals on tour, with the Ship Inn in Brighouse hosting a successful event recently at Bailiffe Bridge.   However the key stone of the beer festival scene is still the pub based festivals, and local pubs are rather good at these with recent successes including the Red Roosters Septoberfest and the Stubbing Wharf’s Applefest.  If you can serve good beer throughout the year, like many local pubs do as I mentioned last week, then you have the solid foundations for hosting a beer fest.

The number of big beer festivals are growing as well with the number of venue based events, as opposed to the smaller pub based events, increasing every year.  The big mainstream event of the year is the Great British Beer Festival hosted by CAMRA in London every August, with 50,000 visitors over 5 days trying around 800 beers, ciders and ales.  However this year a smaller event in Manchester tried something different at the Independent Manchester Beer Convention (or IndyManBeerCon to its friends).

I’ll declare that I am writing about this as a third party observer as I left it too late to book time off work to attend the friday and had commitments on the Saturday.  However it is an event I am certain to attend next year.  The event was hosted at the disused Victoria Baths, a perfect example of the grand bathing houses that were typical of the late Victorian / early Edwardian period complete with the ornate brickwork and interior tiling you expect for the time.

12 of the best independant small breweries attended, from the relative large scale operation of Brewdog from Aberdeen to the specialist brewers like Hardknott based in the Lake District as well as some of Huddersfield’s best, Magic Rock and Summer Wine breweries.  The emphasis was on the craft side of the business, which most breweries bringing very limited edition or specially brewed beers to the event.

The event was split into 4 sessions, afternoon and evening on both days, with bars being spread all over the complex, keg and cask being well represented in separate swimming pools, (a phrase you don’t get to type very often)  Bigger brewers like Brewdog had a separate bar in the old sauna and pop up tasting events occurred over the 2 days.   As the event took place the feedback via Twitter and Facebook was mainly positive with queues, the enemy of popular events, being the main complaint.

The first year is always a difficult one to judge for organisers regarding the over / under provision of facilities vs cost of providing them.  At the Ramfest Music Festival I am involved with, we are still honing this skill now coming into our 4th year, so I can excuse a little bit of disorganisation in year one.

Post the event, almost everyone who attended stated their intention to attend next year, the most welcome feedback an event organiser wants to hear.  Tweaks are needed, but there were no show stopping issues.  Some thought it was a bit pricey with prices from £3 to £9 per pint, served in third pint glasses which some people also did not like.  The pricing in my opinion is expected given the nature of the beer being served, the beers generally being small runs with relatively expensive ingredients and / or longer maturation times.   Flexibility in glass sizes to avoid repeated trips to the bar (maybe offer a ? pint glass) would probably be helpful.

On the pricing front, remember you can pay up to £24 a pint in a certain Leeds craft bar (it appears that this is incorrect due to a mistake / misinformation by a member of staff who has now left, actual price is £8.80 a pint as of 24/10/2012) for Magic Rock Human Cannonball, and I paid £8 for a pint of Thornbridge General Sherman when I visited there for my birthday.   The bar in Leeds however is known for its higher prices and the price for the same Magic Rock beer at the Grove in Huddersfield, which is considered the “unofficial brewery tap” by both parties is just over a third of the price, close to the top end of the range at IndyManBeerCon.

There is room for all kinds of beer festivals from 8 pumps at a pub and 25 beers over a weekend, to 800 beers at Olympia.  Whether you want “real ale” as prescribed by CAMRA or want to try craft beer (whatever that is currently defined as), there will be a festival for you.  Enjoy it.