Posts tagged ‘beer festival’

October 22, 2014

Salford Independent Beer Festival

It seems that independence is all the rage when it comes to beer festivals, and as part of the Birmingham Beer Bash team I can’t fault that.  This coming Friday and Saturday sees a newcomer to the scene, the Independent Salford Beer Festival, and scanning through the beer list today there’s an exciting lineup including some of the newest breweries recently to appear in the Manchester area, and others from around the North-west and Yorkshire.  A short bus ride out of central Manchester, at the community centre for which it is raising funds, you can find some fantastic beers for two days only.

Putting on an event like this on any scale as a truly independent venture, is no small undertaking.  The underlying support of a parent organisation (such as CAMRA of course, but also robust charities like the Round Table who are quite possibly second to CAMRA in terms of the number of beer festivals they put their name to) that can provide much needed organisational and logistical support and ultimately carry the burden of any financial loss is not to be underestimated.  Nor are the costs that are involved!  And so when a relatively small and genuinely independent event such as this one at Salford pops up with wholly charitable intentions it deserves special attention.  Especially when you look at the effort that has been put in to make what’s on offer so appealing.

Knowing full well what it is like to be underwriting an event through Messrs Barclaycard* I wish Salford all the very best with their first of hopefully many events.  For all that any organiser can do to put an event together its success is ultimately down to those who choose to attend.  Very reasonably priced tickets are available in advance (check the website – salfordbeerfestival.com – for details and the beer list) so if fancy sampling an excellent selection of beers while supporting a worthy cause then what are you waiting for?  And if you don’t, well what’s wrong with you! 

All credit and every success to Jim (@BeersManchester) and sponsors and others who have provided vital support, for all the effort that has gone into getting the festival off the ground.  Buy a ticket, buy another one for a friend, spend a few hours enjoying some great beer, and support a fine endeavour for a worthy cause.
* other card providers are available

 

 

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August 19, 2013

An “alternative” year

It seems that the year of “alternative”* beer festivals runs from September to August (as opposed to the more compact “season”, which it might be argued goes from March to October).  In the past 12 months there have been, I reckon, seven** debuts.  Three in the North, another three in London and one in the Midlands.  As we approach the end of August we come full circle and it is satisfying to see the first of them coming back round in just a few weeks’ time, marking the start of year two.  To be honest though, looking back on them all it is quite incredible that seven such events all started up within a 12-month period.

I’m sorry to say that I only actually managed to get to three of these this year – IndyMan and Craft Beer Rising, along with (obviously) Birmingham Beer Bash.  That said I’ve seen enough reports from the others to get a real feel for how they all approached the task of being different.  And the thing that really strikes me is just how different they all were.  Yes, there were common aspects, shared aims, but all delivered in a variety of ways.  It’s going to be interesting to see how each one changes in their second year, and I’m confident that most if not all will be back for year two, each bigger and better than the first.  Will there be more?  That remains to be seen.  There are certainly parts of the country that are under-represented but I know from first-hand experience that it takes balls to put something like this on, and financial success – at least in year one – is not guaranteed.

What has certainly been proven this year is that there is a market, an appetite, for something different, and I think it is fair to say that is exactly what has been provided, with a helping of flair.  I look forward to getting to visit a few of the events I missed out on this year.

* I’m refusing to use the “c” word here, while noting that three of the events in question use it in their own names, while one uses it for the legal entity behind the event.  I’d argue that these are all the true beer festivals, rather than the rather more prevalent cask ale festivals, but I’ve done that already, here (https://othertonales.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/so-is-it-a-beer-festival-really).  I find it hard to group things together in this way though without applying some sort of label.

** I struggled over whether Edinburgh, spread across several bars rather than a single venue, fitted into the same mould.  It probably does, but it wasn’t a debut this year, so I’ve not counted it here – I would definitely include it on my calendar of such events for the future though.

August 15, 2013

An admissions admission!

I’d like to think that, amongst the friends I’ve made in life, and particularly amongst the friends I’ve made through my relatively short and occasionally disengaged online life, that I could definitely include the erstwhile blogger @Filrd [don’t worry, I’ll get less sycophantic very quickly!].  An online community may meet once in a blue moon, but the meeting of minds can be a far more frequent occurence.  But there was a moment, back in July 2012, just as we were getting stuck into the planning of Birmingham Beer Bash, when I got really wound up by a relatively innocuous paragraph in a post Phil had written extolling the (undisputable) virtues of the Hawkshead brewery festival that had just taken place.

Looking back now, there’s a hint of the prophetic about it.  Remember that this was before Leeds and Manchester had burst onto the “alternative beer festival” scene just a few months later.  Many more months before Craft Beer Rising and London’s Brewing had provided their own take on the concept, and about a year before Liverpool and finally Birmingham got in on the act.  Why prophetic?  Well, Phil said “Further top marks for the inclusion of a keg bar, YES you read that correctly a KEG BAR at a festival”.

But look at what followed in the next 12 months!  I’d like to hope though, that the readership of this blog wouldn’t mistakenly assume that that was the sentiment I disagreed with.  There was a little bit of a sting in the tail – “with FREE entry too, how novel”.

Bloody hell!  Is this where the bar is now set at?  In setting up a new festival to challenge the old order, do we have to do all of this without even charging for admission?  I’ll be honest, I felt a kick in the teeth, and another one somewhat lower down.  Over the following months, as we looked at the sums involved in putting together a festival, in fact just looking at the cost of hiring a venue, it all felt a bit futile.  Until October.  Until IndyMan.  An event that did the sort of thing what *we* wanted to do, in a way that felt us feel a bit inferior to be honest.  Suddenly the challenge of doing this all without an entry charge went away.  Clearly there *was* a price to be paid for attending a truly amazing festival.  We just had to make sure ours was also (nearly) as amazing.

And, to be fair, I think we may just have done that.

So why, you may ask, is this all coming out now?  Well, it’s been a funny old day, in which the issue of admission charges has been high on my agenda.  I’ll make no pretence of it, we had a bit of a nightmare over our ticketing for the Birmingham Beer Bash.  Naturally we knew we had to prove ourselves, so cost was a big factor.  Perhaps even more important than that was cash flow.  So we made a decision that we had to stick with, through thick and thin.  It proved problematic at best, and verged on disasterous on the event days, but I’d like to think that most people who attended the Bash had no idea about just how much trouble ticketing had caused us.

Let’s be honest, we can’t say for sure that there will be a Beer Bash 2.  Not yet, anyway.  If there is though, I think I can safely say that tonight we may have established who our future ticketing partner is.  And also discovered, thanks to belated news from the High Court, who they won’t be!

 

July 23, 2013

T-3 the build begins

It is both exciting and scary to see the cask and keg bars coming together today. Exciting because we’re getting close, and scary because, well, we’re getting close.

Having that final access to the venue gives some opportunity for getting to grips with some of the last minute details, to make sure that how we planned things is in accordance with how things are, or at least how we can rearrange them to be. You also start to feel a sense of the space for the event, rather than having to imagine it the way you want it. It throws up some interesting alternative views on how things really need to be and makes you question lots of things that you thought were all set and decided on.

It wasn’t just about the bars today, either. The beers are all coming together nicely now, with a few extra deliveries swelling the ranks. No further changes to the beer list but for an additional unexpected offering. Who are we to say no…

 

July 23, 2013

T-4 the road trip

Short and sweet today. We went north, and then east across the Pennines. Huddersfield was the target and we returned with three portions of keg bar and assorted ancillaries. We also returned west with beer from Magic Rock and Northern Monk. The North is, indeed, coming.

Back to Manchester for collections from Blackjack and Marble, plus a dodgy-looking backstreet exchange to take on kegs from Hardknott in the shadow of the railway arches while angry drivers waited for us to move the vans involved in this seemingly illicit deal. At Marble the firkin of Decadence was decanted from a vessel twice its size, the compensation for the Earl Grey IPA having failed to pass the exacting quality control standards. Plus the chance for a taste. If you don’t get the chance to try this at Birmingham Beer Bash then you clearly haven’t been trying hard enough. Wonderous, and exquisite.

Off then to deliver posters to friendly locations in the Northern Quarter, before returning back to the Midlands, ready to deliver to site at the crack of dawn (ish). All in all a lovely day, made even more lovely by ticket sales which went through the roof on what has proved to be our busiest day yet, double any day previously. So many tickets are now on the verge of selling out. That is a brilliant thing.

It was all great. Until later. Until an occurrence which shall remain undisclosed for another week, until I can do it justice.

For now though there is only one focus. Tomorrow (today), Beer Bash hits site.

July 21, 2013

T-6 and T-5 – the calm before the storm?

Well the intention of writing a post a day clearly failed.  To be fair Saturday was somewhat taken up by a barbecue for family, friends, neighbours and those of the Bash team who could make it.  Naturally conversation amongst certain of us was fairly one-tracked, but at this stage in the proceedings there’s only so much you can do by talking.  So T-6 came and went.

Today (well, once again, yesterday, as it is another late finish) has been a day of catching up on emails while I have the chance – for Monday is the start of the real setup activity.  We’re off first thing to collect a few beers and some of the bars, so it’ll be a long day on the road.  I’m sure there will be tweets from the team as we head up to Huddersfield and Manchester and back again, so watch out for news on our progress.

Great news today with the selling out of the second of our two dining sessions.  These are both full up and other than a last minute entry into the competition run with the Birmingham Mail and Post, there simply is no way anyone else can get in.  Tickets have been selling rapidly over the weekend too, and Friday evening and Saturday afternoon sessions are close to selling out.  We’ve had to reduce the number of walk-up tickets we were holding back to keep up with the demand for advance ones, so if these are the sessions that interest you then you really do need to get in there quick.

Also if you are still waiting for your e-tickets to appear in your Inbox, then please take a few moments to check your spam / junk mail folder.  We’ve had a lot of people who hadn’t had their tickets, but once prompted to check they’ve been found in the spam folder.  This isn’t always the case though and so if you still haven’t got your tickets please email us so we can get them resent.

So, not much of an update this time I’m afraid, but watch out for the reports from tomorrow when we start getting really hands on!

July 20, 2013

T-7 (and counting)

Just seven days away now, Birmingham Beer Bash is tangibly close. And because I don’t have much to do in the next week (this may be a lie!) I thought I’d see if I can manage to chronicle the final build-up on a day by day basis. 10 posts see us through to the ‘take down’ and the final party at the end that is hopefully a celebration of a great event.

So today, a week before we open the doors to the public, has also been my last day doing the “day job” for a week and a half.  The last day before going on holiday from work is a busy enough time, but throw in the final preparations for a beer festival and it becomes manic.

After a few days of herculean effort to finalise the programme and get it to the printers (and thanks go to @carldurose in the main
for pulling that all together) it was perhaps inevitable that today would see the last minute changes start to pop up. That’s an obvious risk when you’re publishing a beer list in your programme which has to be printed several days (or two weeks as was the target set by the printers) in advance. So we lost a couple of beers that were planned to be be on the bars. In one case the heat won when our cask decided enough was enough, and “exploded” in transit, in another the beer was found to be just not right before leaving the brewery and so, quite simply, we can’t have it.  But that is good, and fits in entirely with us only wanting to serve the best. And importantly, we’ve made changes as a result that bring in equally worthy alternatives.

The day continued with an ongoing panic as the van belonging to one of our key suppliers closed in on London to collect a range of beers from several breweries. Some of the beer wasn’t in the right place, and moreover we couldn’t get hold of the brewer to confirm where it was! In this case all ended well with an admittedly quite late final pick-up from the last brewery in the capital, and we are very grateful to @realaledirect for their part in bringing together the brilliant beer list we’ve concocted.

So, very conscious that as I write this the time has moved on to day T-6, it is time to close on a busy busy day and prepare for the next. Still much to do, but also a semblance of a normal weekend to maintain.  Monday looms close with the prospect of a Beer Bash road trip to Manchester and Huddersfield, before the start of set-up on Tuesday.  Follow the next instalments for an inside

June 26, 2013

The final countdown…

If you know where to look, as you head south out of Birmingham New Street on the train (just as I did as I wrote this) and glance out of the window at just the right moment, you can briefly follow the canal cutting its way through the back streets of Digbeth.  A building stands proud above the former industrial district currently getting its second wind as a place of business and arts, its upper stories leaning out over the narrow strip of water, a large blue banner hanging down revealing its identity.

The Icehouse, centrepiece of the group of Victorian buildings now known as The Bond Company.  A place of history where once upon a time huge quantities of ice were produced for use in the local markets, surely making it the coolest place around.

Exactly one month from now, once again this site is destined to be the coolest place going as it makes another little dent on history.  The first Birmingham Beer Bash.  July 26th and 27th.

The list of breweries sending beer, and in many cases attending in person, has continued to grow and there are still a handful left to announce. It is, quite frankly, a stunning list, the like of which Birmingham has never seen.  From established breweries that have been at the vanguard of bold and progressive brewing for some time, to some of the new upstarts only recently coming to the scene and even launching their beers at the festival, we think we’ve found some of the best the country has to offer.  We’ve also had to make hard choices about breweries that aren’t there.  It simply wasn’t possible to include everyone we wanted to, but we think we’ve made the right choices and hope you’ll love what we’ve put together.

It isn’t just about drinking great beer though.  The “fringe” programme has been gradually coming together, and a week or so ago we finally announced our headline acts.  The seminars on hops and malt are a unique opportunity to learn more about what goes into the beer in your glass and they’ll both be presented by industry experts, Paul Corbett of Farams and Dom Driscoll of Thornbridge respectively.  We’re about to add to this with the list of tutored tastings that will be taking place throughout the weekend – places will be limited so you’ll need to sign up for these when you arrive at the festival, and if you follow our announcements on Twitter (@BirminghamCubed) and Facebook (BirminghamBeerBash) in the next week or so you’ll soon see why you’d want to do that!

Finally the food.  The beer and food matching dinners, served up by two of Birmingham’s finest chefs – Brad Carter (Carters of Moseley) and Luke Tipping (Simpsons, Edgbaston) – are a gourmet masterpiece and (if it really worked like that) would possibly make us the first Michelin-starred beer festival!  Take a look at the menus on our website and book quickly to avoid missing out on a fabulous opportunity because tickets are selling fast.  There’s also a great selection of local street food from great suppliers so there should be something for everyone.

We’d love to see you there.  All of you.  But we probably can’t fit you all in.  So make sure you get your tickets in advance because there really is no guarantee of tickets being available on the door.  Come and say hi to me (@OthertonAleman) and all of the organising team – Carl (@CarlDurose), Chris (@ckdsaddlers), Dan (@mediocre_dan), David (@mrdavidj), Jen (@ilovecherryreds), Krishan (@StirchleyWines), Shaun (@19irishdragon), Stewart (@TheRealStewbert) and Tim (@PolymathTim).

You might also want to watch out for an article on us and our stunning new poster in the Birmingham Post this week, and if you’re listening to BBC Radio WM on Friday morning you might just hear us on the Adrian Goldberg programme.

30 days to go.  My how time flies!

April 26, 2013

Trials and tribulations

I sort of promised myself after my last post that the next one (i.e. this one) would be about something other than the Birmingham Beer Bash.  It seems I’ve failed.  In my defence, one way or another that event is the main thing that takes up my time at the moment.  The past few weeks have been full of some pretty exciting developments – the list of breweries that have recently been announced for example (not to mention the ones we can’t tell you about yet! There’s more excitement to come there, especially after the news I received just today) and of course the tickets going on sale was a big step forward for us too.  It is a real buzz to see the ticket sales going through and it gives a real sense of things coming together.  This week we’ve sent advertising copy off for our first print ad (watch out for the May issue of Brum Notes!) and we’re getting our first posters up around Birmingham now so that should generate even more interest.

There’s more in the pipeline too.  There are meetings coming up next week that should further develop the beer list, and pull together some of the “fringe” activities that will be taking place.  Then, in just over three weeks I’m due to be heading down to the Beer Geek brewery to rustle up a commercial-sized batch of a saison I originally created at home for the Midland Craft Brewers yeast comparison exercise.  All being well that will make its first appearance on the keg bar at the Beer Bash, which is a fantastic prospect for me albeit one balanced by some very wracked nerves!

But, as the title to this post suggests, it isn’t all plain sailing.  It seems that every day that goes by there is a new concern to address.  Something extra that needs to be considered, a problem that needs to be addressed.  And I don’t mind telling you (as long as you keep it between the two of us) some of them have had the capacity to cause real difficulties.  Fortunately despite the potential impacts, the reality has been that they’ve been solved quietly in the background without too much trouble.  In fact, looking back they can be quite amusing, but that certainly wasn’t the case at the time.

So, I’m relieved to say that after discovering the venue’s premises license didn’t cover one of the two rooms we were basing the whole event around, and furthermore wouldn’t permit us to sell bottles to take away, we are now all sorted out with a Temporary Events Notice that solves both these problems.  And after finding out that there was a (pretty low, in the scheme of things, and rapidly being approached) limit to how much money we could collect through Paypal, we now have our account fully enabled*.  There have also been a few cases of the electronic tickets not getting automatically sent out, but the technical boffins at Event Elephant are looking into it and we will shortly be manually resending them if necessary, so the effect is at least minimised.**

So, despite the odd hiccups, we’re all on track, but there is still plenty to do and only three months in which to do it.  Yes, exactly three months today we’ll be throwing wide the doors and letting you all judge whether we’ve delivered to expectations!  Where has all the time gone?  It doesn’t seem that long ago that this was all just a wild idea in a pub, but that was just over a year ago.  So we’ve just 91 days (yes, I am counting) to put all the final details into place, and I suspect as a result there won’t be much else on my mind for a while yet…

* So, no reason to hold back then – buy your tickets now through the website at birminghambeerbash.co.uk!

** If you have booked tickets but have not received an email with PDF tickets attached, please email us at info@birminghamcraftbeer.co.uk and we’ll make sure you get your tickets once the issue is corrected.

February 12, 2013

Declaration of Independence?

Lying here on my deathbed* I’ve been thinking about what independence means. At least, given the current focus on arranging the Birmingham Beer Bash, what it means in the context of a beer festival. It’s something that has been on my mind for a whiles we do the deals necessary to bring this event together. It’s only when you start to put together the costs for an event like this that you begin to appreciate just how much money is involved. Obviously the idea is not to make a loss, but with most of the income coming from tickets and beer sales, much of which doesn’t come in until the day itself or a short time before, it is an interesting challenge to cover the up front bills that need to be paid.

Most of the groups that put on festivals have the backing of a larger organisation which can underwrite the costs and take much of the risk of losses out of the equation. Such organisations (and yes, we’re primarily talking CAMRA here) also have plenty of resources to call on in terms of equipment such as cask racking etc. Even so, they still generally need sponsorship in order to make sure they are profitable. For smaller groups some breweries have modest resources that can be called on too, but start planning a large independent festival with no initial financial backing and suddenly it is a daunting challenge. The costs involved go into the tens of thousands and a good portion of this is upfront cost.

So, how are we going to deal with this problem? Well, naturally we’ve been seeking to establish some sponsorship deals and it isn’t long now until we’ll be able to announce our main backer, who will be providing a good portion of the infrastructure we need to set up two keg bars and a cask bar with hand pulls, as well as providing the glassware and giving us other valuable support. And there’ll be other sponsors too helping with the costs of different aspects of the event. To be honest, without this the whole thing simply couldn’t go ahead, as we’d have to raise admission prices to the point at which it would start having an adverse effect on attendance, and that still wouldn’t properly address the issue of paying out all those upfront costs.

I started off talking about independence and what that means in this context. When we announce to the world the sponsors that will be supporting us inevitably that will raise questions about what the influence of those supporters is. We are, to some extent, beholden to them because we can’t operate without the support they provide. But just because we have a major supporter backing us, doesn’t mean we don’t retain our independence. The event is still run in accordance with our own principles, and we’ll be making sure that we have a range of beers there that align with those. Some beers will come from those organisations sponsoring us, or from other breweries that they can help bring into the event, but they’ll represent the kind of things we (and hopefully you) want to see at our event.

What does that independence mean to us then? It is the freedom to choose to serve beers irrespective of dispense method, from breweries that convince us they are offering something in line with our aims. It is the opportunity to create an event that is exactly what we want it to be, made possible by the support of organisations that want to be a part of our vision, not them making us a part of theirs. It is Birmingham Beer Bash.

* I’m a man, I have a winter bug, therefore it is correct to assume that I am dying from a rare and untreatable strain of the flu virus.