Posts tagged ‘Birmingham Beer Bash’

March 1, 2014

My, how we changed

I’ve been quite anticipating Boak and Bailey’s “long read” for March 1st, but as it has got closer I’ve drafted and deleted more posts than I think I’ve actually published in the two and a bit years that I’ve been doing this for now. The problem is it keeps turning into a rant – there’s always an underlying point to it but in the effort to keep writing that little bit more it just gets all flabby and unnecessary – a sort of middle aged spread if you will. Or the self-indulgent waffle we’re urged to avoid!  This will be my last effort, boosted by the extra words this explanatory paragraph has added, but if I can’t get to the end of it and be happy with what is written, well you won’t be any the wiser as you won’t be reading this!  By the time (and if) the end is reached it may or may not actually meet the “long” target, but if it doesn’t, well let’s just keep that as our little secret, eh? And it is probably still waffle, and undoubtedly self-indulgent, but you can’t win them all.

Sometimes you really have to stop what you’re doing, lift your head up and look around to realise how much has changed while you’ve been lost in the detail.

Without knowing it at the time, about two years ago I set off on a journey. I met up with some strangers I’d only previously been in contact with through the internet (how many horror stories in tabloids and the coffee table magazine market share that theme!?!) and we had a drink. We had a few more. If I’m honest we got a teeny tiny bit tipsy. And then finished it off by getting drunk. On that day we never discussed doing anything more permanent then maybe doing it all again sometime. But the next time was different. From somewhere we had formed an idea. I don’t know any more where (or who) it came from, or how it got shared, but initially sensible discussions fuelled by beer became bolder. A vision was born. Only an outline at first, blurred but recognisable. We created the Birmingham Beer Bash.*

The lack of variety in Birmingham’s beer scene was a key driver. We’d recognised, and some of us had written about, the lack of some key pubs and bars (in terms of style and offering, rather than a specific chain), certain beery developments, that we saw as being indicative of the problem we bounced around amongst ourselves. We recognised the odd recent improvement, for sure, and there were always the exciting rumours of more to come. But we didn’t want to wait for change to come, especially if we’d end up getting it in a form we would all individually be just that little bit disappointed by.  We chose to bring about a bit of change ourselves.

Since then, the change has been happening. It’s steady, to be sure. The Scottish punks moved in, and made their mark from the start; weeks later a tired old pub was revitalised so effectively that in less than a year it had its traditional cask ale brewery owners installing keg lines and relaxing the tie, while the pub powered straight into third place for the local CAMRA branch’s pub of the year. And then the summer came.

Before that, although Leeds were strictly speaking first in line, it was Manchester that made everyone sit up and say “Wow!” with a new kind of beer festival. Paying it a visit I admit there were mixed feelings – a stunning beer selection, in a stunning venue, but a clear indication of how high the bar had been set. Suddenly the lack of a venue wasn’t a problem for us – the lack of a superlative one was.

London got in on the act in the spring, but Liverpool upped the game completely. The bar was adjusted upwards once more. London actually had two goes before Liverpool, and the second of those was when the bubble burst. Overnight, in a torrent of tweets, fallibility was detected. Not only did it show that success was not guaranteed just by wanting to put on the best beers around, but it was the penultimate such event before our own. By the time we got to late July the negatives were still fresh in everyone’s memory, despite Liverpool restoring the faith to some extent. But we weren’t a brewery or a bar, an established business or simply backed by wealth, we were just a bunch of seemingly crazy amateurs.  We earned the faith of some, to be sure, but others clearly thought “hmmm” and watched and waited.

More than that though, we were committed, in every sense. Thousands had been spent, and thousands more were owed. There was no backing out – there had been one point where we could have walked away, lost a chunk of money and licked some wounds, but once that moment passed we were on a treadmill that wasn’t going to stop again. Lessons were learnt from what we had seen happen to others, and fortunately many of the perceived mistakes were already being dealt with differently. This could be done.  There was no room for complacency though.

The first day of set-up was greeted with pouring rain. The outdoor space in particular looked and felt grey and miserable and our incumbent saboteur** was gleeful about our impending failure. He’d bought the cheapest ticket he could to get a ringside seat at the disaster.  All we had to do was do what he’d failed to do so far, and bring about our own failure.

The day came. So did the (relatively minor) disasters.*** So did the sunshine. And so did the people. They liked what they saw, and they loved what they drank.

Our saboteur liked it too. Enough to come back that evening for the second session. It was such a shame**** we’d sold out by then. By the final session even a downpour didn’t dampen the enthusiasm. We built it and they came. Maybe we’d count the cost later, but we had succeeded in creating an event that was more than any of us had dreamed it could be.

Once it was over, there was time to look up again, at what was going on around us. Change was still happening, one step at a time. It continues to happen. Anticipated developments, perhaps inevitably, run late, but one by one they finally happen, or soon will do. The landscape has changed, not unrecognisably perhaps, but significantly. Were we a part of that? Undoubtedly. Would it have happened without us? Of course, but possibly without quite such a shot in the arm. Are we proud to be in the middle of it? Oh yes.

The clock winds on. A festival that at times we felt was treated with caution is back, but this time the name is not unknown, the prospects are not unsure. The flicker of recognition in a respected brewer’s eyes when you introduce yourself is a reward in itself. The friendships, acquaintenances and professional relationships that have developed form proof of the successes achieved, as does the rapid take-up of tickets months away from the actual event. The oft-mentioned friendliness of the industry is witnessed at first hand again and again. And yet, greater awareness attracts greater interest. It seems not everyone remembers to be friendly, or even polite. Unreasonable expectations and demands from strangers grate when you’re putting your all into something for no more reward than the love of the job. They’re thankfully few and far between, the utter amazingness of most you deal with more than making up for it. Except for those brief moments when your button is pushed, and you’d snap if it wasn’t for those who have your back, acting as your safety valve. The lows are inevitable, and surprising regular, but manageable. The highs, well they just keep cropping up by surprise when you least expect it.

It’s a little ironic, given that blogging and tweeting is what got me into this to start with, that the effort of bringing about a repeat event has seen both of those activities diminish. The opportunities to write, and even to keep up to date in order to have something to write about, are lost to the myriad of other tasks that need to be fitted into the sparse time available. Not to mention the difficulty of not always being able to write about the one thing that is taking up all your attention. It was during a snatched few moments on the train that I wrote the past few paragraphs, when my ears tuned in late to the exceptionally loud Liverpool accent directed down a phone elsewhere in the carriage. I’d been blocking it out, focusing on my own small bubble for a moment, when my ears pricked up at snippets of conversation. I detected “Beer Bash”… “Birmingham”… “yeah, could stay with mates, get a hotel even”. A chance in thousands at least, but one of those amazing little highs that make the lows seem so small. And something more. Something meaningful. A little sign of how things have changed. How people are talking about coming to Birmingham for beer, because it has become more of a beer destination. Because we’ve become a destination event. Because things have changed.

And things are changing still.

*We didn’t know this at the time. If I recall correctly we started without a name, then came up with one that was thankfully shortlived. But whatever we called it then, it became the Birmingham Beer Bash.
**No, really. His amusement at our apparent poor luck with the weather was one of the lesser crimes.
***Quite a few actually. Not that anyone really noticed. Whatever was happening behind the scenes wasn’t allowed to filter through to the “front of house”. I’d be surprised if many people were aware of any of it.
****Of course it wasn’t. Surely you didn’t believe that!
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October 14, 2013

Going cuckoo

When I set myself the target, at the start of this year, not only to get some experience of brewing in a commercial setting but also to produce a commercial brew of my own, I didn’t expect it was going to be a trivial task.  Within just a few weeks, however, the excitement was already mounting when I got an offer to do just that.  It was therefore one of the big disappointments (for me) of the Birmingham Beer Bash when that beer was not available as planned, due to the brewery’s decision to sell-up days before I went to brew with them. 

After the time spent planning and preparing it was quite a setback, and with the all-important beer festival on the horizon, opportunity to get things back on track looked slim.  But, one conversation at the Beer Bash changed all that, and now I find myself just over a day away from a visit to Blackjack in Manchester, to brew a version of the American Pale Ale that I created at the start of the year and had a great result with at the Saltaire competition in April.

So, last-minute disasters permitting, it looks like a reality, and in a few weeks you might just be lucky(*) enough to sample Otherton’s first foray into the commercial beer world.  Watch this space for the brewday report, and let me know what you think if you get to try it later in the year!

(*) assuming all goes to plan!
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 25, 2013

T-2 – a session sells out

One more day of setup to go. I’d say tomorrow but clearly from the time of this post it is actually today. I don’t think I’ve got a single one of these posts out on the day to which they actually apply, have I?

A slightly quiet day but not without its dramas and excitements. The high being the selling out of Friday evening tickets. We have tried to allow a few to be kept back for walk-up sales but maybe we should release these as advance tickets, given the level of demand. We’ll see.

An interesting fact about tomorrow. I think it may be the first time the team of ten behind the Beer Bash have all been in the same place at the same time. Seems incredible really.

Time for bed. It’s an early start for the biggest day of setup, T-1!

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!