I recently read that beer festivals are killing pubs which is a long held theory of Martin Taylor’s. To be fair, Martin’s viewpoint might be a little tongue in cheek, but I’ve heard it mentioned in other quarters too. Personally, I don’t hold with it, and take a counterpoint to the, ‘Beer Festivals are Killing Pubs’ theory.
Only the other week I was at a rather wonderful little beer festival in Hebden Bridge – Calderdale Beer and Cider Festival.
They were a real friendly bunch of folks, committed to CAMRA and to promoting real ales. They said local licensees thought the event was rather good for business as a lot of festival goers piled into their pubs for a drink on their ways home and boosted trade.
From my vantage point behind the bar, I noted a lot of regular festival goers, who I know to be staunch advocates of the good old British Pub, who travel to both festivals and towns with excellent hostelries, as well as frequenting their local boozers on a regular basis.
One chap had produced a professional quality guide to the pubs of Hebden Bridge, which encouraged festival goers to ‘wander round the town and sample some of the excellent pubs’. A handy map and detailed description of all the town’s pubs was included. These efforts from the Beer Festival organisers can only serve to promote Hebden Bridge as a year round venue.
I collected one of the leaflets and was fortunate enough to chat with the author. I’ll definitely be coming back, with a group of friends, to sample the towns hostelries one Saturday afternoon. Fourteen pubs, including two brewery taps, what’s not to like about that? A date was set for our merry little band to descend on the town on a Saturday in November, probably a dozen of us, wives and girlfriends, and myself the only beer snob.
Getting back to my argument; if I hadn’t gone to the beer festival, my beacon of attraction, I wouldn’t be returning to Hebden at all. In fact I think the last time I went was nearly twenty years ago.
I can echo these observations with my own involvement on the organising committee of Clifford Beer Festival. Our village licensees tell us the event provides all three pubs with an additional, almost Christmas eve/Bank Holiday/very busy Saturday night, as customers call in to the pubs after the festival. If just a handful of them return on another day, then we have succeeded in promoting our locality, our pubs and the local economy.
If you go in The Bay Horse on Clifford High Street, I reckon that every third glass that comes over the bar is a ‘Clifford Beer Festival glass’, the unequivocal evidence of festival goers visiting and leaving their glasses behind (probably because they are, by that stage, inebriated, in a nice way of course). It’s also a positive for our glass sponsors, Elland Brewery, and promotes year round interest in our festival.
I see the Beer Festival, almost as a Pop Up Pub. Here today, gone tomorrow. You can’t go to a beer festival everyday, unless you travel extensively, and not many people can do that. For me the key attraction at a beer festival is beer! The only other place you can get beer is in a Pub, or a supermarket/off licence.
I accept there is another argument surfacing here. I’m going to leave the Pub v Supermarket/offy thing, but I will say that it is fairly obvious that beer festivals do manage to get people off their backsides and out of their homes. Yes, I do accept that beer festivals, particularly CAMRA ones, are often cheaper than pubs serving similar quality beers. Again, it’s a complex argument beyond the scope of several hundred words.
Getting back to the thread of the argument, I think that the people at beer festivals will have been in a pub regularly, before they went to the beer festival, and will go regularly after they have attended, if not on the same day. It might even encourage some non pub goers to think again?
Lastly, a well run and properly curated beer festival demonstrates to people what good beer should be like, it educates them around different beer styles, new brewers and those from other regions, and generally what they might be missing in their dreary local that only serves sad pints of Doom Bar, or other industrially produced ales and lager beers.
For these reasons, I believe that beer festivals are a good thing that should be encouraged as they only serve to educate and promote responsible beer drinking and hence good quality public houses.
What’s that? What about poor quality public houses? I honestly believe they are Doomed, beer festivals or not, but some of it* is entirely of their own making.
* N.B. ‘some of it’, and by no means all of it; there is a very complex relationship with multiple socio-economic factors having varying degrees of influence on the viability of public houses.