Beer Blog

Beer Festivals Are Killing Pubs!

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.



11 replies »

  1. Actually, pubs are killing festivals. Scrap all pubs and you’d have more custom for CAMRA-run fests, thus restabilising the CAMRA finances and enabling them to send out paper copies of What’s Brewing to dinosaurs. That wouldn’t fit on Twitter.


    • Agreed – I’ve been involved in large CAMRA festivals for over 10 years, and there is a definite trend towards them being less well patronised than they were, and I think a lot of that is because the choice of beers in pubs is much better than it was 10 years ago. And, if I’m honest, who really wants to be in a big soulless venue with below average quality beer and nowhere to sit, when you could go to the pub?


  2. “Beer festivals are killing pubs” may be a rather strong way of putting it, but it’s very hard to argue that *none* of the trade of beer festivals would otherwise go to pubs. Surely people in general have a fairly fixed budget to spend on going out drinking, and also indeed of alcohol units, and so if they go to one they won’t go to the other.

    I know several people who have become “beer festival junkies” and every weekend are looking for festivals to visit within striking distance. If they didn’t do that, they’d probably be going to pubs instead.


  3. I’m really interested in the dynamics here, both in relation to beer festivals and pub goers. You can start to classify drinkers, and hence their potential for going to beer festivals.

    I’ve got ideas based on general ‘types’ and people I know, but to do it properly it would require significant research. Anywhere’s and Somewhere’s features to varying degrees;

    Goes to same pub continually, except when forced to go out for a family meal/occasion, on holiday, etc. – not likely to go to a beer festival (unless it’s in the local pub beer garden).

    Goes to pub regularly, but not the same one and will travel to visit pubs – more likely to go to beer festivals.

    Drinks lager or other ‘safe’ beverage – less likely to visit beer festival (When I say ‘safe’ I’m referring to the older drinker who was put off real ale, and hence every other style that is different, a long time ago owing to quality issues and I’m minded of the old guy who pointed me to John’s Smooth while I was pondering my choice in ‘Spoons, saying ‘it never varies lad, wherever you go.’ – I didn’t say, ‘that’s because it’s always crap!’). This ‘Drinkatype™’ would have a tendency to utter phrases like, ‘We don’t eat any foreign muck in our house’, although many hardened, mainly older real ale drinkers, may also be likely to utter similar phrases.

    There is a distinction here with the ‘Lager Boy/Girl” who will visit various pubs and travel to do so, there is potential for Lager Boy/Girl to visit a beer festival, in the same way the week after they might go racing or to some other social event. The potential for Lager Boy/Girl to actually change their taste in beverag,e after visiting a good beer festival is high. In which case the beer festival has succeeded in broadening tastes and outlooks. After all isn’t that what a festival is – to celebrate (even revere) and to showcase something. ‘Converted’ Lager Boy/Girl may then start to seek out a good pub to experiment further with different beer styles and packaging, this would tend to support good pubs.

    Regarding the people who do travel to festivals, I put myself in this category, they will usually go to pubs en route (even if it’s the station ‘spoons for breakfast and a livener) and seek out (tick) quality pubs in the place they are going. I didn’t go to a festival this weekend, I could have gone to Scarbro’ but couldn’t get a cheap rail ticket, so I went to Hudds. instead and visited four very good pubs.

    I am conscious this is all a bit random and stream of conscious, at the minute but I’m trying to build up a library of Drinkatypes™ and their potential towards different attributes. I think this type of stereotyping could be vital!

    To be continued …

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am with you on this Richard. I have been involved with the Ilkley Beer Festival since its inception in 2008. The weekend of the festival is boom time for all the pubs in the town. Not just the pubs, but also the restaurants and curry houses. The town is absolutely buzzing at a time of the year (early February) when the pub trade can still be slow after Christmas and Dry January.

    Dare I say this is not just anecdotal evidence, I speak as someone who has a shareholding in one of the free houses (The Flying Duck) in the town.


  5. Yes, giving it a little more thought; a beer festival is no different to one of the many other events that are held which serve to boost a town/village’s economy, provide entertainment, promote the area, give added community focus. I’m thinking of events like Galas, Fetes, concerts, Literary festivals, arts festivals, bonfire night, etc. They benefit a much wider section of the community. Even the old folk who no longer go to beer festivals sit there and say, ‘it’s nice to see people having fun, it’s good for the village.’ Ad of course in and amongst all that the local pubs benefit.


  6. By the way Richard are you coming over to the Ilkley Beer Festival this year? Dates are 9th and 10th February. I should be there as a punter on Saturday afternoon. If you are then ask for me at the Wharfedale Brewery Bar and ask for Robin and I can say hi.


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