“Diversity has defined this year’s festival”GBBF 2019
These were the words of Catherine Tonry, organiser of the Great British Beer Festival 2019. Held at the gigantic Olympia, London, the great behemoth that is GBBF rolled to a close last night. Tens of thousands of beer and cider fans have passed through, sampling nearly a thousand different brews.
I saw a great deal of commitment to diversity on display at the festival. On the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots and the 30th anniversary of the charity, the CAMRA run festival supported Stonewall as its main charity. It was a pleasure to see Stonewall stickers adorning nearly every punter. Many people threw some money in the bucket. I considered the impact of ‘corporate Pride‘ recently. So I was pleased to see that CAMRA’s commitment to the charity appeared considered and genuine. hope to see it last well into the future.
*Shock Horror* KEG BEER
Another key change in this year’s GBBF was the diversity of serving styles. Finally a live craft keg bar has stormed the gates of the CAMRA stronghold. There was still a considerable amount of heckling when mentioned at the presentation of the Champion Beer of Britain Award. Some of it jocular, some less so. Clearly there is still a lot of work for keg beer to do to win the hearts and minds of some CAMRA faithful.
KeyKeg were also representing heavily. Their main focus was in presenting the reusable and recyclable properties that their brand is developing. This has been a major criticism of these vessels for some time now. This was evident in the public displays across the festival, as well as in the press pack I was given. They need to tell their website though, as the focus is still on KeyKegs as ‘one way disposable’ containers. It takes a little digging to get to the ‘sustainability’ information. It’s certainly not put up front and centre like I saw at this year’s festival.
Diversity in CAMRA
However, there were other elements of the festival where the injection of more diversity would be a shot in the arm. I find CAMRA to be relatively inclusive as an organisation. However, its National Executive and permanent staff still seems to have a little way to go to be representative of the diversity of our population at large. The same can be said of the volunteers at the festival. CAMRA volunteers are a wonderful breed of people. Passionate, welcoming and enthusiastic, they are the true flag bearers of the organisation. At this year’s GBBF I was once again impressed by their knowledge and attitude. Truly they are the beating heart of CAMRA. But I think it’s not unfair to say that the white, middle aged stereotype prevails.
There’s nothing wrong with this per se. And efforts in recent years to attract a younger membership are clearly having some impact. Doubtless the appearance of keg at GBBF will have done more to attract a younger demographic too. Can they then be coaxed across to cask?
As a resident of Leicester, I see firsthand that a proportion of real ale drinkers – albeit a minority – are more ethnically, socially and economically diverse than perhaps we see at the moment. Not necessarily a criticism, but food for thought nonetheless when CAMRA’s banner is raised for diversity.
I also found the overall festival to be remarkably similar to last year – in feel as well as content. The layout, the food vendors, the entertainment. Clearly the food traders etc. do well at this event and will jealously guard their spot. But I would have welcomed a diversity of things to try in more than just beer, as well as activities. That said the Discovery Zone was a welcome addition. I applaud the building of beer resources on the CAMRA website.
Low and No Alcohol Beer
The real criticism I have of this year’s GBBF is the conspicuous absence of low and no alcohol beer. There was the usual stall of alcohol free beers from Braxzz, who failed to impress me last year. There is also an IPA from the Wild Beer Co – PIPA labelled as 0.0% on the festival website. But this is a typo, it’s actually 6% – hope that didn’t catch anyone out!!
Now, I know there are many arguments for why a massive real ale festival won’t have a range of alcohol free beers. I can understand the problems of trying to sell alcohol free beer to traditional beer festival goers. I can see the issues with making non-alcoholic beer possible in cask commercially speaking. I’ll confess I don’t even know if it’s possible from a practical perspective (do tell me in the comments below). But the Morning Advertiser was writing about how alcohol free beer on draught is the next logical step a year ago.
And it is widely known that non-alcoholic beer sales are climbing dramatically in the UK and Ireland. This article reports a jump of 28% in the year to February 2019. I’ve become a bit of a evangelist for alcohol free beer in the last year, due to my pregnancy. There are a lot of good ones out there and the market continues to grow. There is a bar for international cans and bottles at GBBF. Why not one for low and no alcohol beers? Increasingly more CAMRA ‘acceptable’ breweries are bring their own versions to market.
To play a part in increasing diversity at GBBF, a better commitment to low and no alcohol beers is a no brainer for me. It is an excellent way to encourage responsible enjoyment of the festival. Thinking about it, this is not something we currently see at a high profile. It could encourage attendees that would otherwise give the event a swerve. There is a clear trend towards teetotalism amongst young people. Non-drinkers are making up a higher proportion of the demographic than ever before. And those young people are only going to get older, slowly edging their way towards the traditional CAMRA demographic.
Alcohol plays an important role in the flavour and weight of beer. But producers are getting clever. I was surprised to recently discover that I actually prefer the flavour of Adnams low alcohol Ghost Ship (my current favourite in the non-alcoholic stakes) to the original. So perhaps to fulfill Catherine Tonry’s vision of a truly diverse beer festival, this is an area that warrants closer scrutiny and less tokenism in the future.