Anatomy of a Beer Festival Part 11

Part 11: The Trials and Tribulations of a Beer Orderer Continued


One major misconception seems to be that you can get whatever beers you want from whatever breweries you want.  This couldn’t be further from the truth; you are restricted to who will deliver direct to you and who your wholesaling breweries swap with or can arrange to swap with.  There are some breweries from further afield that deliver in our area once a fortnight or once a month which you can use if you can find someone to sort them locally.


For our festival I have a wholesaling brewery in the North West who can supply from their own and beers from around 50 others.  They will also contact other breweries in their area that they haven’t dealt with before if I ask them to.  I have another couple of local wholesaling breweries who have regular swaps with certain other breweries and irregular swaps with even more.  Their lists constantly change so it’s not always easy to get what you want at the time you need it.  There’s one other local wholesaling brewery who will contact whoever you ask them to and try and arrange swaps.  Using a mix of all these is good because it usually gives you a good variety to choose from.  Getting what you want, however, is a completely different kettle of fish and this year, like last, I have changed around 20% of the order in the last seven days for various reasons.


To give you an example, I’ve had Tiny Rebel Cwtch on the list since just after last years festival and the brewery was on the 3 of the 4 wholesaling breweries supply lists so not a problem you would think. Well it wasn’t until it won Champion Beer of Britain 2015 which totally scuppered my plans! Whilst this is incredibly annoying, it happens quite a lot and it gives me some reassurance that at least one of my choices is highly regarded by others.  Maybe I might be doing some things right at least some of the time.


Last year the main problems were down to a wholesaler (not a wholesaling brewery) letting me down without prior warning at the last minute.  They were supposed to be delivering beers from Scotland, Wales and Durham which left us with no chance of replacing them with others from the same area.  The other problem was a number of breweries not being able to deliver to one of my wholesaling breweries in time for the festival.


With a list as small as ours (around 80 this time) maintaining a balance is key but very difficult, it only takes a few of a certain style or strength to not be available to really cause issues.  Last year I had a major problem sourcing wheat and ginger beers as they are usually seasonal around Summer time and our festival is at the start of Autumn meaning that most breweries don’t have any available.  I ended up having to take a flyer on it with what ended up being my fifth choices for both as none of the other four were available.  I was quite disappointed with what we ended up with, Geeves Captain Gingerbread, a ginger wheat beer which tasted nothing like a ginger beer and nothing like a wheat beer, in fact I didn’t really like it at all! Ironically we inadvertently ended up with another beer with strong ginger flavours, Hardknott Cool Fusion. It was not listed as a ginger beer but tasted much more like a ginger beer than the other one I’ve mentioned and in contrast was really nice so it wasn’t all bad.


To be honest I could play it a lot safer which would make the job a whole lot easier and less time consuming but I don’t feel the list would be anywhere near as varied or interesting and I consider both of those very important factors.  We aren’t in direct competition with any other festivals locally and clearly both Derby and Nottingham can put on far more beers than we will ever be able to.  For me that means we have to take a different more focused approach to differentiate ourselves.  This year Derby sent a wholesaling brewery to Scotland to fetch a van full of beers. I would love to have that freedom but that would account for roughly 25% of our whole list so it isn’t feasible.  You therefore have to make the most of what you can get from what’s available to us.


My ultimate aim is to put on a list that would interest me if it was advertised at another festival, whilst still appealing to those who prefer to be able to drink something familiar and those who have never tried real ale before.  I also try to pick newer or seasonal beers from well-established local breweries, some completely new beers and if possible a festival special or two.


Last year both of the one-off UK/USA collaborations were very well received and I thought they were both great beers too.  This year we have a festival special from Leadmill, American Red Eye (an American style red IPA) and a very special brand new kettle soured collaboration beer from Landlocked and Steel City called Steeled, Stoned and Sour. For a detailed explanation of these two beers and tasting notes for all the beers we plan to have at the festival, please see the festival programme page 23, available to download here.