Anatomy of a Beer Festival Part 16

Part 16: Reflections


Now that the dust has settled on last year’s event I’ve taken time to reflect on the experience in some detail.  On the most part things went well despite quite a few hiccups during set up but I feel we were able to overcome these to make the event enjoyable and a success.

As well as the early delivery problem which I alluded to in part 14, there were other problems too.  Strutts Chairman and Site Manager (my counterpart) was unlikely to be there all weekend due to a family emergency some 150 miles away.  This meant a number of the last minute tasks and preparations he was making were unable to be fulfilled.

Then came a much bigger problem on set up day 2 (Tuesday) which took most of the day to sort out.  One of our wholesaling breweries got in touch early afternoon (which was after we’d expected them to deliver) saying that they had major problems.  Their delivery driver had been rushed into hospital at the weekend, the head brewer was on holiday abroad and not due back for a few days and so a number of beers had not been delivered to them.  The person I was speaking to had been roped in at the 11th hour to try and get our delivery to us.

This was on the back of a morning where two breweries had delivered two beers each but one of each of their beers was different to what we had ordered.  One rang me in the morning to explain, the other did not which I found rather disappointing.

Back to the wholesaling brewery – they read out a list of the beers in their cold store and only half of our order was there which meant some very last minute research and decisions had to be made on replacements.  With the other changes this amounted to approx. 15% of our total order which concerned me as I didn’t want the list to end up unbalanced with all the effort I’d put in.  Fortunately they had enough decent beers from the likes of Abbeydale, Dark Star and XT so, although I wasn’t happy with the situation, I felt I did the best I could with what I had at the time.

It bothered me that the beer list in the programme would now be wrong, which is why I created brightly coloured signs with a list of the replacements and an apology and placed these in different places in the venue.  I’m hoping some of you found these useful.  I’ve done the beer list twice before (in 2012 and 2014) and on both occasions the list in the programme was 100% correct.  However, I understand from my peers that achieving that twice was a minor miracle and so I expected something to go wrong sooner rather than later.

This wasn’t quite the start we were after and the next thing to go wrong was a room booking.  We had booked our rooms months in advance but found that Strutts had another booking for room 19 and we wouldn’t gain access to it until 4pm on the Wednesday!  Fortunately they did agree to giving us some storage as Room 19 is where keep our glasses, tokens, membership desk and tombola items, all of which take up quite a bit of space.


Early crisis over, early afternoon Thursday came and we were almost ready.  Everything else ran smoothly and we opened on time but we were rather disappointed by the turnout for the trade session.  Despite having spent a lot of time ringing landlords to extend an invitation and getting a very positive response, very few turned up, even ones from the local area.

The session afterwards was on par with what we expected though and there were already positive comments about the beer selection which was encouraging.  There was a pleasant atmosphere in the marquee and the main hall and finally things were starting to go to plan.

One of the catering companies asked if they could set up in the marquee.  I had specifically said during the planning stages that we either had to have both in the marquee or neither as I felt it would give one of them an unfair advantage.  We decided on neither as I had major health and safety concerns over using a deep fat fryer in the marquee – not to mention the smell!  I left them to discuss it with each other and hoped that they’d come to a sensible agreement without me having to intervene.

Friday came and a number of familiar faces from Hinckley and Bosworth and other CAMRA branches were there early – even before we opened at 12 noon!  I don’t know these members personally but they are always friendly and chatty and regular visitors to our Friday afternoon session.  For me this is one of the most underrated things about being a CAMRA member – if you go to a number of festivals you see the same people and sooner or later get talking and make new friends and acquaintances.  Some of our members work at a lot of the big festivals and have now made friends with other volunteers all over the country.  As a result some of their new friends have travelled to work at our festival so it’s like one big happy (and slightly unusual) family!

Friday’s afternoon attendance numbers were 15% up on the previous year so were we quite content with progress.  Between 6pm and 8pm we had a further 250 people and so the main hall and marquee were now buzzing and quite full.  I was pleased that we didn’t have the same problems as the previous year with entering and exiting the marquee and I only had to use the PA a couple of times to politely ask people to move out of the way!

Friday evening ended up being the most well-attended session at the festival and the best attended Friday since the festival began in 2009. The Modest drew a very good crowd and from what I heard of them and the reports I received from customers and staff, they went down well and got people on the dancefloor.


Saturday afternoon was busy with more people arriving earlier than usual.  I can only assume that this was down to the England v Wales Rugby World Cup match to be played in the evening.  All the signs were good but things started to tail off at around 5pm when much lower numbers were entering and I’d noticed that quite a few were leaving which was not a good sign.

At about 8pm numbers had dropped significantly and by 9pm when Wayward Brotherhood started playing upstairs there was less than a dozen or so watching them with only about 100 in the main hall watching Crossroads.  I was disappointed for the bands as I know what it’s like to be playing to a rather small audience myself.

I had expected a drop in numbers because of the rugby but didn’t anticipate it having such an impact; none of us did.  It always amazes me how people suddenly become fans when an international event is on when for the rest of the year they have no interest!  Various people had asked why we didn’t have it on a big screen somewhere but its far more complicated than you might think.

First, you would need to know well in advance to include it in your flyers and posters which are printed in May/June.  At the time I knew the Rugby World Cup was on but the fixtures had not been announced.  Second, you would have had to beg/borrow/hire a big screen TV.  Third, you have to make sure you hold the correct licence to publicly broadcast it legally and fourth, we would have needed to hire a room big enough to screen it in.

On the plus side, a lot more CAMRA members attended than in previous years so we must be doing something right and we received even more positive comments about the beer choice.  To my surprise not one person complained about the missing beers so maybe the replacements and signage worked or maybe no-one realised!

Late in the evening there was a remarkable 10-minute period when I received feedback from people with completely opposing views.  First of all, a couple of members from the South of England were telling me how great they thought the festival was and how much they enjoyed the venue and the entertainment.  They also said how much they like the beers, especially the local ones – in fact they said it was the best beer choice they’d ever had at a festival which was high praise indeed from two experienced, well-travelled drinkers.

Shortly afterwards a woman approached me to tell how awful it was!  In her opinion it was too expensive to get in, the building was badly maintained, the bands were too loud and the fruit wine selection was sweet sickly stuff – she had expected better choices of red or white wines.  I asked her about the beers and ciders but she said she’s a wine drinker.  Whilst I admitted she maybe had a point about the wines I explained (as politely as I could) that it’s a beer and cider festival and that if she wanted to drink chardonnay or merlot then perhaps this wasn’t the ideal place for her. I’m not sure whether she saw my point or not in the end but you can’t please everyone all the time.

On the staffing front I was very pleased with the number of volunteers this year and we were well staffed all of the time – in fact on Saturday night we had too many but I would much rather have that luxury rather than people waiting long times to be served even if it does increase the number of food and drink vouchers we offer to our hard working volunteers.

By the Sunday lunchtime drinking up session we were tired but content.  Unfortunately due to the lower numbers on Saturday night we had not sold all of our beer or any of that on sale or return.  On a positive note though we had received lots of positive feedback and overall numbers were very similar to the previous year.

Strutts were also pleased with how things went.  The staff who had stepped up in their Chairman’s absence had been very helpful, pro-active and accommodating and I think they deserve a lot of credit for things running so smoothly in such adverse circumstances.

Like most of the other volunteers I was exhausted as usual, with the very testing start to the week and the sheer amount of hours I put in whilst the festival was open.   I was looking forward to having a rest although I was sad that it was all over.  After spending 9 months planning the event it’s all over so quickly.  I did thoroughly enjoy it though and the beers, the banter and atmosphere was everything I’d hoped for and more.

However, the fun with the breweries did not stop there and went on for a number of months afterwards.  Despite several reminders, until recently there were still 3 casks on site that hadn’t been collected.  You would think given the retail value of the casks is between £80-£100 that the breweries might be more bothered about taking them back but you’d be wrong! In the end we moved them to a local pub for collection ourselves and can now finally focus on this year’s event which is only six months and six meetings away.


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