Anatomy of a Beer Festival Part 19 – The Good, The Bad and The Beer List

What a week.  I’d forgotten just how crazy it can get because I only experience it once a year, fortunately.


This week’s main tasks were to finish the beer order, the beer list and tasting notes and make the final edits to the programme.  It sounds relatively straightforward in theory but not quite so in practice.


Monday started with a local brewery returning my call from last week to say they are short of beer and I couldn’t have one of the beers I originally wanted. Unfortunately, this was a porter which I needed a duplicate of on a “sale or return” basis so I’d now need to find a replacement elsewhere.  I got one of my original choices though and the other one’s a new beer, completely different to the one I had planned but not a massive problem in isolation.


I then contacted another local brewery to order their porter as I’d had that as a backup plan in case this scenario happened. No problem – done, dusted, move on to the next task. One down, more to go.


The next phone call was from another brewery who I was about to chase up anyway as they hadn’t replied to my email with our beer order form sent 6 days ago.  They now hadn’t got either of the beers I had ordered in stock so we switched both and actually I ended up with two I couldn’t have previously had and arguably better beers than I started with. I reminded them that I need the allergens information and tasting notes for the new beers.


Later I get their order confirmation with the wrong billing address despite the correct information being on the order form. I point this out to them and remind them about the allergens information and tasting notes.  Next, I get the allergens information from a different member of their staff but for the wrong ones (the two original beers) – I finally get the correct information the next day. The tasting notes have still yet to appear and there’s no sign of a corrected order form either!  If every brewery was this painful to deal with our event simply wouldn’t happen. Fortunately, they aren’t all quite this disorganised.


Moving on, the next phone call is to an advertiser chasing their design for the programme.  They hadn’t done it and we agreed to pull the advert as the deadline is close and they won’t get it done in time. That leaves me a half page in the programme to fill with only two days to the submission deadline.


I hoped to find suitable content to fill this space on the Festival portal on the CAMRA members’ website but there’s not very much on there and it’s really difficult and time-consuming to find anything so I called CAMRA HQ to ask if they have anything they can send me. There’s no answer so I left a message explaining the problem, the deadline and asking for a callback.  They never returned my call.  I’ve since had the circular email that went to all members saying that some systems were down while they were upgrading the security.  Fair enough, but some acknowledgement would have been nice even if they couldn’t help.


I have a look through the latest Derby Drinker and see that there’s a few things in there I could use.  I ring the editor and leave a message.  He kindly emails them to me the next morning. Ok, one more down……


A few quick phone calls to a few breweries and emails arrive with some of their missing tasting notes – progress! A call to another one yields nothing but frustration – their tasting notes for this particular beer are nothing but marketing nonsense and say nothing about the flavour or aroma.  I’d already scoured the internet and found the same on there so it didn’t surprise me.  The only thing they could add was to tell me the hops.  Using the comments on Ratebeer and my basic knowledge of hop flavours I was able to make chicken salad out of chicken s**t so to speak.  Seriously though, can you not just tell me what your beer tastes like??


Compare this to Wild Beer whose email included a PDF which had information about their whole series of collaboration beers, what they were trying to achieve, the ingredients (hops, malts, etc) technical information on IBUs (International Bitterness Units) and Plato (specific gravity), detailed tasting notes which included the appearance, aroma, flavour and finish and food pairings! In my opinion, they are on another level and their approach probably explains why they are my favourite brewery.  They seem to give more thought to everything than a lot of others do.


Back to the programme and time to update the text on the Pub map – there was still one query to clarify as a pub’s entry didn’t match the text that was in their advert.  They were one of the first to confirm their ad and had supplied the text and graphics for our designer to work on but I had made a number of suggestions.  Despite sending them a draft on 29th August I had yet to hear about any edits or changes. Time was running short and I’d expected to have this one put to bed at least a week ago. I’m still working on it as I write this on 15th September.


All that being said we are very thankful for the support we receive from the breweries and pubs. It’s just that sometimes they don’t understand or pay attention to the tight deadlines we always have to work to.  We can cope with one or two delays but if too many leave it too late, we run out of hours in a day to get things completed in time and it nearly always feels like a race against the clock.


Finally, after a challenging week (and a total of 22 changes) the beer list and tasting notes are complete and have been sent to our designer. The final edits to the programme should be done over the weekend followed by proofreading and I can then submit it to the printers.  I am still waiting for final confirmation of one beer though, which I won’t get until Monday.  It’s a mild which I hope to include but they are difficult to source at this time of year – they are often brewed for Mild Month in May but not at all during the rest of the year.  If I can’t get it I will have to replace it and I already have a plan C and D just in case.  I’ve warned our designer of the possibility of a change at the eleventh hour but hopefully it won’t be necessary.


I’m very pleased with the final results and I hope you will be too.  I don’t want to reveal too much yet but this year we have five collaborations, the return of a few favourites and some very interesting and unusual styles.  The beer I am most looking forward to is Five Towns Cranachan.  It’s an oatmeal pale ale with raspberries, whisky and honey based on the traditional Scottish dessert.  It only ended up on the list because of a casual conversation about fruit beers with a brewer at one of the wholesaling breweries we use. Its one of his favourite beers and it just so happens a cask was being delivered to him a few days after.  If you don’t like it, blame him not me!


The programme containing the full beer list with tasting notes should be available on our website late next week.  Fingers crossed, all the beers arrive, the weather is kind and that everything else goes to plan.


We hope to see you there.