Thursday 25 January 2024

A national beer festival for the UK

I’d assumed that the concept of a national UK beer festival originally came from CAMRA in the mid-1970s. But I recently discovered that the idea had earlier been kicked around by people involved in the brewing industry.

This comes from an opinion piece in the Brewers’ Guardian in 1970:

For an industry that is always seeking new outlets - even to the extent of buying small concerns lock, stock and barrel to obtain them - we appear to be rather slow in putting some of the more obvious and attractive sales-boosting schemes into operation.

Take, for instance, a Beer Festival. Such an event could be of enormous financial benefit not only to brewers but to the tourist industry and the country as a whole.

There are many such festivals held throughout the world. The tremendous success of events such as the Munich Oktoberfest need no elaboration, but even the smaller affairs, like the one in Kilkenny, have proved to be just what the public want.

Considering that beer plays such a large part in the British way of life, it is regrettable that in this respect we are even lagging behind wine-drinking countries like Cyprus, who will be holding their first beer festival next year.

Such an idea has often been mooted by individual brewers here, but nothing concrete ever seems to emerge, so surely the time has come to investigate, possibly through a Brewers’ Society committee, the viability of a British Beer Festival on a co-operating company basis.

Objections will come in thick and fast, no doubt, but if planned correctly in conduction with bodies like the British Travel Association and with a balanced programme of traditional dancing, music and good British food there is no reason why it could not become an important annual event.

Choice of venue would be another problem, with Northern and Midland brewers showing a strong preference for a town like Burton-on-Trent instead of London, but inclement weather need present no difficulties, as such a project could very easily be staged in a large exhibition hall like Earls Court or Olympia.

An obvious choice of time would be during one of the off-peak tourist seasons, like early spring or late autumn, when hotels are not overcrowded with holidaymakers and brewers are not faced with peak production difficulties. Why not stage the first one to coincide with Brewex?

With such a heavy burden of continually mounting overheads, the industry must search out new fields for increasing sales and a National Beer Festival might well go a long way to help. The organisational difficulties would be sizeable, but the rewards, in terms of both finance and prestige, would more than compensate."
Brewers' Guardian, Volume 99, March 1970, page 33. 

Nothing came of this proposal and the task was left to CAMRA. Interestingly, Earl’s Court and Olympia were suggested as possible locations. Something which, a couple of decades later, would come to pass.


Rob Sterowski said...

Nowadays SIBA’s beer competitions often open up as a beer festival after the judging, mostly I think as a way of recuperating some of the costs and in order not to waste the remaining beer. I imagine the Brewers Society were thinking along the same lines.

Anonymous said...

What's the Kilkenny festival reference? Is that still a thing?

Anonymous said...

It definitely says something about the defeatest mindset of the industry leaders. I'm sure all they thought about was ways a festival could go wrong, and probably deep down didn't think they had anything worth celebrating.

Anonymous said...

Well Sullivan’s will have one this 24th and 25th of May 2024.


Anonymous said...

The beer festival in Kilkenny was not the first UK beer festival as Kilkenny was last in the UK in 1921. Making it the first beer festival in the Republic of Ireland.


Ron Pattinson said...


the author was just citing places abroad where there were beer festivals. Not implying Kilkenny was in the UK.

Anonymous said...

Ron thanks for the clarification.