‘Subterranean Festival Blues’

It’s been a busy time for beer, these first two weeks in January. In some ways, this seems a bit surprising. In other ways, perhaps not. Everyone’s had a little bit of a breather over the holidays and has returned with new vim and vigour… to simultaneously look back and look ahead.

What’s been going on so far? Well, we’ve had #caskgate (I refer you to Cloudwater’s blog as a starting point), and now we have moved on to #festivalgate, or perhaps even #festivaloverkill, or #newliverseptember. (I had a different title for this post originally, but I felt a nod to Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues was somehow more fitting.)

On Friday, January 6th,  Beavertown announced its ‘Beavertown Extravaganza,’ a Mikkeller-style two-day event, featuring some of the world’s most sought after breweries (especially if you are a hardcore beer nerd). 3 Floyds? ✓ Bagby Beer Company? ✓ Modern Times Beer? ✓ I could go on, but I won’t, you can check the participants here.

But when, you ask, is the Extravaganza happening? 8th and 9th September… which coincides with Leeds International Beer Festival, now in its sixth year. I reached out to Darren and Maria, the masterminds of LIBF, held in Leeds’ stunning town hall, to get their views on recent developments in the UK’s beer calendar. Here’s what they had to say:

“The recent introduction of the Beavertown Extravaganza, which will take place 8 and 9 September did come as a shock as we only found out about it second hand through a friend of a friend a couple of days before it was officially launched to the public.

The fact that it’s taking place over the same weekend as our event was quite dispiriting and upsetting especially after all the hard work and investment we’d put into the festival; we have already been working on the 2017 edition for months since we announced the dates back in September 2016! Its timing now presents many challenges for us – not least from brewery attendance, there are so many events taking place and breweries can only attend so many a year, never mind a month!

Any event taking place at the same time as Leeds Beer will make it difficult for us to secure some of the breweries we want to see in Leeds which is a real shame, not just for us but for audiences that live in our part of the world.

Some of the best beer festivals in the UK take place outside the capital city and we welcome the fact that the Beavertown Extravaganza will reshape this – we just hope it won’t be at the detriment of a well-established, regional beer festival in the UK! After the sad news regarding the closure of the Birmingham Beer Bash it’s more important than ever that the regions continue to present strong beer events and festivals that are accessible to people from all over the country.

The Beavertown Extravaganza looks incredibly exciting and we do wish the organisers well – only time will tell what the real effects on Leeds Beer will be.”

Logan Plant, Beavertown’s beery leader, had this to say:

“The preparation that has gone into the Extravaganza has been immense. We are so proud of the crew of brewers we have been able to bring together. It’s going to be a great celebration of beer and the people that brew it. We are truly excited.

I truly believe both festivals can run successfully on the same days. The clash was not planned and the calendar is super hectic and tight. The last thing we wanted to do was create an issue. I also believe we are catering for all drinkers of great beer, not just ‘geeks’. We have always been about complete inclusivity with regards to the drinker, everything we do is about giving them the best experience possible. We would never want anyone to feel they couldn’t come to our festival unless they were a ‘geek’ as you put it. *

There is so much great beer out there, this is about celebrating it and the people behind it, in the best location we could find/book and creating the most stimulating experience we possible could for the brewers and the drinkers.

We look forward to hopefully having a booth at the Leeds Beer Fest too, it’s a brilliant festival.”

There are always going to be scheduling issues — case in point, this year’s IMBC will be September 28th to October 1st, which is down to working around Victoria Baths‘ maintenance and restoration efforts — the Turkish baths and the Superintendent’s flat are next on their agenda.

Having been a member of team IMBC since its infancy in 2012, scheduling has always had an effect — the Great American Beer Festival has often interfered with our invitations to American brewers, for example. That’s just the way it is. But when the events start stacking up in the UK as they are at the moment… well, things become trickier, to say the least.

(You’ll have noticed by now: September is shaping up to give your liver a beating. Borefts has yet to announce its date, but it is typically towards the end of September, and then there is also Cantillon’s Zwanze day.)

Then there was also the news from Birmingham that the city’s Beer Bash, launched in 2013, was not to return in 2017:

“Regrettably the difficult decision has been made not to continue with Birmingham Beer Bash for another year. We’re sure this will come as a surprise and possibly a disappointment for many, but putting on an event like this takes a huge toll on those closely involved, who freely give vast amounts of time and effort on a voluntary basis, and trying to continue that for another year simply is too much.

We’ve had a blast over the past four years of Bash, made some great friends, and hope we’ve given loads of you an amazing time drinking fantastic beers.”

I asked David Shipman, lead organiser of the Bash, for his thoughts on running an independent beer festival:

“It seems that to be an independent festival you’re simultaneously expected to offer something completely new and different while making sure you have the same new and different breweries that every other independent festival has. My advice overall would be to think very carefully, and be prepared to work hard and spend a lot of money in return for scraping by.”

It’s not off the mark to suggest that LIBF and IMBC begat, directly or indirectly, the Liverpool Craft Beer Expo, Craft Beer Rising, London Craft Beer Festival, Birmingham Beer Bash, Cardiff Brew Fest, Craft Beer Calling, Bristol Craft Beer Festival, ABV Festival, HopCity and now, the culmination in some way is the Extravaganza.

But what of the UK breweries that are not invited to the Extravaganza? We face the same problem at IMBC, in many ways, we are spoilt for choice given the number of breweries out there. It’s a nice predicament to be in, but inadvertently, it is clear that these festivals have contributed to or at least highlighted the different tiers within British ‘modern’ brewing. In other words, stratification is now real and obvious.

Not surprisingly, Darren and Maria are

“really proud of the festival which we think is accessible and inclusive – there’s a strong community spirit attached to Leeds Beer and at its very heart the main aim of supporting the independent brewing scene remains as strong as ever.”

They should be. Equally, IMBC’s main focus remains on the UK, in the main, and especially, on the consumer, not ‘just’ beer geeks.

As always, I welcome your feedback in the comments or on Twitter.

* I actually wrote ‘beer nerds’ instead of geeks. I’m a nerd through and through, beer is just one of my nerdy obsessions.

Thanks for reading.

Photo by Duncan Elliot

3 thoughts on “‘Subterranean Festival Blues’

  1. An interesting and somewhat unfortunate situation.

    It’s interesting that the “craft beer” industry has reached a point where two such major national events on the “craft beer calendar” can clash. (And LIBF *is* major… I know many people who think it is the UK’s top indy beer event – and not just people from Leeds.)

    It’s unfortunate because I really doubt the clash *needed* to happen at all. (But who knows…) There is no way in hell it is in any way deliberate of course… and maybe it was the only date that all the right things (breweries/venue) could come together. But perhaps just a plain old oversight on someone’s part.

    Personally it is a major annoyance. If I’m asked to do my usual thing at LIBF this year then LIBF takes precedence, without question, and I’ll be there full-time. (I just do some tech stuff there for Kiwi beer.) Given the Beaverfest lineup it will be wrenching to miss it… I don’t have time or money to gallivant around foreign breweries so having so many big names here is a huge opportunity… that I’ll probably miss.

    Hopefully LIBF is as successful as ever, I think “craft beer” is big enough for it to. And Leeds is a big city with a big local population. But there is no pretending that the London event will have no impact on LIBF – there is no doubt it will reduce the availability of both punters and breweries for the Leeds event.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Yvan. Agreed, the clash didn’t need to happen. As you suggest, probably an oversight or just where the stars (venue, timing) aligned. These things do happen.

      There will be a certain level of FOMO as regards the Extravaganza, no question about it. Much like people have as regards Mikkeller and Borefts. I’ll be curious to see if the facility capacity of 5,000 per session is reached at the Extravaganza. Interestingly, since Mikkeller has moved to a bigger facility, and changed some of the sessions and ticket options, it doesn’t seem to sell out immediately anymore. Perhaps the increased capacity is helping with that in particular.

      LIBF will undoubtedly be a success, but the matrix of success is a complex one. Financial sustainability will play a big part, I’m sure, particularly as LIBF is a council-led event.


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