We've been together quite some time, you and I, 16 years in fact, having joined way back in the summer of 2001, probably at the Great British Beer Festival. A lot has changed, we're both older, a bit more mature, perhaps even a bit wiser (??) but I feel something has changed between us and that something is definitely connected to how I felt in the days after this years GBBF at Olympia.
I was sad, and, a couple of weeks on, that feeling of sadness remains.
I look at beer festivals from the point of view as a punter who really enjoys beer and loves good/great beer, both new and old alike. With this in mind, perhaps you can help me understand why there are so many stalls and areas devoted to pretty much everything other than beer? I get that we need to eat and relax, but, far too much space was given over to non-beer sales or information stands. Yet, despite this, no water stations were available to allow me to hydrate (surely this is something you as an organisation should encourage??) and rinse my glass, meaning that a switch between a stout and golden ale might not be in my best interests, i'm not a fan of blending beers. Other festivals, both beer & wine, offer this very simple but essential service, why don't you?
What logic is applied to how the beer stands are set up? It's never obvious to me I must admit. And, why isn't all the British Beer in just one part of the rather vast space that is Olympia? Why make me walk round the whole place? Last year the American Cask bar was in the smaller of the two halls, a good idea as when it runs out (which it inevitably does) it's out of the way. This year, on the Saturday the bar was simply a blot on the landscape at the back of the main hall, empty.
Really, my question here is simply "Is Olympia too big for a beer festival?" I think it might be you know, especially if you are devoting 50% of the space available to anything other than the Great British Beer you should be showcasing. Out of curiosity, how does beer get selected for GBBF?
I like the option of the brewery bars, but, I would much prefer it if the people involved in the brewing process were present serving the beers, it would add so much to the experience, rather than the support staff and CAMRA volunteers, while doing a fantastic job don't necessarily have that first hand knowledge for the product being sold (all the volunteers concerned should be congratulated for their hard work, time and effort).
I should point out that I really enjoyed all the beers I had (bar one that my mate Karl chose, I thought I could trust him!!) and all were delivered in good condition, no mean feat during the summer I imagine.
But, where to go from here? What is to be done? I'm not leaving CAMRA, as i think there is much to admire about what you have done and are doing in the world of real ale and pubs and I continue to support these aims and values. However, maybe we need to take a break, maybe I should focus on the other great and varied beer festivals during the year and simply omit the big one in August? Yes, I think that might be the answer, after all, they do say that absence makes the heart grow fonder.