London Craft Beer Festival 2017 review: The highs and lows

Last weekend saw the London Craft Beer Festival hold its fifth birthday festival in Shoreditch. I was there to check it out – here are some thoughts on the event including the good and the bad.

Before I get stuck into some of the negative things, I did have a great time and overall the festival was run very smoothly (at least during the session I went to). There was plenty of beer on offer, frequently no queue to be served, a reasonable amount of seating and a regularly stocked water station.

The new venue was great, so was the atmosphere and the Fuller’s Cask Yard was something of a highlight. There was also a great selection of food vendors and even a bottle shop run by Beer Merchants. Punters could also get inclusive cheese and wine, Serious Pig snacks, play shuffle board and visit the Glenfiddich whisky stand.

Some of the below comments are my thoughts, but also those of others who attended LCBF. It might seem very negative but I’m just taking time to go more in-depth into some of the issues people experienced – these didn’t, for me personally, outweigh the positives though.

I’ve contacted the festival’s co-founders Daniel and Greg and they’ve kindly provided comment on the issues.

Breweries

The main reason to go to an event like this is, of course, the beer. And although I tried many great beers during the session, I was a little disappointed in a couple of ways.

Firstly, at least a couple of breweries dropped out in the lead up to the festival. This included Modern Times from San Diego, one of my favourite breweries at the moment and a big reason why I got a ticket in the first place. Sadly they were nowhere to be found, with no explanation as to why.

Civil Society, another US brewery, was a late addition to the roster but was another no-show.

Daniel said, “We had confirmed them, but sadly for reasons only known to the brewers they were not able to make it personally, they offered to send the beer but our policy is that we want the beer and brewer to enhance the experience . This year we brought over some real big hitters from the states, flying out the likes of Other half, Still Water, Oskar Blues, and next year we will be bringing even more.”

Beers

Secondly, I was attending the Sunday session under the assumption that beer would be allocated for it, rather than having access to whatever was left. LCBF started posting images of what beers would be available from each breweries for each session.

This way there might be some beers you miss out on but, if planned well, an even distribution of rare and sought after ones for each session.

Instead this quickly changed to just a list of beers ‘in no particular order’ so they would be on rotation. At the Sunday session many of the beers I wanted to try were simply gobbled up in previous sessions.

For example, BA Java Ten Fidy from Oskar Blues was gone in a whopping 22 minutes across two sessions. Even tapping it for 15 minutes at time wasn’t enough to make it last.

It felt a bit like we were having to choose from the dregs of the festival despite paying the same ticket price.

“Each session had fresh beers. We put out an equal amount of beers for each session regardless of weather it is the first or the last, so I would 100 % refute that comment. There might have been some specials that the brewers wanted to reintroduce but from our perspective each bar has fresh kegs for the start of each session, but certainly on Sunday we give the brewers more freedom to put their favourites back on if they have beer left,” commented Daniel.

Greg added, “The issue with announcing beers is exactly as you mention.  We often get our lists finalised and changed in 2-3 days before the festival.  Often they don’t send us an order. We’ll curate as best we can, but always cave in when they ask us to put x and y on, this or that beer for this moment. Some beers were kegged Friday morning and made their way in an Uber.”

“In our view – we want all beers treated equally – a balanced pale or BA stout – so we try and make sure there is plenty to discover and stumble upon or revisit and fall back in love with.”

Information

I think many of the issues surrounding the festival could be solved with simple communication. There was no FAQ on the website to tell festival-goers some basic information like whether taking in water or food was allowed.

Other information would be handy too, such as where the entrance was (it was round the corner from the address given), and what time last orders would be. I assumed it would be at 5pm, the end time for the session, but it was more like 4:40pm.

“That is something we will take on board. There was a slight internal issue with miscommunication by the venue staff to brewers in relation to this, and not from us. Sadly by the time we had realised that this had gone on it was too late to sort, but it is one of many logistic and management issues we are less than happy with and are addressing this with the venue directly,” Daniel said.

Tickets & Overcrowding

This wasn’t the case for the Sunday (partly why I chose that session) but I’ve seen a number of complaints about overcrowding at the venue.

I believe on the Saturday this was partly due to rain so everyone in the outside area bundled in to stay dry. However, I think this was also an issue on Friday, plus I’ve heard people with tickets were refused entry!

Daniel commented, “This was an issue on Friday night. 100% our fault, we did not clear the trade session out properly, we assumed people would just leave (as they were brewery friends/clients) we didn’t want to pressure them and normally they do just leave before the next session.”

“As a result of not doing this we opened the session with 300 people in the building, In regards to overcrowding, just to be very clear, we had a venue capacity of 1500, we sold 1150 tickets for Friday night, so we most certainly did not oversell, but we do take full responsibility for not clearing the previous session attendees properly. It’s most definitely a lesson we learnt from and implemented with success for the rest of the festival and it is something we will be much more mindful of in the future.”

“No one was turned away, and no one had to wait more that an hour and a half, but it was still very disappointing and we are seeking to those affected directly.”

Toilets & Queues

This is an almost impossible thing to solve, especially at an all-inclusive beer festival but there were many complaints about the toilets.

Again, I didn’t have to queue almost at all during the Sunday session but busier sessions saw long queues for the loos.

“Queues to get in. Not being let in, even though they had tickets due to the number of people already there. Massive queues for the toilets,” one attendee told me on Facebook.

We experienced a fairly long queue to get in but it went down very quickly as wrist bands were given out as you joined.

“The toilets were something  that we were very disappointed with. That is a venue related issue and something we will need to review for next year regardless of location,” said Daniel.

Safety

One of the reasons the queue went down so fast was, at least from what I saw, that bags were not being checked. I’m all for getting into a venue quickly but felt somewhat uneasy with a lack of security checks.

Daniel said, “That is something we will take up with the venue.”

Summary

To reiterate, LCBF 2017 was brilliant and there were bound to be some hiccups with a new venue. I’ve no doubt that the logistics of an event like this are insanely complex so I applaud Greg, Daniel and everyone involved.

I’m looking forward to London Craft Beer Festival 2018 which I’m sure will be even better. Cheers.

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One thought on “London Craft Beer Festival 2017 review: The highs and lows

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  1. I was there on the Friday and it was too busy. The bar seemed to shut early that night too, thought it was a little odd at the time. Luckily i got to try the barrel aged Ten Fidy, for me it was one of the very few stand out beers.

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