‘Beer festivals are vital for business’
Caroline Quartley, freeholder at The Long Arms in Steeple Ashton, Wiltshire, has been running beer festivals since 2008. At her last summer event she had more than 700 people attend over the course of just one day. She turned over £15,000 from the £5 entry fee and the £3.50 a pint, or £2 a half-pint, that she charges, alongside food sales.
For an event that costs roughly £5,000 to put on, that’s not a bad return and, as a result, beer festivals have become “vital” for the business.
It’s fair to say Caroline has learned a lot about running festivals over the years, not least that “you can’t trust the weather and hiring a marquee is always a good investment!”
Other advice includes choosing beers with lower ABVs, “as drinkers tend to look to have several beers over the course of a few hours and so gravitate towards lighter beers.” She has also learned to include several ciders in the mix, as this brings more women through the door.
Food has also been a learning curve. “The first few years we ran a barbecue but people seem to all get hungry at precisely the same moment and burgers take time to cook, which meant big queues,” she says. So, what we offer now is hot pork and beef joints served in buns for £3.50, and that works well.”
Use plastic glasses, think about pricing to minimise faffing with small change, and try to take a break, because clear-up the following day is going to be more hard work, says Caroline — take it from one who knows.
‘Beer and cheese tastings are always popular’
Jane Peyton is the current BII Beer Academy Beer Sommelier of the Year.
In her time she has presented tutored tastings and beer & food matching sessions at hundreds of events around the country. The success of these, she suggests, is down to the fact that beer festival-goers, “want to take advantage of what’s on offer — not just drink beer!”
If you are thinking of running something similar, Jane suggests simple is best. “The best events for the organisers are the ones that are the easiest to produce and present, and for customers it’s the ones that are value for money and which leave them feeling they have actually learned something new, or tasted beers that are new to them,” she says.
Tutorials should not be too long, ideally between 30 and 45 minutes. And the winning format? “Beer & cheese tastings. They are always popular and they make great impact when the beer and the cheese together work their magic.”
As a beer guru, Jane has some tips to help curate your range: “Have a mix of some well-known and smaller, less well-known, breweries. Remember, too, that some customers make their purchasing decisions based on the name of the beer, so do include some with amusing (though not offensive) names and try to include at least one beer that has won a major award.”
‘We’re always delighted to be approached by local pubs’
Local breweries are a good bet to approach if you are looking for some help when running your own beer festival, says Rupert Thompson, chairman of Surrey’s Hogs Back Brewery.
“We’re always delighted when local pubs approach us about their beer festivals,” he says. “Sometimes we supply stillaging and other equipment, such as glassware, and we do occasionally source and collate other beers here at the brewery to help out as well. If there is a lot of interest, we will also do talks about our hop garden (the brewery is attempting to bring back the white bine hop variety to Surrey) and the different hops and malts we use.”
Get in touch with a local brewer early enough and they might even brew a festival ale especially for you, he suggests.
Rupert also runs his own beer festivals, which help to raise awareness of the brewery and its beers, such as T.E.A. He suggests boosting footfall by making your festival part of a wider local event, such as a village fête or a sporting fixture.
“Consider adding some extra elements, like brewers’ talks or food and beer matching, while live music really adds life to a festival and can make for some very memorable evenings”, he adds.