It’s not just the beers that make the Craft Beer Rising show such an exciting and dynamic event, but the people, as Richard Siddle soon discovered on venturing to his first craft beer event where it’s as much about how you look, your ability to grow a beard and your eye for adventure gear and bobble hats than it is the yeast strains in the beer. Which for a clean shaven, business journalist there to actually pour beer rather than drink them, was all in all a fish out of water experience.
Normally it is only when they let consumers in that drinks tasting events are transformed in fun and happening places to be, but at Craft Beer Rising even the trade sessions were bouncing, says Richard Siddle.
If you were invited to go a beer festival 10 years ago you might have thought twice about wanting to wade your way through tank after tank of largely flat, smelly, overpowering real ales that were likely to get you drunk far quicker than you would like – with a hangover waiting in the wings to match.
Ten years later and not only are craft beer festivals some of the best selling live events, up there with rock shows for popularity, we are all happily queuing up to get into ever more trendy craft beer bars. Oh, and pay well over the odds to get our hands on the latest, coolest, craftiest beers when we get inside.
One thing, though, that has not changed is the number of beards and rucksacks you’ll find at a modern day (craft) beer festival.
It was the first thing that struck me as I made my way up to the Truman Brewery for last month’s latest instalment of Craft Beer Rising – three days of craft beer nirvana in this vast, cavernous exhibition space in the heart of achingly trendy, Shoreditch in east London.
I was not sure if I had gatecrashed some sort of adventure clothing show, or somehow time warped myself into the heart of South Korea’s Winter Olympics such was the number of bobble hats, ski gear and mountaineering clobber people were wearing. No wonder they had to carry around an ultra hip rucksack just in case they wanted to take any of it off.
The cloakrooms were about as busy as they are at a nightclub in Newcastle in the depths of winter.
Once inside I quickly realised that shaving off my three days of stubble was probably the most pointless thing I’ll do this year. Going to Shoreditch, full stop, clean shaven is a mistake, going to Craft Beer Rising doubly so.
This is a show that is as much about what you look like, as it the beers you are going to taste. And I only went to the trade bit of it.
But what a great place to be. Which considering every stand was offering their own version of a carefully, nurtured craft beer, perhaps should not be too surprising.
I have been to the Truman’s Brewery for other drinks events and the vast space has overwhelmed most of them. Like having a drinks tasting in the vast chambers of a cargo plane, with an atmosphere to match.
It’s hard, therefore, to do justice to the buzz of excitement, and the sense of energy that was at the Craft Beer Rising show without sounding like you’re going to break into a mantra about yoga and meditation.
Particularly as we’re not talking about big double decker stands pumping out dry ice and canapés, but all pretty nondescript modular affairs all made from the same wooden shells. The only difference coming in the size of the fonts people were pouring beer out of and the wonderful avalanche of colours, logos, and in your face names that decorated every stand.
It’s all about the people
What made Craft Beer Rising such a great show to be at was the people. Simple as that. The people on both sides of the stand. There was clearly the passionate and excited brewer explaining how they made their beer, and then there was the visitor, be it the trade during the day or the consumer in the evening, or all had a thirst for knowledge – as well as the beer.
Yes, the brewers and their teams could talk in-depth about the yeast strains and quality of hops, or water that helped create their particular brew, but the language they used came straight from the heart and not the corporate tasting sheet they had printed out at the back.
By its very nature a show of this kind is going to attract start up businesses and people looking to make their own way in what is an increasingly competitive sector. Crucially everyone there was working for themselves, or at least the small brewery business they are part of.
Spend a little time with any of them and it was like listening back stage to the contestants on Dragon’s Den. Each had their unique personal story and eureka moment when they (in the majority of cases) decided to stop whatever they were doing previously and follow their passion for craft beer.
Either that or this was the best way they could think of wearing lumberjack or adventure gear for a living, without having to cut down trees or climb up mountains.
The only suits in the place where the salaried folk that had clearly come from the big drinks players to find out what all the fuss is about. You could watch them circling like sharks eyeing up brands, and stands to see which ones might be ripe for them to get their teeth into.
It was also noticeable how many major supermarket and national drinks suppliers were wandering around too, including the odd wine distributor, on the look out for a craft beer for their portfolio.
Declaring an interest
Now I have to declare an interest here. For I was there not just for the free beer, but to help pour it in my consultancy role for the newly revamped Hofmeister – back from a near 14-year hibernation as a craft Helles lager made on the edges of a Bavarian forest.
As I spend most, OK all of my time, at such events on the other side of the fence, it was strangely liberating to be in control of the beer pump, pouring out samples to increasingly interested customers fascinated (honestly) to hear the story about the new Hofmeister and all its craft lager credentials.
There were those of a certain age who remember it fondly from the first time round. Some even claimed their parents bought it for them as the first beer they ever tasted.
That, though, was in the day when it struggled to hit 3.5% abv and the nearest Hofmeister got to Bavaria was in its cheeky “Follow the Bear” advertising campaign.
As someone who is normally listening (intently) to the latest wine or drinks producer’s story and asking the questions, it was fun, if a little weird, to be the one telling the new Hofmeister story.
Which if you really want to know is how it has been brought back to life as an authentic Bavarian Helles lager made by a fourth generation craft brewer in accordance to the 1516 Germany purity law. After a while I even managed to remember what it was called – the Reinheitsgebot – even though I struggled to actually say it.
A law that means the beer can only be made from three ingredients. Which in Hofmeister’s case means natural mineral water taken from the brewery’s own lake; barley specially grown for the brewery and malted in its own malt house; and hops grown in the award Hallertau region.
Quite a lot of information to get across a wooden stand whilst pouring out a sample it has to be said. I even got to a point where I could remember all that without looking at my notes.
After a while you would see the same faces coming back asking Oliver Twist-like “for more”.
More beer that is, not my wit and repartee.