For years it was the US that was at the heart of the craft beer revolution, but times are changing and slowly the UK is being seen by brewers as the place to showcase and sell their craft beer. Which is good news for the London Craft Beer Festival, an event that has built such a reputation since it started six years ago that its organisers, Daniel Sylvester and Greg Wells, personally invite the brewers that are able to attend.
You can’t create a serious, discerning drinks list and not have a quality selection of craft beers to choose from. But with local breweries opening every week where do you start? The London Craft Beer Festival (August 3-5) for a start, particularly as its organisers have hand picked every brewer that is there.
Tell us about the festival. It might say London, but isn’t it actually celebrating craft beers from around the world?
Very much so. The London Craft Beer Festival is the UK’s largest gathering of independent craft breweries. For three days, over 70 of the best breweries hand-picked from around the globe will unite under one roof to create one of the most outstanding collections of craft beer ever seen at a festival.
We will be showcasing both new and established craft beers to an audience of over 10,000 consumers at London’s Tobacco Docks. The key being they are hand picked.
There are a number of craft beer festivals now so how are you hoping to still make yours different, what are your USPs?
We think our approach is unique in that we personally invite craft brewers to attend. We simply want to offer the best from the world of craft beer to our discerning audience. But aside from being the only festival showcasing as many world class craft brewers, the London Craft Beer Festival also stands out in how it is curated. We are focused on beer discovery, accompanied by world class music and food.
You are now into your sixth year, do you think being around for a long time helps build credibility and a loyal following in such an ever changing, fast paced sector?
We like to think our success and longevity is the result of having a really focused approach, that we believe is tailored to what the brewers and our visitors are looking for. That’s why we see the same people returning every year to experience our festival. They know that they are going to see something new and stand-out and our trade partners know that they will be well looked after.
You are holding a specific trade session on August 3 (11.30am to 4.30pm). Have you always done that and why are you doing it this year?
We have always had a trade focused day, however, this year we are being much more proactive with our outreach. Craft beer is one of the fastest growing sectors of the drinks market and we want more of the trade to be able to discover the latest trends, tastes and experiences the craft beer world has to offer.
We also want to provide the biggest trade audience of buyers, bartenders and industry aficionados to our exhibitors so they truly feel the value of attending our festival.
We hope to attract buyers from right across the trade, from the off-trade, drinks specialists, through to bartenders, decision makers in drinks distributors and importers as well as journalists and key influencers.
What can they expect when they do, other than the chance to taste new beers and meet different breweries?
Well apart from all the wonderful beers, the food and music is outstanding and we have also created the Raise the Bar Sessions, a series of talks from inspirational craft beer voices including beer writers, Pete Brown and Adrian Tierney Jones and market leaders from all sectors of brewing. Experts will be on hand to offer invaluable advice to young breweries on how to navigate the industry.
Have you got any feedback on how effective trade days have been in the past?
We know that deals are done and our exhibitors are always very pleased with the level of buyer engagement. And the fact they keep coming back year after year…
Explain the whole music and food side of the event?
We know our audience intuitively because we built this festival for people like us. Our mission is simple, to promote modern beer culture. We are focused on beer discovery, accompanied by world class music and food.
This year the festival is featuring remarkable food from the likes of Sri Lankan stars Hoppers, BBQ pro Pitt Cue, Luca with its signature ‘Britalian’ plates and Cantonese Bun specialists Bun House.
On the music side we are hosting a number of leading bands and artists including Two Door Cinema Club, Hercules & Love Affair, Toddla T, Greg Wilson and Huey Morgan.
How do you choose which music to have?
My background is in music and so this is the element that I’m focused on curating. To be honest, our choice of line-up is totally down to me and my personal taste.
Do you think experience is as important now as the actual quality of beer on show at a craft beer festival?
The overall experience we offer is everything, however, beer will always remain at the heart of the festival. If the beer doesn’t live up to expectations at a craft beer festival then people will leave feeling deflated and cheated. The outstanding list of beers we have curated makes the festival unforgettable.
What sort of trends do you see within craft beer at the moment?
We see a movement away from hoppy, cloudy IPAs and juice bombs and a growing popularity for more ‘sessionable’ and table beers. Consumers are looking for high quality lower ABV lager and Pils.
What do you see as being the key takeaways from this year’s event?
Our aim is for the London Craft Beer Festival to become the most trusted source of the modern beer movement in the UK. We want our consumers to trust us for the amazing experience they will have year after year and our trade partners and exhibitors to know that we are looking after them and offering them the most relevant platform to showcase their products.
What are the biggest challenges facing the craft beer sector at the moment?
The biggest threat is the big beer brands and big companies disrupting the craft beer sector. They are looking to take it over, dominate and rather than looking to grow the sector, they are making it harder for the small craft brewers to access ingredients and technology.
You have beers coming from around the world. Anywhere new, different and interesting to look out for?
We have a lot of new craft beers and companies that a UK audience would never have seen before. We have guys from Australia and New Zealand who are new and interesting and being very experimental with their brews.
Why have you chosen to host it at the Tobacco Dock?
Quite simply it’s the biggest and best venue in East London. It’s a fantastic space that offers enough space for our increased capacity of 10,000 people and great areas in the Vaults where we are able to offer more experiential experiences to visitors.
What are your backgrounds and why did you look to host an event on craft beer?
I joined forces with a good friend, Greg Wells to create a business called We Are Beer. We are both huge fans of craft beer and we decided back in 2013, that the industry really needed a festival celebrating modern beer. Our first festival broke the mould as the first tasting-led festival in the UK combined with headline music acts and the best food.
Our core mission of celebrating the creativity, diversity and dynamism of modern brewing culture, led us to set up the Bristol Craft Beer Festival in 2016 and the Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival in 2017.
- If you want to read more about the London Craft Beer Festival that runs between August 3-5 at London’s Tobacco Dock click here.