Bring on the booze

There’s nothing better than a refreshing tipple on a hot summer’s day. Organisers are capitalising on our cocktail fanaticism with festivals for all types of drinks.

Almost everyone enjoys an ice-cold bevvie on a summer’s day, so could this be why booze festivals are booming in the UK? The increasing number of festivals and events in the country centred around alcohol is now, more than ever, a trend not to be ignored.

Festivals are delving into their liquor cabinets by adding events dedicated to drinks across the alcohol spectrum. From the Treasury Bar’s partnership with Gin Festivals UK, to London’s own Oktoberfest bringing the authentic taste of German beer and food; each has its own unique aspect it brings to make its alcohol-infused festival stand out from the crowd. Access sits down with the organisers to discuss what goes into creating a boozy festival.

The Treasury Bar proprietor, Benjamin Shearn says that alcohol festivals are a thing of the future, with an increasing number of people wanting to get in on the buzz. “They’re new and exciting, and attendees get to be the first to see the new products and innovation. Pop-up festivals, bars and even restaurants are all on trend at the moment,” he explains.

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Campaign For Real Ales, known as CAMRA, is responsible for some of the biggest beer events, including the Great British Beer Festival and the National Winter Ales Festival. “Festivals offer the chance to explore new beers and to be educated about flavours you wouldn’t discover on the supermarket shelves and at home. Local and smaller brewers are often supported at beer festivals, which provides a great opportunity to try something different and new,” says Lauren Archell, communications officer for the company.

“This year is our fifth birthday,” says Greg Wells, co-founder of We Are Beer, the organiser behind the London Craft Beer Festival. “We’re really excited by the modern brewing scene in London and other cities like New York and Copenhagen, so we wanted to create an event that promoted this new beer culture. We invite some of our favourite breweries, buy plenty of Ginger Pig steaks and call on a few musical friends. We have an ‘all-in’ ticket for unlimited beers, so it’s all about exploring the flavor. Five years on and we’ve built quite a following. We get people from as far away as Japan and Brazil.”

“Our bar runs a monthly gin club, with groups blind-tasting three new gins each month, and they are challenged with guessing correctly from tasting notes,” Shearn continues. “So we decided to run a weekend festival [Gin Festival UK] to use up some of the 100-plus bottles of gin and the rest is history.”

Shearn explains that it was due to the staff at the bar sparking an idea for the rum-filled fest. “Many of our mixologists and barmen drink rum in their spare time, so the pressure was on from them to try and host a rum festival. The first 12 events are scheduled this summer, so we will see how they are received. A fair number of tickets have been sold already and our marketing teams are working round the clock, so we are quietly confident the events will be another success.”

The festival director of the Cheltenham Wine Festival, John Parr tells Access: “The boom in food culture has contributed to consumers wanting to know more about the stories behind the wine they’re drinking.”

Julie Bui, marketing assistant for World Wide Oktoberfest talks about the German festival coming to London: “Our event is a cultural experience. We bring our own food and beer from Germany to London, about 100,000 litres of beer and 50,000 bratwursts, and our staff dress in traditional Bavarian costumes. A band and a DJ perform at the event, and they are from Germany so the music is guaranteed to be Oktoberfest-material.”

“People come to our festival to and out about new breweries and beers they haven’t tried,” adds Wells. “They can then buy in the pub or from a specialist retailer to enjoy at home. Our festival is more drinker-focused, rather than trade-focused. Which means, make sure you’ve done you research on the kinds of producers and products you want; that’s key. Then work out what kind of experience you want the festival to be, for the punter and the exhibitor.”

Getting it together

The extensive detail is often forgotten in terms of booze transfers and organising of licenses. Wells tells Access exactly what is on his to-do list for this years event: “Everything from finance to working with sponsors, approaching breweries, organising over 300 beers and when they go on, how people will pour them, how to get them into the country, then all the branding in the festival, all the marketing and communications across all the social media channels, making sure the food guys are on board and music agents have the artists ready. That’s the tip of the iceberg when planning for our festival.”

Shearn adds: “Between moving 30 staff, 1,000 bottles, eight tonnes of equipment, as well as arranging PA and lighting, organising your own festival does have its challenges, especially parking and hotels in central London. Being able to adapt to whatever situation we are thrown into is key. My partner and I have years of experience running a plethora of events, so we tend to thrive on the situation.”

“People like the buzz of something new”

– Benjamin Shearn, The Treasury Bar

However, in terms of actually creating the festival with structures and suppliers, Shearn tells Access that the Treasury Bar prefers to keep things simple. “We try to remain completely independent when it comes to supplying for the festival. We bring most of what we need with us and we pick venues with a good infrastructure.”

“It varies from one festival to another based
on location, scale and offering,” says Archell. “In short, each festival is unique and there is no set formula for the preparation of a CAMRA beer festival. If there are supplies that are needed, local branches will contact suppliers in their area rather than being a national supplier for each element.”

Despite how challenging and how long it takes for the festivals to come together, the outcome makes it all worthwhile because of the atmosphere the event brings.

“There is also a great social and well-being benefit you get from attending an event with like-minded individuals,” explains Archell. “People who have a ‘local’ that they visit regularly tend to feel more socially engaged and contented, and are more likely to trust other members of their community.”

“Booze has become more than something to
get o your head with,” adds Wells. “Much like food, we’ve all become a lot more discerning in
the things we choose to consume. The culture around beer, wine, cocktails and gin has changed a lot. Festivals are a great way to go and experience what’s happening in that particular area.”

“Our guests dress up, taste German beer and food, and enjoy the company of their friends and family. We encourage them to sing along and dance on the benches, just like in Munich,” says Bui.

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The atmosphere surrounding a drinks festival is more than just the alcohol speaking; it is a welcoming community created by people sharing a common interest. “The same can be said for the social experience at a beer festival. Beer festivals offer an experience that simply can’t be replicated at home,” Archell continues. “Enjoying well-kept and served cask beer is a unique experience, which bottles or cans at home can’t match. Many festivals also offer delicious food and live entertainment, are held in a unique venue or have stunning surroundings, making them extremely enjoyable events.”

Parr adds: “There is little choice in supermarkets, so wine lovers are turning to quality independent wine merchants to buy alcoholic drinks displaying authenticity. A thirst for knowledge and an interest for experimenting with different wine styles is reflected in the success and popularity of events.”

But when Access asks Shearn why people should drink at a festival when they can drink at home, he cheekily replies: “120 gins? That is a big home collection.”

Wells adds: “The key elements are making sure the experience all hangs together and is relevant. From the producers you choose, the drinks you put on tap, and the experience you wrap around that.”

“The festivals will keep coming. People like the buzz of something new,” Shearn concludes.

London Rum Festival takes place 21-23 April