Billed as ‘the greatest beer festival London has ever seen’ you’d never accuse the Craft Beer Co of lacking chutzpah. These guys know how to organise festivals, their Craft100 festivals have featured 100 of the best beers in the country including several rare, special and new releases. In fact it’s been a victim of it’s own success in some ways, the Clapham bar is nowhere near big enough.
So the London Beer Carnival was going to be different. 50 of the best beers from around the world chosen for taste, not marketing considerations (no tittering at the back), unlimited 90ml pours, £50 a ticket, a venue in Waterloo. It had to be done. So imagine my surprise dear reader, when I received an email advising me monies were being refunded. So what went wrong? Who knows? Team Stonch normally have their finger on the pulse but may or may not have missed the mark, though Craft Beer Co’s Martin Hayes left more questions unanswered than answered with his reply.
But never fear, the beer was bought and various events were planned instead. The headline act was ‘Route CBC’ at the Clapham bar featuring the American beers. Now we know rare, strong, artisanal beer does not come cheap but some were £6.50 for a 1/3? In some cases they were not high abv and, according to the check-ins on Untappd, not particularly rare. (I am currently sitting in a Brewdog bar where a De Molen/Fyne 9.5% collab is £4.90 a half and Stone Old Guardian, 11.2% is £4.55 a third). Unlike Craft100 festivals there was no programme, just a menu mentioning name of beer, brewery, abv and price – nothing else. And there was £3 deposit for a glass, why? The bar at the front was operating as normal but also with deposits on glasses.
Some of the beers were great, they were all in good condition, lots of BA goodness. The number of breweries represented curiously low. But hey-ho, there was also the free bus to the Brixton bar where they had the Nordic beers. We cashed in our glasses and headed out front. Sightings of the free bus had been rare (not every 30 mins as per menu), but it did exist. So we had a couple of nice ordinary beers in the front bar – still having to pay a new £3 deposit. Eventually we gave up waiting and took an ordinary bus. Of course we forgot to get our £6 back, it’s so unusual to pay a deposit for a glass when you are sat at a bar for simple half. Halfway to Brixton, sat on the bus I realised this. I could faintly hear the kerching of the CBC accountant’s till and a triumphant ‘gotcha’ ringing in the air.
This was my first time in CBC Brixton, it is small but in a trendy area, the serving area of the bar is particularly small. A nice bar on a normal night, this wasn’t. First impression was a relief to see normal prices, most were under £3 a third. Regrettably the beers were exceptionally normal too, this was a poor showcase for the Nordic lands.
Intrepid is our middle name at Team Intoxicated. We could still make it to Leather Lane in the City for the German and Polish beers. The evening took an upturn with the arrival of a Scotch egg and the militant wing of Bexley CAMRA but otherwise more dreary beer, not even a menu here as far as we could see.
On the Sunday there was an uninspiring list of Irish and Italian beers to coincide with the rugby. Then a week later Covent Garden CBC had some of the Route CBC beers with new additions. The Intoxicated litigation fund being what it is, I will not call them the dregs.
What a letdown. The more so because of the previous great beers at Craft100 festivals. So what went wrong? Staffing issue, low ticket sales, some weird H&S concern? I would suspect that craft beer bubble has reached an optimum size, it hasn’t burst. There are a lot of people who really enjoy a beer festival where they will pay a fiver a pop for half a dozen premium halves (or more). But the thought of sticking up £50 in advance is a different matter, one that appeals to a limited audience – indeed if the beer list was the same as we saw at the events above even I would have felt short changed. And nobody likes ticking a box (or getting a badge) as much as me.
Craft Beer Co competes in the London market with Brewdog, Draft House and Barworks. To my mind, despite being a ‘family firm’, they are the most achingly hip. As a beer salesman they are the most difficult to engage with. Their beer selection is certainly no better than Barworks or Brewdog. The vibe is cooler in Barworks, more laid back in Draft House. Brewdog service and knowledgeability is, I hate to say, the best.
Without doubt though, CBC have the worst toilets. Now, when I was young drinking gallons of cheap session bitter in spit and sawdust pubs this didn’t matter. Now I am in my dotage and drinking premium beer at a premium price I expect a premium sanitary experience as well.
Have CBC got a bit up themselves and not noticed the trends? Is the firm run by accountants, not beer lovers? Did you enjoy the events? Have I got it wrong? It wouldn’t be the first time.