Beer festivals in the UK are no longer simply for bearded hipsters nor an occasion for beer industry members to share a pint and talk business. No, those days have come to an end- and none could be a bigger signal of that than Beavertown’s Extravaganza. The dust of mediocrity had hardly settled after the underwhelming trade-session at CAMRA’s GBBF, where I heard a multitude of mutterings along the lines of “I think this is my last,” you only have to read Pete Brown’s post-festival article. But Beavertown had no ambition of living up to the standards that CAMRA members set their organisation. Beavertown weren’t even looking at the standards set by the “Craft Beer community” for festivals. That’s simply not the way that the north-London brewers operate, it’s not in their blueprint. If they were going to do anything, it would be better and bigger than anyone would ever expect- just look at their taproom on a warm saturday in summer! This grandiosity is what we were told to expect in March when founder Logan Plant appeared on our social feeds, stood in the massive Printworks venue, announcing the Extravaganza.
And that’s exactly what we got- a festival that tore up the definition of hype. At 1 pm, stood behind about 500 people in the queue, the excitement and tension were palpable - not even the driving rain could dampen the mood. And the organisers didn’t do much to contain that energy, making their die-hard fans wait another 2 hours in a holding bay, buying merch and treating themselves to the delights offered up by Kerb street food market. When the guards eventually did let drinkers into the beer hall, the behaviour was more akin to Bieber fans sprinting across a stadium to claim their spot front of stage - within 30 seconds there was a 15-minute long queue to claim a 100ml serving of Omnipollo. And while their was another delay until the remaining two beer halls were opened, another holding bay incited chants, over which those lucky enough to grab a beer already compared tasting notes and stories about the brewery whose beer they had just claimed. The rockstar of beer hall number 2 was Trillium, with fans keeping that queue going for hours- until there was no more beer. (This was bound to happen)
Beyond the beer, there were the talks. Good Beer Hunting (GBH) put together a symposium that would rival some of the best beer conferences and lectures around- at least in the UK. With none other than Logan Plant presenting the opening keynote, centred on the State of British Craft Beer in 2017 (something we’re particularly interested in ourselves). His speech strengthened the message that BeaverEx had already laid down, that craft beer was officially mainstream, backing this up with statistics like Tesco dropping half of their Heineken range in favour of craft beer, and 8000 beer fans rushing to buy tickets for a beer festival 6 months in advance. But what he also spoke about was the definition of craft, how the UK differs to the US in terms of having a strict definition, and how consumers are craving more clarity. But as with everything that the Beavertown frontman touches, his closing statements transcended everything that came before it, crying out for every craft beer drinker to join the fight against ubiquitous, global beer brands, and educate their peers on what beer is all about, and to go out into the festival and drink the best beers on the planet!
Other notable talks across the festival included the debate on the modern beer portfolio, in which Siren’s Darron Anley and Beavertown’s Cosmo Sutherland highlighted the importance of core ranges and making sure that they’re always in stock. Kernel founder Evin O’Riordain, who produces the epitome of anti-core, illustrated their approach to deciding what to brew, and how that has impacted their brewery.
In addition, Beavertown’s Nick Dwyer and GBH’s Michael Kiser discussed their respective approaches to branding and the importance of understanding what you’re trying to achieve with your beer, and how that impacts what your brand needs to communicate.
Along with these, Saturday’s lineup delivered equally compelling talks and discussions that illustrated exactly how far beer has come in the last couple of years, across the UK, Europe and in comparison to the US.
As Logan said, craft beer has hit the mainstream but with the hype that was created before and during the Extravaganza, what have breweries done to take advantage of that since? Being experts in craft beer digital marketing, we couldn’t help but notice the number of missed opportunities when it came to brewers making the most of BeaverEx. We’ve written extensively on this topic before, but clearly more needs to be done to help breweries integrate their in-person and digital representation. An example of taking advantage of a beer festival's audience was Brewgooder at 2017's Craft Beer Rising, who had a physical cutout of their #drinkbeergivewater hashtag- it got loads of engagement and grabbed a lot of attention for their brewery, and their cause.
Overall, it was a festival that showed the UK exactly what festivals are supposed to be about, the beer, the people who make the beer, and the people who drink it. It wasn’t a money making mechanism for Beavertown, just an opportunity to celebrate great beer. If only more breweries continued the journey, and made BeaverEx stick in the minds of those who attended, they'd get more of those fans drinking more of the beer that they work so hard to produce.
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