What is a craft beer festival?
By Ng U-Sern and Mili Lim
Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes
The variations of a craft beer festival are only limited by imagination.
While craft beer festivals work differently in different countries, with each being unique to the organisers’ vision and its fit with the local culture, there are some common features –
- the discovery of beers,
- innovation of craft beer festivals, and
- fostering community values.
These features differentiate craft beer festivals from mere drinking fests.
Unlike mere drinking fests, it is common to find a wide variety of beers at craft beer festivals, where the option of taster glasses allow attendees to sample and discover different beers in small amounts. Other than providing a wide variety of beers, attendees may also discover unique and small batch beers.
An example of how craft beer festivals allow for the discovery of unique beers is the ‘Festival Of Wood And Barrel Aged Beers’ in Chicago where “art meets brewing, and wood meets beer”, and attendees get to experience some of the best aged beers in the market.
Another example can be seen in the ‘Oregon Brewers Festival’ which started in 1988 wherein a Specialty Tent is set up showcasing beers from “old favourites to new creations, experimental beers to those well off the beaten path”, most of which are very limited in quantity.
In Malaysia where it is illegal to brew craft beers, the focus of craft beer festivals would be more about importing these unique brews to introduce a variety of new brands and beer styles for the local beer community. For example, The Better Beer Festival 2016 in Malaysia brought in several beers which were new to the Malaysian market such as the jasmine ale from Pasteur Street Brewing Co., a Vietnamese brewery, and a sour ale from a UK brewery called Tempest Brewing Co.
Over and above discovering unique beers and brands, some craft beer festivals highlight ways to cook or pair beer with food. For example, “Savor: An American Craft Beer and Food Experience” is a festival where craft beer and food are thoughtfully paired to complement each other.
Whether they are different beers or food pairing possibilities, all these add to the character of craft beer festivals.
Right off the bat, craft beer IS innovation, and this manifests itself in ways beyond just innovative brewing ideas.
An exemplary type of innovation at craft beer festivals is demonstrated by CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) which organises the annual ‘Great British Beer Festival’ to raise awareness about the quality of ales and protect the interests of local beer businesses and pubs. It really is a craft beer festival with a cause.
Additionally, a look at the programmes at the ‘San Diego International Beer Festival’ reveals their interesting “Beer Off Flavours and Causes” segment. What is it? An interactive demo to learn how to spot what causes bad off-flavours in beer. As their website describes it, “You’ve had good beer now try some bad beer”.
Innovation in craft beer festivals can also be seen in Collabfest, organised by independent and internationally known beer brand, Brewdog from Scotland. Collabfest in 2016 involved 27 Brewdog bars in the UK, each working with a different independent brewery to brew a special collaborative beer. With craft beer festivals, it really is about experimentation and advancing the craft beer community.
There is a warm sense of community and shared purpose when craft beer drinkers gather at a festival where the organisers are truly dedicated to the craft beer movement. More than connecting with fellow beer drinkers, meeting the brewers and industry players, a craft beer festival is also about supporting the local community and economy in many different ways. This is compounded by the rise of beer tourism globally.
Craft beer festivals do support independent breweries, but it is more than that. A beer and food pairing at the festival? You’re supporting local food businesses. A live music lineup at the festival ? You’re supporting local musicians. Organising the festival in a mall? You’re supporting the outlets in the mall. The list goes on.
VARIATIONS OF A CRAFT BEER FESTIVAL ARE ONLY LIMITED BY IMAGINATION
Those who subscribe to the idea that craft beer festivals are only meant for getting drunk are missing out on what a real craft beer festival is about.
No two craft beer festivals are the same, but all craft beer festivals contribute to the growth of the craft beer movement, which is movement away from corporate macro-breweries, and towards independent microbreweries where beers are brewed with the passion and creativity of its brewers. This movement result in better beers and a global community of craft beer drinkers exploring and appreciating beer, its origins, brewing process, variety, and food-pairing possibilities.
So, what makes a craft beer festival? Making the discovery of beers accessible, coming up with innovation at craft beer festivals, fostering community values and, of course, bringing good fun to the people.