by Ben McCormick
As barometers go, it’s a fairly reliable one that you can pretty much guarantee once something happens on Brick Lane, the chances are it’s going to be mainstream before you can say Operation Condor.
So it’s no surprise there is to be a craft beer festival in the Old Truman Brewery this coming weekend. From relative obscurity, the UK craft beer scene is now positively burgeoning. Some would say you can’t escape it.
All over the capital, bars and pubs are scampering headlong to jump on to the craft beer bandwagon. Where once lager reigned supreme, now the talk is of new world-hopped IPAs, resinous imperial stouts and obscure farmyard Saisons.
Meanwhile, microbreweries are opening at an alarming rate, not just in London where the current count is around 40, but all over the UK. In fact, the number of companies brewing beer has grown to its highest level in more than 70 years.
But until very recently, the country’s beer festival scene had struggled to keep up. Mired in the image of sandal-wearing, bearded folkies swilling pints of boring brown beer while listening to third-rate ‘German’ oom-pah bands and scoffing pork scratchings, the humble UK beer festival was no longer regarded as a home of innovation. Or indeed anywhere anyone under the age of 40 would want to be.
That all changed last year when the owners of Manchester’s Port Street Beer House put on the staggeringly good Independent Manchester Beer Convention. An antidote to indifferent beer, it laid the foundations for what promises to be a fascinating future for the country’s thriving artisan beer industry and its legions of avid aficionados. All it really lacked was a soundtrack.
Step forward Craft Beer Rising 2013. Aiming to bring craft beer to the masses and introduce ever more people to what’s new in brewing, the two-day event brings together more than 40 of the country’s fine ale producers in one huge ‘meet the brewers’ extravaganza under one historic roof.
“I used to be a generic lager drinker,’ said co-organiser Daniel Rowntree, who now runs the acclaimed Old Nun’s Head pub in south east London. “When I took on the pub lease, I got to discover a vast range of tradition ales as well as the innovative stuff coming out of the US and, more recently, the UK.
“We ran a few beer festivals in the pub and I noticed the demographic had changed – a much younger crowd was coming along, one that definitely wasn’t evident at some of the established events I’d been to. So we decided it was time to do something a bit different; something that would appeal to beer’s new audience.”
As well as catering for punters’ thirsts, the organisers are laying on quality entertainment, with Good Times’ Norman Jay MBE and 6Music’s Pete Paphides among others providing the tunes alongside a range of bands and comedians.
Throw in an array of London’s finest street food vendors, beer talks from industry experts and live beer making in a 50-litre ‘Brew Lab’ and you’ve got what looks like a blueprint for the future of beer festivals.
What remains to be seen is how those who have until now treated craft beer as their own closely guarded secret react to its increasingly broader appeal. Will they shun its new-found popularity? Or will they embrace the maturing of a scene that this festival surely signals?
Sometimes, there’s only one way to find out.
Craft Beer Rising 2012. 22-24 February, Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, London E1 6QL
More details and tickets here