Ever wondered what it takes to put on a beer festival? No? Didn’t think so. We’ll tell you anyway.
Our annual beer festival is months in the planning – in fact planning starts pretty much as soon as the previous festival finishes: there’s the venue to arrange, finances to secure, CAMRA paperwork to be completed, web sites to be maintained, health and safety to be satisfied, beers and ciders to be selected and ordered, bands to book… the list goes on, and it’s all done by a very small committee.
However, as the big weekend approaches reinforcements are called in as all the visible parts of the festival have to be pulled together.
Everyone who helps out at the festival has to be a CAMRA member. Most are from Gloucester, but volunteers come from all around the country to help out.
We get access to Blackfriars, our superb venue, the weekend before the festival opens.
The first thing to do is pick up a hire van and travel around the county picking up equipment.
For cost reasons, we have to share the stillage – the racking that holds the beer casks and cider boxes – with Tewkesbury CAMRA. The first job, therefore, is to drive out to Tewkesbury and manhandle the extensive metal racking out of a lock up garage into the van. This is then driven back to Blackfriars and manhandled back out of the van and into the priory.
We do have a few bits of our own equipment – including some additional stillage, and some extremely heavy plastic sheeting and rubber matting – kindly stored for us by the Guildhall, so that takes another trip and more manhandling.
Having gathered the basic materials it’s now a case of putting it all together. First the entire bar area has to be fully covered by the heavy plastic sheeting to protect the Blackfriars floor and walls from spillage.
Next the stillage has to go up. For the first few years we reconfigured the layout differently each time, resulting in protracted – and often heated – debates about the best way to lay it out. We think we’ve got it sussed now though, and for the last couple of years the configuration has remained the same, speeding things up considerably.
That’s not to say it’s all plain sailing – the stillage is a bit like a Meccano set and there’s always debate about exactly how it goes together, requiring exceptionally detailed analysis of pictures from last year to get it right.
If we’re lucky, by the end of the weekend we have the bare bones of a beer festival in place – but no beer or cider.
Well, that’s not quite true – we may already have a few casks of beer and boxes of cider that have been stored for us locally and we’ve collected over the weekend.
They may, for instance, have been stored in our friendly local landlords cellar…
Most of the beer and cider, however, arrives on the Monday in a succession of deliveries in cars, vans and lorries of various sizes from local breweries and national beer merchants.
A standard beer cask is a firkin: 9 gallons/ 72 pints/ 42 litres. They weigh around 50Kg – that’s 110lb. Nearly 8 stone. And we have around 100 of them.
These have to be unloaded from the van and carried into the venue to be checked against our lists and labelled.
They are then moved into the correct, carefully calculated position next to the stillage. Finally they are heaved into place.
At the same time the cider and perry arrives, but this comes in much more manageable 5 gallon/ 20 litre boxes.
On Monday we also get the delivery from CAMRA.
This comes on a large articulated lorry, which is always a challenge to manoeuvre in the fairly narrow confines around the priory. The delivery includes a large pallet containing all manner of essential things like mops and buckets, cask jackets, banners and beer taps (which all have to be carefully cleaned).
The main part of the delivery, however, is is the bar. This consists of large (and heavy) wooden sections which have to be unloaded by hand and, once all of the beer casks are in place, assembled.
At some point during the day we also get a delivery of glasses – in pint and half pint sizes. Enough for almost 2000 visitors. That’s a lot of boxes of glasses.
Needless to say, a gym visit is not required after this day’s work…
Over the following days the magical transformation takes place as the beers are covered in jackets to maintain the right temperature, labelled up and tapped.
Banners, posters and signage are put up, and the whole place generally begins to look like a beer festival
And then, of course, it is the beer festival itself.
You will see most of those same volunteers taking your money at the door, serving behind the bar or stewarding. Some work the whole festival – starting at around 9.30am for the 11.00am start and working through to around midnight to tidy up after the last punters have finally been cajoled into leaving the premises.
And then, when it’s all over, we’ve got until Sunday evening to take it all down again and get the place back to how we found it.
It’s hard work, but we keep coming back because it’s also a lot of fun!This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged beer festival by Darrel Kirby