There are some events that mark a milestone in the year: events that you look forward to from one year to the next; events that you plan your life around so that you don’t miss them.
For me and many beer and cider drinkers in the Gloucester area – and indeed for some from far flung corners of the country and even the world – one such event is the annual Gloucester CAMRA Beer & Cider Festival
It is back again for its sixth year on the 27 to 28 April, and is once again at the historic Blackfriars Priory in Gloucester.
However, this year it almost didn’t happen.
In the beginning
The first beer festival took place on 22 to23 March 2013 and, if we are honest about it, it wasn’t an auspicious start.
You’ll notice that this was quite early in the year, and it was freezing. I mean REALLY cold.
That, however, did not seem to deter the punters: they were queuing around the block.
The problem was, all the wise heads had said a beer festival in the city wouldn’t work. Why would people pay to get into a beer festival when they were surrounded by pubs that you can get into for free?
The wise heads were wrong.
We only had around 35 beers on and they quickly ran out on the Friday night. We also ran out of festival glasses and programmes very early on.
Somehow, thanks to the quick emergency planning of the beer festival committee, the help of local brewers and suppliers, and the support of local CAMRA members, we managed to struggle through and survive.
After some deliberation it was agreed to go ahead with a second event the following year. Lessons were learnt. We catered better for the number of attendees, we ordered more beers and ciders, and it was slightly later in the year so the weather was kinder.
If nothing else, the first year acted as a talking point. People gave us the benefit of the doubt and came back. They weren’t disappointed.
Since then the festival has gone from strength to strength, quickly building to its current state of providing over 100 beers and more than 30 ciders.
With each beer festival the planning and organising got slicker.
The early festivals had a large planning committee but, like all committees, they often disagreed. This slowed things down and led to confusion.
Over the years the committee has whittled down to a very small core team who know exactly what they are doing. Venue hire, beer and cider ordering, event layout and racking, pricing and a multitude of other decisions are taken quickly and easily.
This small committee is, of course, supported by an army of local CAMRA volunteers to actually set up and run the event, but we are largely happy to be minions, simply realising the vision of the committee.
The down-side of a small committee is the heavy reliance on a small number of people.
They are all volunteers, and all have full time jobs – finding time can be difficult.
It also turned out that the chosen dates for this year’s festival clashed with an important rugby game: Gloucester playing Bath at home.
This is potentially good news for Saturday evening attendance at the festival, but not so good for the rugby mad committee members – not to mention CAMRA volunteers – who now have divided loyalties.
It looked like this year we just weren’t going to have enough people to make it work, so it was decided to cancel the festival.
Everyone was disappointed by this decision.
If we cancelled the festival this year, there’s a good chance it would never happen again.
lthough there is no shame in bowing out after five successful years, it seemed like a pity.
So a renewed call went out for volunteers, to see if running the event was still viable.
As ever, the local CAMRA members came up trumps and the event was back on.
Those that are left of the core committee have a big task on their hands, especially as the decision was made fairly late in the day for planning such a major event.
Some of those of us on the fringes have stepped up our efforts to provide more help with planning and publicising the event and, critically, covering the important matter of ordering the beers and ciders. You can be assured that this year’s range will be as diverse and interesting as always.
And Wye Valley Brewery have once again stepped in as main sponsors for the event.
Support your local beer festival!
If you are a fan of the beer festival, you can also do your bit to help:
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