Common Sense

Posted on September 7, 2012


SIBA, the Society of Independent Brewers, have announced plans for a 4 day celebration of British Beer targeting brewers, licensees and consumers alike, BeerX. Taking place in Sheffield in March 2013 BeerX,  according to SIBA, will “move them to new level of stature, as the only organisation able to represent British beer to both industry and the end drinker.”

BeerX combines the highlights of the SIBA calendar: the Annual Brewing Conference, the final judging and presentations for the National Brewing Competition; the Business Awards and Associate Members’ Forum and a brand spanking new  three-day Festival of Beer. Woo Hoo – this is great news, a chance for SIBA’s members to get their beers in front of punters they might otherwise never get to and a chance to celebrate British Beer in (almost) all its greatness. Oh – and a chance to stick one in the eye of CAMRA it seems, with the disappointing reaction being not to clap SIBA soundly on the back for a great endeavour but instead, suggest that CAMRA should be running scared, beards waving in the wind, at the very thought of anyone else staging a beer festival.

I’m not adverse to a spot of CAMRA bashing and I still think there’s a fair amount they get wrong if they don’t want to find themselves consigned the annals of history but even I find the continuous bashing for bashing’s sake a little tiresome.  CAMRA might not have social media nailed quite yet but one thing they do know about is beer festivals and to suggest they should notice, much less worry about, someone else dipping their toes in the festival pond feels more than a little silly given their expertise. CAMRA, I’m reliably informed, held their first beer festival in Covent Garden in September 1975. It was a 4 day event that attracted 40,000 people who drank 150,000 pints of real ale and it’s continued to remain as popular with 47,500 thirsty punters flocking through the doors in 2012, no mean feat in these challenging economic times. So not only do CAMRA have over 30 years of experience of GBBF (and the multitude of other festivals they organise) but they have a consumer database of c140k beer fans at their disposal to be able to target should they decide to do something new.

SIBA on the other hand are a trade organisation that, I bet a weeks supply of pork scratchings, your average drinker has never heard of. Not because they don’t do a good job, they do, but as a trade organisation. Far from “challenging CAMRA’s dominance” they are not even playing in the same field and have a MUCH harder and more costly  job to be able to promote and  pull off a consumer event. If I was SIBA I would consider linking up with a consumer organisation with over 30 years of experience and a consumer database of c140k beer fans and see how they could work together or learn from their experience to make this a really great event.

Both organisations have the same thing in mind albeit brought to life differently, ultimately getting more peoplle choosing beer, more often. With beer prices rising and consumption continuing to fall, the launch of a new festival should be celebrated, not seen as an opportunity to expose the faults of the old guard. One could argue that this sort of petty in fighting is helping fuel the industry demise, it’s certainly not going to turn it around. If only the beer  industry was as vehement in its denigration of wine, spirits, cider, duty and everything else that threatens its volumes as it is of its own we could be in a much stronger position.

And in the rush to poke out tongues at CAMRA I can’t help but think someone has missed the real elephant in the room. You see not all brewers can be at the GBBF , as they have this hing about dispense methods and fermentation, and BeerX will be a great showcase for SIBA’s 550+ members but excludes anyone that hasn’t joined or doesn’t meet their membership criteria so if you wanted to be “really” picky then neither is a true showcase for all British beer and brewing. Clearly SIBA feel a need to better represent the beers of their members (especially those that won’t / can’t be at GBBF) so BeerX is a great move  but wouldn’t it be nice if someone took the mantle of organising a festival that was a celebration of ALL British Beer.

I wonder if anyone has ever thought of forming an organisation that represented all British beer regardless of dispense style, fermentation or production volumes. And maybe while they’re about it they could also champion  the best place to enjoy the aforementioned beer, the great British pub. If such an organisation existed I’d want to know why they weren’t “the only organisation able to represent British beer to both industry and the end drinker” and why they hadn’t thought of setting up something like BeerX a long time ago.

In the meantime congratulations to SIBA for launching BeerX, I’ll be there for sure and may even just manage to juggle squeezing in GBBF too!