GBBF 2014: Why things need to change

I don’t want this post to be an onslaught of criticism against CAMRA. I am a CAMRA member, I’ve been to many CAMRA events and as an organisation they do a lot of good work in campaigning for the rights of pubs and pub goers. That said, my experience this year at the Great British Beer Festival was a little disappointing and I’m going to try and put into words why that was:


I’m used to going to beer festivals held in scout huts or working men’s clubs where the barrels are set up, a folding table is the bar and there’s no food or entertainment. And you know what? That’s fine. I don’t mind that at all as long as the beer and the company is good. However, when I go along to London Olympia for the Great British Beer Festival, I want something a little more impressive. The entertainment is completely hit and miss, the auction is hilarious in a bad way (“XL rugby shirt, pre-worn!”) and the pub games, while I enjoy them, are more reminiscent of a school fete than a big event. That said, I won an excellent book on the tombola and my boyfriend’s brother bought some toothpicks with Scottish inn signs on them so, er, not all bad. 

Lack of diversity: beer

When I go to a CAMRA event, I understand that I am there for the real ale and that I’m not going to be drinking a bunch of super hoppy American IPAs, but this year I wandered around all the bars and didn’t find much that excited me. Don’t get me wrong, there was some great stuff there (which I’ll review in another post), but I can’t help but think CAMRA are cutting their nose off to spite their face when it comes to not including so many of the amazing British craft breweries we have. 

I wandered along to the tiny American bar hidden away in the corner and, as per, by Friday afternoon they were running out of beer, something that happens every year. Surely if the demand is there they should be responding to it, not telling us what we should and shouldn’t want to drink? As if to reinforce this view a man on stage told us all he didn’t think much of American beer. Oh well.

As I pottered around Olympia it struck me that at that very moment the London Craft Beer Festival was also taking place over the other side of London and what a shame it was that we couldn’t sample both real ale and craft beer in the same location.

Lack of diversity: people

On the CAMRA website we are given images of young, racially diverse people of both genders enjoying a nice pint of beer. The reality of this is that, well…it’s not the reality at all. Attendees at GBBF are predominantly male, predominantly-let’s be tactful here-mature and every year I feel conscious of the fact that I’m a young woman (although, unlike some, I’ve never been at the receiving end of any sexist comments). If I go to other events, such as the London Craft Beer Festival, Meantime’s Brewfest or Summer Brew Fest, I don’t feel like that. Beer has had a revival in recent years and that revival has been young and exciting and genderless. Why, I wonder, has that not filtered down to CAMRA? To be honest, I don’t have any membership statistics so it’s quite possible that it has and that the publicity photos they use are very accurate! I doubt it though.

Ultimately, what I would really like is a festival that celebrates all aspects of beer; one that reflects our strong brewing tradition, but that also celebrates our newer start ups; one that is inclusive of both young and old, male and female, single hop and triple hop. Is this too much to ask?

6 thoughts on “GBBF 2014: Why things need to change”

  1. “I can't help but think CAMRA are cutting their nose off to spite their face when it comes to not including so many of the amazing British craft breweries we have. “

    Of course cask is craft too and while most CAMRA members do appreciate new wave keg too, it is the Campaign for Real Ale, a uniquely British style of presentation and one that we still need to defend.

    “Beer has had a revival in recent years and that revival has been young and exciting and genderless.”

    That is frankly fanciful. While craft keg may well have attracted countles young women, a cursory glance in any craft beer bar will show the majority (though it may be a smaller one)of customers to be male.

    I think there is something like a 65/35 split at GBBF but I may be wrong.

    This is an age thing. As an older drinker, I don't feel particularly at home in bars full of heavily bearded young men and beautiful young women either.

    The mix you desire isn't easy to achieve by any means.


  2. Thanks for the comment. I hope you'll forgive me as I try to scramble a few words together on the way into work:

    I think it's clear that this is an opinion piece with no in-depth research done, but I'm not sure your 'cursory glance' is much better! Whether it has been successful or not, I do think that effort has been made to cut out gender, particularly when it comes to processes such as naming and packaging beers. And while women are still in the minority, the numbers entering the brewing industry appear to be increasing rapidly- is this a coincidence? I'm not saying craft beer drinkers are 50% men and 50% women by any means, but then it's going to take more than a few years to change something that has been ingrained within our society for decades.

    Maybe this is an age thing, but at some point CAMRA needs to go forward and you're going to need younger people to do that. I realise you're not the Campaign for Beer Generally, but so many younger people now are drinking craft keg; why not draw them in with that and then show them how great real ale can be? Yes, I do want it all, but I like to aim high!


  3. I've been going on and off for 20 years now (and have been for the past…maybe eight years in a row). It has gotten better over the years. There are definitely more women there and believe it or not there are less sexist merchandise stalls now. I can only see that as being a glacially slow change, but it is happening.

    As for the beer choice. I agree again, poor selection and not much outstanding. You make a good point by comparing it with LCBF. When that festival was announced last year some of us said, 'going up against GBBF? Is that wise?' But it may well turn out that the audiences are different and that there is going to be less and less overlap between them. I've always given my loyalty to GBBF in the past but now I'm having a serious rethink. This year we did both festivals. Next year we may only choose one. 😉



  4. “But it may well turn out that the audiences are different and that there is going to be less and less overlap between them”

    Is that necessarily a bad thing? If your preference is for the other festival, go for it. It isn't a wrong thing not to like GBBF.

    And could you really say the selection was a poor one when there is so many beers to choose from? I wonder? And if so what exactly was missing. Were you wandering about parched thinking “Nothing here to drink”. How many beers can a person drink?

    Oh and I entirely agree about sexist merchandise. It should be banned completely.


  5. But its called the Great British Beer Festival!

    While foreign producers can sell what they like there, fantastic British success stories like Meantime, Camden and Lovibonds are effectively barred.

    Most of us never get a say in CAMRA decisions which are made by a clique at events which are purposely held at times and places that most normal people can't get to. All this irrational guff about banning cask-breathers and refusing to list brewery conditioned bottled beer like Landlord & everything by Thornbridge is pointless and self-defeating.

    If I, heading towards 50 and suitably bearded, find it all tiresome, stale and dated then where are the new members going to come from. Why join an organisation that ignores you and which is run by what is essentially a closed shop who decamp to the coast every now and again to obsess over self-created rules?

    Its time this all changed, before CAMRA disappears up its own shive hole.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s