It turns out my generation of Millennials were wrong to doubt the paternal wisdom handed down to them, championing the long lineage of lovingly brewed beverages.
Brewery Signature Brews’ John Longbottom (a freelance writer for Vice and Kerrang!) explains how a generation underwent a renaissance in beer choice, and beer-orientated events.
“It feels like the rise of craft beer in the last 7-8 years could be the reaction to a nation of teenagers who are now adults but spent their late teens frequenting bars and venues with beers that were copy/pasted across the country, a completely homogeneous beer scene centred around lager that had almost no appeal.
“Now we care about where our beer comes from, how it’s made and who made it. We want the story behind it. That’s something people love about what Signature Brew do – we’re not a faceless company, we work closely with bands who want to work with us and get stuck in.
“We had a band called Banfi in the brewery last week, they wanted to make a sour beer so badly that they sat and peeled 281 grapefruits by hand themselves. That’s a story, that’s a beer with meaning. The band have literally had a hand in the beer you’re drinking. Isn’t that better than a generic can of lager that’s not had human interaction until you pick it up? We think so!“
A revolution in your keg
This revolution has had knock-on effects on the events industry. We’re all just consumers afterall. A new website, Feast-It, designed for event organisers to select food and drink suppliers by reputation, has been fuelled in part by the craft beer and bespoke beverage trend.
Digby Vollrath, its co-founder, has a vast experience in festivals, both in the UK and the States, and has seen the UK adopt the US’ passion for craft.
“We’re catching up with the craft beer revolution, which was an American trend ten years ago. We have 100 different drink suppliers at Feast It, but it’s often the case that organisers sell all their beverage rights to a festival or event. However, this is changing because of consumer demand. Those big companies that want to monopolise the market must now diversify their selection, and in an attempt to do this, a lot of craft companies are being acquired.”
Ground Control Production’s managing director and Broadwick Live director Jon Drape has also noticed this trend, and stresses that it is no longer in the big brewing companies’ interests to monopolise a festival.
“Festivals are evolving, and we’re getting away from homogenised brands. The one-size-fits-all beverage model is old fashioned now, and we’re very careful at Broadwick Live not to treat our festivals as a group. We are wary of group deals, and ensure we are very bespoke to the requirements and market demographics of each festival. We pay attention to the nuances of each to deliver what they want. This is a trend that people are also getting used to on the high street.“
The problem with homogenised beer choice is generally commercially driven, according to The Fair’s CEO Nick Morgan. “The bigger brewers have more money to present to promoters, hence the lack of choice. They have more money as they are mass-producing, and cost per product is far less. However, some bigger brewers are in a huge acquisition drive of some of the smaller craft brewers. For example, Heineken have just purchased Brixton Brewery.
“Some of the smaller shows are still leveraging money from brewers, but really considering their audience and working with local breweries are getting it right. GALA festival is one example,” he adds.
This transition towards catering for consumer choice, while trialling unknown brands, is a delicate balance, according to Matt Curtis, a beer writer who founded craft beer event Uppers & Downers.
“It’s tough because organisers and venues rely on sponsorship to make things work, and very large breweries have the power to both do this and provide cheap beer, helping events make a profit – a taboo subject for many, but essential if events are going to work, grow, and improve.”
“Things are changing though. Field Day is a good example, with its London Brewers Market area championing small breweries, if more events considered initiatives like this, then it’ll help both the event and craft beer categories to flourish.”
Vollrath suggests a solution in the form of working with a bar company, and convincing organisers that a larger profit overall can be made if you diversify your offering while taking a percentage of the takings.
“Drinks brand Diageo has ventures where they fund upcoming drinks brands, and they are waking up to the various niches and how people are interested in a much bigger spread of drinks. Also, these sorts of companies are more involved in trialling products as they are often their future competition.”
A new solution
With the festival and wider marketing industry abuzz with talk of personalisation, bespoke service, uniqueness and sustainability, one company has stepped into the fray to tick a lot of contemporary boxes.
Unlimited Brewing is billed as the world’s first platform for creating personalised beer, each of which is sourced locally to your event or festival. The company personalises beers from its portfolio, or allows you to design your own from scratch. The company wants to become the world’s first, and largest, supplier of premium craft beer, without ever having owned or operated a brewery.
This means a unique festival-branded beer could be in the hands of your attendees, with minimal transit. Founder Neil Soni tells Access: “Branded beer is a great way to tell your brand’s story – everyone will look at the label. And better yet, the label is in everyone’s pictures of the event
“Festivals are known to be a celebration of various art forms, each of which is not only unique in their own way, but are also powerful statements of trust, and confidence, in one’s own brand.
“Our growing network of breweries span across four different territories that we operate in. This not only allows us to support local talent, but by utilising the spare capacity of our network, and working with those closest to the final point of consumption, we have the ability to cut the carbon footprint of any brew by 50% in comparison to any other the carbon footprint.”
Teo Correia, sr managing director, Accenture praised Unlimited Brewing’s model: “Having our own personalised beer at our events has really created a unique touch to them. The fact that it embraces the sharing economy model of using spare capacity and is better to the environment with a lower carbon footprint than traditional beer, is just a bonus.”
Choice of a new generation
So, now that we’re over the fizzy lagers synonymous with the lad’s mag era, which drink choices are now on the menu?
Vollrath says that the evolution of beer choice was unpredictable, with Indian Pale Ales (IPAs) now dominating the market, much to the surprise of many. “Who knows where the market will go next. Some are deviating towards sour beers, and there are many complex flavours out there that might surprise us and become mass market. IPA is an unlikely favourite but Five Points does a great range, and offers largers that are much lighter. Camden’s Hells beers are also great.
“For events, however, session beers are popular as you can drink them over a long period of time. Stouts of 6-7% are popular at events, but I’d avoid anything over 9% for events.”
Curtis adds: “The UK has always been discerning in its appetite for good beer. That’s exactly why CAMRA was formed in the early 70s. The rise of social media has changed our awareness of it though, and it’s much more prevalent now. Much like breweries themselves, with over 2,000 in the UK alone.
“We’ve seen some pretty amazing results over the years. Ultimately though, Uppers & Downers is about bringing together the worlds of speciality coffee and craft beer. At the moment the overlap of this particular Venn diagram is pretty small – but these two worlds have so much more in common than they might think.”
The trend towards more food/drinks related festivals is undeniable, adds Morgan.
“More are cropping up, and this year we are producing Kerb’s first festival to meet the demand of Londoners seeking better street food and locally produced beverages.
“Attendees are looking for a more wholesome experience it certainly isn’t just about headliners anymore. Beverages matter.”
So, as the reasons consumers give for visiting festivals diversifies, so too should the drink offerings. And, while the draw of major artists is under dispute, who could doubt the allure of a finely sourced ale?