Friday, 13 August 2010

Lagerboy at GBBF

I have always been a bit coy when asked about lager at the Great British Beer Festival. Firstly I don't know much about what is on offer and secondly I don't like taking the focus away from the main issue being the real ale there.

In the last week I have overcome the first issue. After a "toys out of pram" moment in the press office, I set off to find alternative employment quickly bumping into the foreign bar manager (that's the manager of the foreign bar) and asked him if he needed help for a couple of hours. "We can always use a spare pair of hands on the German/Czech bar on a Friday night" he grinned and off I went to learn more about lagerboys (and girls) at GBBF.

It was the hardest I worked all week. With about 30 draft beers from Germany and Czech Republic on offer, I had to quickly learn the system for finding out where each one was as the customers were coming thick and fast. I know Friday is probably the busiest night but this was unrelenting. I poured beer after beer for just over two hours. Long queues of customers forming for the best that Germany and CR has to offer at £4.20 a pint or £3.50 for bottles, the preference being more for Budvar or Jever than the other fifty German regionals in the fridge. People were thirsty and we were doing our best to accommodate them as quickly as possible.

So this is where that lager-heads hang out; just as friendly as the beer tickers but probably an average of a generation younger and all happy to pay a pound a pint more than those enjoying the real ales.

A most enjoyable and eye-opening session and I had lost my Bieres Sans Frontieres virginity but I was relieved to be relieved and set off to the auction at the stage where further help was needed taking and counting the money - much more my style.


Mark said...

Sorry if this is a bit off topic, you might have a view on it though.

If Friday is always the most busy night, why do CAMRA festivals almost always run mid week? Surely Saturday would be huge if the festival opened on Friday? It's always felt insane to me that festivals aren't run over a weekend, you know ... so people that work can actually go to them!

The Planet Thanet Beer Fest is run this way and is one of the best in the country. It's always busy too.

Anonymous said...

@Mark, it's not just a matter of selling beer while the festival is open, it's also all got to be set up and then taken down once it's over. And because the staff are all volunteers, that means taking advantage of weekends.

At GBBF for instance, many volunteers give up their holidays and will have already been there since the previous weekend. The reason why the festival closes at 7pm on Saturday - many other beer festivals stay open until 10 or 10.30 on Saturday - is so they can start the massive task of dismantling everything and clearing it all out, ready to give the hall back to its owners for Monday. And yes, they really are taking bars apart and shifting empty casks out on Saturday evening.

Sure, you could run a festival Fri-Sun, and some pubs do exactly that, but for volunteers that would mean taking days off work in two consecutive weeks. It's very likely that it would push up the cost of renting the venue too - Earls Court almost certainly has another event moving in afterwards and needing time for its own set-up.

ChrisM said...

Steve, I thought you did a brilliant job on BSF - surely more interesting than the press office (!?) - it was great working with you and I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Mark said...

I understand the point about having to get out by Monday because the venue might have another team moving in for the next event. For smaller venues though, will that apply?

Also not sure I understand the point about holiday. A 3 festival for example, with a day before and after to set up, will take 5 days in total. You start on Thursday and finish on Monday thats 3 days holiday and 2 weekend days. If you start on Wed and finish on Sunday, thats still 2 week end days and 3 days holiday.

I dunno, it just strikes me as odd that anyone would run a beer festival and not have the main times as Friday evening and Saturday. Thats when people most want to drink beer!


Bob the Brit said...

I attended the GBBF on Saturday Steve, and was disappointed to find that many of the real ales had sold out. One barman suggested that around 80% of the ales were either sold out, or about to be.

The Czech brews on BSF went down well with those present on Saturday, and possibly prevented a small riot. I'm sure CAMRA weren't considering a discount for those who were arriving mid afternoon.

Tandleman said...

Well, what bryangb said. I really amazes me that such a naive question should be asked, but then it might be obvious to us volunteers I suppose, but not to others.

Good to see the BJ getting his arse in gear too. All in a days work to us veterans.

Anonymous said...

maybe the bottled beers didnt sell well as its the same selection as was at the pigs ear fest the ealing fest the battersea fest the london drinker fest and on and on.time for a shake up on the german beers methinks.

ChrisM said...

Anon - who said the bottles didn't sell well? A complete re-order and hourly restocks of the fridge said otherwise!

Tandleman said...

Anon - Our beer orderer is in fact making new contacts, but on the German Bar, we never sell out. It's a point of principle for us and of course excess stocks are moved on.

The Beer Justice said...

Sorry I'm late back. Thanks to BryanB and Tandleman for answering. I might give the stock CAMRA answer "we've always done it this way" but recall that GBBF used to open through to 10.30 on the Saturday and was changed to allow take down to start sooner for such a large event and allow volunteer staff party to start earlier after a very long week.

I didn't mean to suggest that the bottled beers were not popular, just that Budvar and Jever were the most poplular among those drinkers who could not find anything to suit them in the rest of the fest.

Bob, I gather there were still over 100 cask beers available on the Saturday.

Glad that my tiny effort did not go unnoticed.

BryanB said...

@Mark - you're right, it will depend to some extent on the venue, I guess that's why Thanet's able to include Saturday night. Indeed, most of the local festivals I've attended and worked on aim to run into Saturday evening. (Since any real ale left over is wasted, the ideal is to run out around 10pm!)

The sheer size of GBBF means it's more work to take down - plus as Steve says, the volunteers need a break!

Generally you set up at least two days ahead, by the way, as you want to give the ale 24-48 hours to settle if you can.

Mark said...

Some points that makes sense. Thanks. :)