A beer festival is an event where many different types of beer (real ales, cask beers, and craft beers) are available. Common mass produced and mass marketed beer is avoided, with the focus on diverse, less common brews, often local to the event itself.
Festivals are usually a stand alone event, but can sometimes form part of a wider event such as a village fete or other local festival, a festival around food and drink, or are part of a music festival.
Beer festivals are often just for beer, but in many instances ciders and perries will also be available; on some occasions wine or other drink will also form part of the event.
Cider festivals are rarer, and tend to be just to celebrate ciders.
The beers (or ciders)
Typically the beer supplied at a beer festival will be real ale that is brewed in traditional fashion. Large breweries can still mass produce this product and some of their lines will show up at some festivals. However, most beers at festivals will be produced by smaller breweries – some of these are known as microbreweries – whose aim is to provide diverse and high quality ales in smaller amounts. Beer produced by small or microbreweries is often referred to as craft beer.
Traditional and / or diverse beers from overseas, or bottled craft beers, will also often be available at beer festivals.
Real cider and perry are also traditionally brewed drinks, and these will also be available at beer and cider festivals.
Smaller pub festivals tend to have a smaller line up of beers, maybe as few as six. Local festivals often have dozens, and the large regional ones will have 100+ or even hundreds to choose from.
Beer festivals are run by three types of organisation.
CAMRA dominates the scene for festivals that aim to celebrate real ales and ciders, running large regional events, local events, and the annual Great British Beer Festival. CAMRA tends to publicise its festivals rather well, so check your local branch website or Facebook and Twitter feeds to see when they hold their festivals.
Volunteer groups such as the Lions and Round Table provide many beer festivals each year. Local branches will hold annual festivals for their area. These are often well publicised on their own websites, and local CAMRA branches will generally list them on their websites too.
The commercial sector of course runs beer festivals to promote their wares and to boost sales. Pubs – especially ones renowned for good ales and ciders – will often run festivals and these can be repeated annually in some instances, and some pubs will hold several each year. Breweries will sometimes run festivals, and events companies will also organise them as part of their commercial programme.
There is usually a charge for entry (pubs generally are free) and this can be anything from a few quid to over ten pounds.
A beer festival can occupy numerous premises, but ultimately it is a rack of beer casks and a table and chairs with the only variation being the size of the room and the number of casks and tables.
Larger festivals are likely to use large halls in exhibition centres and the facilities may be quite smart in such circumstances. Many festivals are held at rugby clubs, scout halls, village halls, and even schools; as such the facilities (including heating or air conditioning) may not be great and you should dress accordingly.
Where an event is aimed at raising funds for charity the site and facilities may be rather sparse.
Festivals organised by commercial organisations may well be sited in grander facilities, but this is likely to be reflected in the ticket price.
Ultimately the purpose is to enjoy a range of beers so many people prefer to drink halves and maximise their range of consumption.
Organisers often run festivals to raise funds for local good causes. Often a new local charity is selected each year.