Last year I was lightly scathing of Craft Beer Rising – I had fun, but it felt too much like the IT trade shows of my “real” life… just much more intoxicated and with slightly messier loos. There were few “target” breweries on the list for me and many of the new names turned out to be grim US mega-craft or similar brand-led swill. But there was definitely enough good beer and I enjoyed my visit.
Bring on 2014 – I almost didn’t sign up, but then I heard the Yeastie Boys were putting in an appearance with Melissa Cole. My favourite antipodean brewery with my favourite UK beer foodie… that was enough. When I finally worked out what breweries were going to be at Craft Beer Rising the deal was more than sealed. The list looked better than the 2013 offering… a mix of big boys, craft leaders, and smaller breweries who were probably taking a real “marketing budget” gamble to build their brand. Whilst it may not seem it sometimes, I’m all for brand and awareness building – it’s the commercial reality. I just get narky when, as all too often happens, the brand seems to become more important than the product. Anyway…
This year Craft Beer Rising delivered on the promise of that brewery list. I managed to keep myself fully occupied for two sessions and came away with a list of breweries I’d not given enough time, or actually missed entirely. Next year I might do a session on all three days, although the Cambridge train-fare is a blow to the wallet. Then again – maybe I should just talk at people less and drink more beer.
I have a recollection that last year there was a lot more gravity cask around as well less of a selection on the keg front. This year I think we could re-dub the event “Keg Beer Rising” – many stands hadn’t bothered with cask at all, and where it was present it was often overshadowed at the back of the stall by the keg fonts boldly standing proud on the bar front. I’m not knocking this – I think it is fantastic.
Craft Beer Rising is still an utterly different experience to my benchmark beer event: Indy Man Beer Con. IMBC offers a carefully selected list of the best of British micro-brewing (according to the crafterati?) and has a feel of being an event that, first and foremost, is for the drinkers. A lot of brewery folk are present, and they make it wonderful, but their brand isn’t in your face… it’s not really their event. Craft Beer Rising on the other hand feels to be first and foremost about the breweries – as with any trade show they get their own piece of floor & they get to put their brand forward. Breweries get to buy-in in a way not offered at IMBC*… I can’t imagine Greene King or Marstons being able to pay their way onto the IMBC list, nor Old Dominion or Point for that matter. But here they are, 150k-barrels-a-year brands alongside breweries that were home-breweries a year ago. It’s kind of cool and the big-boys-mingling-with-start-ups atmosphere harks back to RSA conferences in the tech security scene. It helps that the brewing scene seems to be just as incestuous.
There are great advantages to the trade-show format for the customer too. More tat, if that’s your thing… stickers, badges, beer mats, shirts. It’s branding city. There is also lot of opportunity to pick up special bottled beers to take away, many at very good prices. The breweries are here to sell themselves and, within reason, you can take advantage of that – beer samples flow generously.
CBR is different. But that’s not a problem – good trade shows can be fun. I think 2013 was a learning experience for both the organisers and the breweries involved and they’ve come back better for it in 2014. This year it was bigger, slicker, and more varied. Craft Beer Rising is a worthy addition to the growing annual line-up of craft(ier) beer events.
* True, there is the “Turkish Baths” – but that supports just the one “brand”. Last year that was Magic Rock. There’s also capacity for some breweries to pimp themselves more through talks and events. The 1st IMBC in 2012 was a little more brand-y with one pool having individual brewery-managed bars with a bit of branding present. The 2013 IMBC swung away from this with each room containing a single bar shared by selected breweries.