Craft Beer Rising 2014 – The Experience

Craft Beer RisingLast 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.

Yeastie Pants (antipodean for trousers)

Yeastie Pants

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.

Marstons Revisionist Keg Beer

Marstons Revisionist Keg Beer

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.

Wiper & True Badges


I Love Jaipur


Carbo - Pouch

Carbo – Pouch

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.

Colin enjoying a beer at Craft Beer Rising 2014.

Colin enjoying a beer at Craft Beer Rising 2014.

* 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.

Craft Beer Rising – who’s going?

UPDATE: Glad to note that the CBR folks have put a sort of a brewery list online. It’s a PDF of brewery logos… looking good, check it out by clicking here!

I went to Craft Beer Rising in 2013 and it was a bit of a disappointing come-down from October 2012’s IMBC experience. Reflecting on it this week I’m thinking “cross between an IT industry trade-show and a concrete car-park – with the the bonus of beer”. As grim as that sounds, I did say at the time I’d go again and I enjoyed the day out.

It’s been a close one though. I was considering skipping the gig, the fact that the CBR people are too lazy to maintain a useful and informative website was a big drag factor. They’re in the “just posting random shite on FaceBollocks is sufficient” camp  – even their Twitter feed is mostly links into FaceBollocks. I don’t mind people using FaceBollocks but don’t make it your primary platform FFS. It’s a daft mess. People “doing it wrong” online really get my goat… but then…


I found out the @YeastieBoys would be along to do some tastings with Melissa Cole… sod. I’ve been keen on them and their beer ever since drinking huge volumes of it back in New Zealand in 2011. Coming to the UK you say? Maybe there’ll be some exRRex along, or failing that I’d settle for Rex Attitude. Phwoar! (They’re also brewing up a cask version of their wonderful tea-infused Gunnamatta at Adnams for the Wetherspoons fest while they’re here.) With this in mind I thought I’d have a closer look… still no damn list. Oh well. Websuck, vim, search, type… and I have this:

I think this is not complete – that last one was announced only yesterday. Anyway, as it stands it is a tantalising list of beery names – and it is definitely better than last year. In fact this list certainly makes it worth my while attending… why the CBR folks can’t simply put it on their next-to-useless website I don’t know. Not everyone has time to trawl through a messy social media backlog (I wouldn’t have bothered but for the Yeastie Boys info). At least I didn’t have to create yet-another-temporary-account to get to their stuff on FaceBollocks – they win points for not putting up the usual FB Brick Wall of No Data Access.

Anyway – see you at Craft Beer Rising’s Saturday arvo session if you’re about. Here’s where our day out at the event last year ended up:

Colin enjoys a craft Carling on the train home.

Colin enjoys a craft Carling on the train home.

Craft Beer Rising 2013

Colin at the Rake BarI’m recovering from Craft Beer Rising 2013 today — feeling utterly drained. Over-indulgence in beery delights does that. Of course it didn’t help that we downed some beautiful but strong beers in BrewDog Shoreditch after. Oh, and then had a bottle of Speedway Stout on the train. Ah, and had a pint of Green Devil in the Live & Let Live when we got back to Cambridge. Excessive drunken decadence. (Though in our defence not to the point of illness and memory loss!)

So how was this “Craft Beer Rising” gig? I’ve been asked this question a couple of times now and have been thinking about the answer. The simple answer is: it was a great beer event, worth the trip, and worth the money. Now read on if you’re interested in a much less simple answer…

Craft Beer Rising was a great event! Good beer, craft beer, interesting beer. It had a less craft vibe than the Independent Manchester Beer Convention and it felt a bit more like a trade-show. It had some decidedly not-at-all-craft-why-the-fuck-are-they-here attendees… but if that’s needed to pay the rent, say, and that means that events like this can work and be profitable then it is a small price to pay (and nobody forces you to drink their beer anyway.)

Importantly: Would I go again? Yes! However next time I might try and sneak myself into the trade session instead…

That’s the TL;DR — now for the properly “less simple” version…

Colin at the Greene King bar –VS– IMBC

I’m probably being incredibly unfair. I’m holding Craft Beer Rising up against the Independent Manchester Beer Convention for a compare-and-contrast despite the fact that my experience of the two events was very different. I volunteered for 3 shifts at IMBC, starting with set-up, and attended the entire event from start to finish over 2 days — it was a rich experience. For CBR on the other hand I attended just a single session on Saturday afternoon — more of an in & out surgical strike!

Samples at the Rake BarSo how do these two non-CAMRA beer events compare? Craft Beer Rising felt more like a trade-show than a beer-festival. Each brewery involved had their own little booth — all branded up, staffed by brewery employees, and fronted by a solid high bar. In this sense it felt much closer in spirit to the brewery booths at GBBF than  the more casual & slightly Heath-Robinson IMBC setup. To add to this feel we had many usual-faces of GBBF around the place as well — Marston’s, Greene King, Thwaites, and Brains for example. Even with the same staff in the latter two cases. (They recognised me from GBBF despite the lack of a mohawk!) The only real difference was the occasional keg font — in that sense this was quite clearly unlike a CAMRA event!

The presence of these breweries is probably one thing that made Craft Beer Rising feel less crafty than IMBC… This is unfair perhaps, Brains and Thwaites are making an effort to produce interesting beers that work for us non-traditionalists. Sharp’s too — sure, the brewery is owned by Molson Coors, but you’d be a jerk to call the amazing, weird, and wonderful stuff Stuart Howe does “not craft” just because of that. Marston’s and Greene King on the other hand were notably & unsurprisingly dull. I did try a couple of their ales, the Marston’s single-hop beer and the Greene King Yard Bird, both decent golden bitters and nothing wrong with them. Though to market Yard Bird as inspired by American IPAs is kind of taking the piss if you ask me. It really was a bit “why are they here?” I’m not saying the event wasn’t “craft” because these breweries were present — I’m just saying that my feel for the vibe of the event was less craft than IMBC (which felt like basking in pure distillate of craft). “Craft” is such a difficult & argument-inducing term!

Off Beat - Drink CraftIn my opinion CBR was also notable for who wasn’t present. None of my “top picks” for British craft beer were there. Again this is a purely personal thing… but no Buxton, Summer Wine, Magic Rock, Hardknott, Kernel, or Moor (just to rattle off a few that come to mind). Of course not every brewery can be represented… but for none of these to be there? Hmmm… There were of course Thornbridge, BrewDog, and the aforementioned Sharp’s. Established “craft” players with decent marketing budgets — I suspect that part of the problem might have been the cost of the event filtering out the small guys. (The Rake Bar did a bit to fill the gap. They had beers on from Summer Wine, Windsor & Eton, and Redemption for example. So some of the beer was there but the breweries weren’t.)

The feeling I got from discussions on twitter is that this odd selection of breweries turned a lot of craft-beer-loving drinkers away from the event. No harm done, because the event sold out anyway! However few people I know bothered — even those in London — and thus it was a somewhat less lively and animated affair for us. (Some did go to the “trade session” on Friday, and there I re-note that the fact I went to ALL of IMBC and just one session of CBR does make the comparison unfair.) On the up-side this meant I actually had time to “check in” most of the beers I tried on Untappd. We did meet up with Nathaniel Southwood at least, and hung out with him after the event for some beers in BrewDog Shoreditch — but 3 beer geeks does not a full party make! The sad part of this is that those who chose to reject the event because of the brewery list did miss out in my opinion. Nobody was forced to drink Greene King IPA and the good beer wasn’t any less good just because there was a cask of it in the room. There was some incredibly good beer on offer. I had made a “shortlist” of 16 different beers I wanted to try, more than enough for four and a half hours of drinking. (I didn’t manage to try them all.)

Colin inspects some keykegs...Another contributor to the different vibe was that people were trying to *sell* me their beer. No, not by the glass… they were doing that of course. I mean 50% of the time when I was chatting to someone at a stand about beer the conversation rolled around to how I can order their beer for a beer festival/pub/etc. Business cards… sales people. This contributed to the “trade show” feeling I suppose. I’ve nothing against people wanting to sell me their beer! In fact I’m quite happy to have met a chap from Osset/Rat brewery on this front & may be in touch with them if I do another CAMRA festival order in the future. Basically IMBC seemed to have more brewers and less sales people. That said, several of the breweries at IMBC were ones I’d previously dealt with thus they knew I already buy their beer (and that I already like buying their beer!)

The imported beer selection was odd at best. I think we have US companies trying to “buy in” to the UK “craft beer” market? Stone, Ballast Point, Rogue, yes… some of these make beers that are certainly worth importing. Fordham? Point? No… why bother? What’s the point? And what the fuck was up with the clear-bottled rum-flavoured Innis-and-Gun style stuff? I just felt I was being too heavily marketed at when I looked at some of these set-ups. I’d expect slick brands like BrewDog and Thornbridge to feel like this, but they were pleasant and real by comparison — with stands staffed by people who’re really into beer and not just spouting sales-pitch at you.

I didn’t spend a lot of time people-watching but the general feel and vibe of the crowd was young, so unlike typical CAMRA affairs. I’m used to being young for beer festivals, but at  CBR I felt a bit old! I think the CBR crowd may have been even younger on average than that of IMBC. This really changes the atmosphere of the event — it’s more lively, and as a result more enjoyable. People who know me probably won’t believe that… I hate crowds. But if I have to be in a crowd I’d rather it be a happy-feeling one. This may be a little unfair on CAMRA festivals but they do tend to feel, to me, quite grumpy sometimes.

Pork Pie & IPAI didn’t catch much by way of the talk/event programme. It seemed a little less organised than the IMBC talks/tastings. That said I’m not going to complain about being given free beer and nibbles by Melissa Cole at the one talk I did attend. Beer and food matching of course!

Just like IMBC the food at CBR was excellent… and so unlike most CAMRA festivals! I think CBR did a little better on the food front actually — merely because I didn’t have to queue for 10 minutes to get my lunch! :) However IMBC did have better sausage.

An eternal problem of beer festivals: toilets. The facilities were overwhelmed! Will there ever be a beer festival that has adequate toliet facilities? The worst part about the men’s toilets in this place was the high flat metal urinal. There you are taking a leak and some drunk chap steps in next to you and… well, it’s a bit splashy. Ick.

On that note I’ll wrap up this loose collection of only vaguely organised thoughts. The weekend is over, I’ve not done much at all today and I still feel pretty damn shattered. Craft Beer Rising 2013 was good fun, despite my criticisms, and I’d have liked to have done an extra session… I missed out on a few beers I’m just now hearing good things about. Oh well, maybe next time!

Colin enjoys a craft Carling on the train home.

Colin enjoys a craft Carling on the train home.