The Session #96 - Festivals: Geek Gathering or Beer Dissemination?

Today's Beer Blogging Friday, so it's time to post my contribution for The Session, an initiative by Stan Hieronymus from Appellation Beer. The current one is the 96th edition, the third one in which I take part. You can check out my past sessions here.

This time is a bit more special for me, as I am the one hosting the current call. I had attended two different Welsh beer festivals during the summer, and after my vacation I was pondering about the role that these events play on different beer scenes. It was quite clear that it was not the same in Swansea than in Barcelona, but then again even the two festivals I attended while in the UK had a completely different approach. So I decided to write an email to Jay and Stan to suggest a topic for The Session of February 2015: "Festivals: Geek Gathering or Beer Dissemination?".

In the announcement I pointed out three different possible answers to the question: (a) Geek Gathering, (b) Beer Dissemination, or (c) It depends. But to say the truth there was a (d) answer, which is "None of the above". For instance, the Welsh festivals were a (b) and a (d). But apart from that, I wanted each contributor to give us some insight on their local beer scenes. So let's get to it.

Let me start with some terminology clarification. According to how we call this type of events locally, during the post I use the two following concepts:
  • Beer Fair: meaning a festival in which brewers have their own stand and sell their beer to the public.
  • Beer Festival: meaning a festival in which different kegs/casks are tapped and served to the public by the organisation.
A clear statement to begin: Beer Fairs have been the most important thing that has happened during the last decade (at least to us, local beer geeks). The first one (2005), "Vine a Fer Cervesa", consisted -and consists- on a free public brewing day (the name suggests so in Catalan) with some of the few homebrewers there were selling their own brews. That was in Barcelona, which at the time had only two humble beer-related businesses.

But the most influential beer fair was the second one. In 2006, two homebrewers from Sant Joan de Mediona, a little town in one of the most notorious wine areas of the country, started the nowadays famous "Mostra de cervesa artesana de Mediona" (Mediona's craft beer exposition).

Our history.
Everything changed from that point on. During the that time, the first microbrewery started up, and the beer scene was about to experience a severe exponential growth up to today. Mediona's beer fair was essentially a geek gathering, but those homebrewers had the vision and the talent to design an inclusive event that soon built up a loyal community of attendees. It was, and it still is, a party: people plays the leading role, with beer as the motif. Today, renowned brewers Carlos and Montse, from Ales Agullons, are already planning the 10th edition of this unmissable event.

In 2014, I could have attended a Catalan beer fair each weekend if I had had the time. Some weekends even had three different ones. For those with an indistinct idea of the magnitude of it: Catalonia has a population of 7.5 millions and 32,114(12,399 sq mi). So this means LOTS of beer events for a country that started the 21st Century with just two macro breweries and a tiny brewpub.

Most of the current beer fairs pick up the idea and form of Mediona's, consequently trying to be a beer dissemination event. Can anyone begin to gather the importance of beer fairs? Proselytism in its purest state.

But let's say something about Beer Festivals too. In 2012 I was already beer blogging and going to lots of beer events. That year though I could attend a new type of event along with some of the "regulars" of beer fairs. Inspired by UK's CAMRA Festivals, Barcelona Beer Festival (BBF) was born.

First edition.
That first edition, in which I took part solely as an attendee, reached almost 10.000 visitors, and it was an utter success. I think it was a turning point: Barcelona realised that there was a huge mass of people thirsty to know more about beer. The financial meltdown was still kicking hard, so business plans began unfolding in people's minds. This led to an astonishing increase of beer-related businesses since then.

The following editions of BBF attracted 25.000 people each, drawing some international attention too. Our internal estimates (I joined the organisation team just after the first edition) tell us that 95% of the attendees are general public. The other 5% wear Rock Band black t-shirts or have a hop tattooed on their body. That means lots of people experiencing that there's a world beyond Estrella, which is not appealing to some of the big guys. It also means that Catalan and Spanish beer scenes are crossing national borders.

The city is now packed with pubs, bars and shops with a wide beer selection. I often come across beer tourists, and even people who's not at all interested in beer know that there's something going on. That's why I conclude that, until now, beer fairs and festivals have played a major role as beer dissemination events. We have had (a)'s, and maybe a couple of (d)'s, but apart from some exceptions, our festivals are clear (b)'s. Which paradoxically is good for the ones looking for (a)'s.

In my opinion it is up to the ones we are somehow involved in the industry to keep up with the good work. There's still a long road to travel, but we must be proud of the big leap we have been experiencing.

Salut i birra!

* Apart from brand-promoted pseudo-Oktoberfest celebrations.


  1. Thanks for hosting!

    A Good Beer Blog

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