In which I meet Randy


The 2023 edition of the Barcelona Beer Festival was held last weekend. Nothing strange, on paper: the eleventh edition of a major event, which is already part of the annual calendar of relevant events.

The change of venue meant a return to the city that was the origin of craft beer in this country, as well as a regrouping of the different initiatives that have appeared around the festival -i.e. Challenge and Innbrew–. Ingredients, all of them, that made it not just another edition.

However, last Friday there was much more at stake than it might seem. With many companies at the critical point of considering whether to invest more or to close the doors, including the organiser of the Festival, this edition became kind of a plebiscite, a last bullet. It was critical to meet targets.

The fact is that the previous model had expired: in eleven editions, consumers and companies have evolved, and the pandemic had changed the configuration parameters for large leisure events. In the case of beer, the new context called for stopping measuring the success of festivals only by the volume of attendees and number of references, and at the same time getting down to work on new and old ideas that remained locked in a drawer. 

In this sense, one of the great novelties of this year was on our wrists. The bracelet not only served as a payment method, but it also allowed, for the first time, a precise measurement of attendees and their behaviour. As an example, it could be used to measure what's the favourite time of the day to drink a specific type of beer, and the most popular food to pair it with. This data is priceless.

However, the thing that caught the eye when entering Hall 7 of Fira Montjuïc was, no doubt, how the bar with fixed taps, which had been gaining relevance in recent years, was distributed in pieces throughout the space: it improved the promotion and customisation options for each brewer and, despite their simplicity, the wooden stands provided much greater warmth.

On the contrary, the classic bar was blurred and difficult to spot, and the blackboard was -sadly- a bit pointless. Surely every hardcore attendee found things to improve, but a change of venue in a festival of this size is traumatic. And to make things even more challenging, this time the model has changed too.

On the upper level of the hall, the InnBrew ran parallel to the Festival, taking advantage of the clear synergies between the two events in specific time slots, while also providing a space for exhibition, exchange, training and reflection on topical issues for the sector. On stage, top-level speakers and recordings of the different sessions, feeding the notable content base that the BBF has been creating in recent years.

The context called for a break, and it is positive that it has occurred, especially when one can clearly observe the output: exhibitors satisfied with the change and their commitment to be present in this great forum, and the general public enjoying, yet again, an open event where every drinker can find what they are looking for.

Undoubtedly, now it will be time to adjust different things, recover lost ideas and formats that may still be valid. But, above all, it is time to consolidate this new model.

Because despite the fact that it is unmatched as an equipment, in La Farga -former venue- I would never have had the opportunity to hold a conversation about weapons, religion and Prohibition with an American from Alabama, named Randy, who had arrived a few hours before along with 30 people on a Mediterranean cruise. He escaped from the group early to attend the Festival, which he had seen advertised on one of the advertising pillars that had been scattered around the city.

This edition was less about self-complacency and more about effectiveness. An edition that returns to the fundamental objective of attracting new audiences to show them what we all believe in. That is why it was relevant to return to Barcelona.

And people have come, from the street, but also from the world of hospitality, who had been summoned from the professional part and also with a renewed and frankly successful approach in the food section. Little by little, but firmly, rearmed with the lessons learned after all these years, this has to be our way. The beginning of a new era for our local craft beer scene.

Once again, Beer Events has resurfaced to establish itself as the agitator that leads the sector, giving a forceful message of resistance and love. Yes, love: to certain values, to a trajectory, to people; to a whole movement. Humulus Lupulus keeps mutating, but its original message, Steve Huxley's, is still here to point us in the right direction.

It is necessary to celebrate that, despite the adversities, the public has responded and there have been many professionals who have trusted once again in the ability of this human group to drag, transform and improve the sector.

This past weekend we have all taken a step forward.

Salut i birra!

Disclaimer: despite having moderated two round tables within the framework of Innbrew, I have not intervened in any aspect of the organisation of the Barcelona Beer Festival 2023, although I have maintained a personal and professional relationship with Beer Events since its foundation.


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