The beer world is like a big family

By Pete Brown

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Peak district

Pete Brown: "The beer world feels like a big family in many different ways"
Pete Brown: "The beer world feels like a big family in many different ways"
Thornbridge’s Peak District beer festival highlights community values at their best. Pete Brown enjoys a spot of camping and discovers more.

While every festival is different, there are some basic principles you would probably expect to remain constant, such as choosing a site that’s easy for people to get to, easily controlled and not too dependent on capricious British weather.

You definitely wouldn’t, for example, organise your beer festival in an outward-bound centre in the middle of the Peak District, a good half-an-hour’s drive away from the nearest big city, on an exposed hillside that spends most of its time being rained on.

Unless you were Thornbridge Brewery of course. Then it would seem like a great idea.

Family event

The Peak Weekender ran from Friday to Sunday over the first weekend of July at Thornbridge Outdoors, an educational facility run by Sheffield City Council, pretty much unconnected with the brewery. Entry was free, with a small charge for campers. Demand rapidly exceeded the 100 camping spaces available, and an extra field was allocated to double capacity. It filled too.

The weekender was very much a family event. Two long classrooms became bars, serving a mix of cask, keg and bottled beers from Thornbridge and a selection of chosen brewers, including British craft-brewers such as Wild Beer Co, Magic Rock, Rooster and Redemption, and hard-to-find American brews from Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas, Oskar Blues and others.

A yurt hosted a steady stream of chats from several visiting brewers, while a cluster of vans supplied good quality street food and a marquee full of hay bales provided shelter against the possibility of inclement weather. Local musicians were involved, as well as the occasional beer writer banging on about his books. For the kids, adventure trails, sky ropes and abseiling provided more thrills than watching their parents talk about hops.


Kids aside, the audience was remarkably mixed. Anyone still clinging to the belief that craft beer is a hipster thing should have seen the sparse smattering of beards among a group that was couple-oriented even where there were no kids, with a thirty-ish bias among an age range that spanned legal drinking age to legal retirement age.

The whole event was remarkably relaxed, with just one person in an official-looking tabard. Signs at the main gate gave you a phone number to ring if stewards weren’t on duty and you needed help. The weather, which remained kind after a Friday night downpour, meant that people took their drinks out from the bars to the grass and the hay bales, and weren’t in as much of a rush to refill their glasses as they might have been.

This made the pace of a 12-hour drinking session nice and steady, with few if any obvious casualties of over-indulgence.

This was beer as a nice day out rather than a bacchanal. Beer was the reason we were all there, but once the tents were up, it was a backdrop to good-natured festivity rather than the focus of intense concentration. I didn’t see anyone ticking, and didn’t hear a single conversation about the definition of craft or the relative merits of cask versus keg.


There was just one moment of drama. Very late on Saturday night, one of the visiting brewers who had been on site giving tutored beer tastings received a call informing him that his wife had gone into labour three weeks early. Near Bristol.

Immediately, the organisers track down a hire car and driver who is willing to make the return journey through Saturday night and Sunday morning. It takes half an hour of constant pacing and phone calls before car and brewer meet, and then they are away into the night. Thornbridge MD Simon Webster is finally able to put away his phone and go back to enjoying his pint.

Someone speculates on how much it would be likely to cost to make such a long journey in a privately hired car. “We’ll pick it up. It doesn’t matter how much it is,” says Webster, in a voice that is suddenly hoarse with emotion. “It’s all about the brotherhood of brewing. We look out for each other. We’re mates — that is what this is all about.”

As we gather for breakfast on Sunday morning, we hear that the baby arrived safe and well — just 10 minutes ahead of its father. As we drink a toast to the new arrival and the plan that so very nearly worked, the beer world feels like a big family in many different ways. 

It’s one thing about this industry that I hope will never change.

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