I wanna leave you. I wanna lose us. I wanna give up. But I won’t. Is it ’cause, deep down, I still really love you?
Trade Day at the Great British Beer Festival felt a little subdued this year. The hall seemed emptier, the atmosphere muted. It definitely wasn’t as good as it used to be. Clearly, it was falling behind the times pretty rapidly now.
‘I can’t believe I’m here again,’ I thought, as I headed straight off to grab a lunchtime bite.
‘And why do they always have exactly the same food stalls? Go to a craft beer festival, and they have a much wider array of more modern and interesting food, much more suitable for pairing with a wide array of beer flavours, and capable of changing the image of beer away from a drink to always have with pubby stodge,’ I reflected, as I queued impatiently for a cheese burger at the same stand I make a beeline for every single year.
Burger quickly despatched, I wandered round to the Fuller’s stand, which I visit first every single year, to see who was hanging out there. ‘Huh, same old faces,’ I thought, as I checked to see if they had any of their special, limited edition vintage ales or one-off beers, like I do every year.
I bumped into a few friends, other beer writers, and we moaned to each other about having to sign books at the CAMRA bookshop, in the timeslots we’d furiously lobbied to secure.
Our annual grumble
After this, we moved on to criticising the names given to the different stands, like we do every year, and reiterated our annual grumble about the absurdity of listing counties alphabetically rather than regionally, before quickly finding the stand selling Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, grabbing a few pints, and then moving on to complaining about how it was always the same old beers they had here.
By now it was about 2pm – time to bitch about how the American beer stand was always the most popular, and how this was becoming an increasing embarrassment to an organisation and a festival committed to the promotion of traditional British beer. It was getting ridiculous, we agreed, that the organisers kept moving the stand around so we couldn’t find it, and how pathetic was it that they’d implemented a policy of not opening the stand until 3pm, just because the specially brewed, heady, American cask ales, packaged and air-freighted across the Atlantic specifically for the festival, and unavailable anywhere else in the country, always sold out so quickly.
After that, it was time to go and complain that we couldn’t hear the announcement of the Champion Beer of Britain, followed swiftly by running round to the stall selling it to complain that we couldn’t get near it because of the sudden massive surge in demand, then waiting half an hour for a pint, and finally declaring that it wasn’t a worthy winner.
Frustrated, we retreated to the marginally less busy Belgian and German stands, perused a list of forty or so beers, and ordered fresh, zingy German Helles and new-wave Czech IPAs and sour beers, and pondered yet again why CAMRA was so obviously resistant to styles such as this, and was so far behind other festivals in not really paying attention to them.
Relevance and appeal
Five o’clock was looming. We just had time to catch up with a few brewers to chat about how this festival was losing its relevance and appeal, as they checked their watches anxiously, eager to get away before the doors opened to the public, because as soon as they did, it would be too packed to really enjoy it.
My writer mates and I stayed a little longer, increasingly tipsy, until it became too loud for us to hear each other.
“I CAN’T UNDERSTAND WHY THEY DON’T SHAKE THINGS UP A BIT!” one of us yelled.
“NO, ME NEITHER! YOU KNOW, I’VE NEVER REALLY SAID THIS BEFORE, BUT I DON’T THINK I’LL BOTHER COMING NEXT YEAR!”
Mercifully, we found the exit, seven hours after arriving.
“Yep, I’ve been every year for the last 20 years, but I reckon this will be my last.”
“Yeah, me too. Think I’ll give it a miss next year.”
“I’ll probably change my mind though. I bet I’ll end up coming after all.”
“Yeah, I bet I do too.”