Generation Craft - Festival Analysis
So it’s been just over 2 weeks since our inaugural festival “Generation Craft” took place and I’ve finally had a chance to sit down (It was hop festival last weekend, we’ve spent a lot of time slinging cask in reusable plastics) and look through everything. It’s time to look at what did work and what didn’t work, mostly so I can get it all written down in one place so I can look back at it for reference in the future but also as a rough guide on how to take a festival from the idea stage to being a real thing.
So here is a look at the whole process. Warts and all.
There are a lot of reasons behind wanting to run the festival. Some of them, admittedly, are very petty. Some of them, admittedly, are also very childish. Mostly, however, I thought it would just be a cool thing to do, especially in a part of the country where it’s relatively difficult to get the full range of super-cool craft beer on the market and where the beer scene maybe hasn’t done the best it can to keep up with the rest of the country. There are obvious outliers who are bucking the trend, The Ravensgate, Tipsy Gardener and Papermill being amongst those leading the way. The ability to go to a bottle shop and get the latest, say, Cloudwater or Verdant or Deya is considerably less abundant here, however, than it is anywhere else in the country; nevermind the smaller, newer, breweries! So how do you fix that? Well, the obvious answer is “a slow and organic change of hearts and minds over the course of years, this kind of thing doesn’t happen overnight” but I’ve tried that and I’ve become impatient so FESTIVAL IT IS!
The idea for the lineup and presentation quickly became something very personal. You don’t even need to look at most bigger craft beer festival lineups to be able to guess half of it. Not a pop, it’s just there’s an established upper-echelon that have a large following that most festival organisers, at least on paper, would be stupid to ignore. I chose to ignore those names. We’re a small brewery, constantly scrabbling in the dirt for our next chance, our next opportunity to prove ourselves. If I’m creating a platform, shouldn’t I be offering that platform to people in that same position instead of the guys who don’t really need the attention? I’ve always rooted for the underdog, always been keen on developing talent over established class. It’s just more fun to me. The possibilities are limitless. New breweries can become ANYTHING, the big boys already ARE a thing. On top of that, getting your first festival as a small-small brewery is tough. Maybe you’re flying under the radar or maybe you’re doing it all on your own, you don’t have the money or time to generate presence and engagement and all the other buzzwords that equate to success in this day and age but you’re cracking out some cracking product. Well… I’ve got all the time in the world for you.
Someone like Northern Monk? Siren? Wylam? They got this shit sorted, they don’t need my help.
The last little piece of the puzzle was that I wanted the vibe to feel a) super inclusive and b) super chill. I can’t really guarantee either, but I did what I could. Dogs welcome, kids welcome, I’ll have to do something about reducing or eradicating the entry fee for designated drivers next year, and, this is the key element, make sure the people representing the breweries were super-invested and just, like, the absolute nicest people. You do what you can and sometimes it works but sometimes all you can do is set things in motion and watch them play out.
Yeah. I barely knew my arse from my elbow to start with but I followed it all through logically. I imagined what it was like to go to LCBF or IMBC, considered all the elements, analysed all the steps it took me, as a customer, to get from a) entry to b) happy AF. I picked pieces out like glassware, security, design and then applied the scale of my venture to those and worked out what I needed from that. The model I used (as detailed below) helped get this first one off the ground, I knew the first one would be tough and there needed to be ways that I could live to see the other side of it and the breweries could see some positives from attending.
Sponsorship helped. Spots on banners and posters, spots in exchange for services or discounts, most notably with the glasses where the wonderful Festival Glassware offered to sponsor THEIR OWN glasses for a discount. These helped pay for the venue costs, glass costs, art costs and sundries. Ticket prices and pitch fees paid for the rest… In theory.
The problem for a first festival is making it a worthwhile endeavour for the breweries. You can’t guarantee, with this model, that wet sales will cover everything for everyone. So I organised tap-takeovers, this time for Vibrant Forest, Yonder, Black Iris, ourselves and Iron Pier. There were at least 2 more planned but they unfortunately fell through. I can only hope that I can do more in future, meaning breweries will have sold 4-6 kegs before even showing up on the day.
I didn’t think of this but several breweries had arranged for partial kegs to be sold to local venues at a discount. This will also be something I’ll be more involved with next year as it really helps to level out costs.
A large consideration was the list of intangible benefits for the breweries, exposure is a garbage reason for anyone to do anything but the networking with other breweries, the potential for future collaborations, the potential for future plans that prove beneficial to both parties. Well, it doesn’t put food on the table, but it might eventually. Not to be dismissed.
The wonderfully organised Craft Theory in Reading (run the by the wonderful Grumpy Goat) showed me that you can put on a festival with a smaller venue than most, do things your own way and you can create something really cool. They had what I would later come to call a “Market Style” set up which involved charging a pitch fee, charging for tickets, letting the breweries charge for pours/small pack/merch and then keeping all they make. It seemed like a fair system to me, especially applying it to my philosophy, you (the customer) pay for one of the limited spots at the festival to have the opportunity to purchase stuff you simply CAN’T anywhere else, then you pay the breweries for the beer. Not a million miles away from the trad festivals down here.
The whole idea of it is that the festival, one way or another, with minimal set up costs, kinda pays for itself.
...Which it did in the end.
Arguably the most important part of the festival. Not the breweries as such, more the people. I’m in the deeply fortunate position of being able to say that I’d happily have between 3 and 7 pints over the course of an evening with any single person from the breweries who attended, safe in the knowledge that I’d have an excellent evening in good company. To a person, everyone who attended was knowledgable, engaging and deeply invested in the brewery and each was a credit, not only to their breweries, but to the beer world as a whole. There was a core base of awesome people I’ve worked with in the past, namely Alex from Black Iris, Josh formerly of Ridgeside but now (temporarily) of Heist, Andy from Elusive, Jim and Helen from Lost Industry and James from Iron Pier that really brought home the fact that craft beer is a community as strong as any I’ve seen.
I’ve already drafted a list for next year. A couple are staying, a couple are going, the whole thing is built to rotate and give the next wave their chance and maybe catch some people I didn’t get to the first time round. Wise and Powerful Odin only knows that 15-16 places a year isn’t enough to encompass the length and breadth of brewing talent within the UK (and afield, thanks Fantome!) The heart breaking thing is that there are breweries who I’d love to attend that don’t fit the philosophy (many simply don’t need my help,) and there are breweries that I’ll miss completely, ones that are absolutely, 100%, deserving but I’ll just miss due to bad luck or filling the lineup too quickly, or one of a plethora of other reasons. I will, however, do my best to create a mix that satisfies both my philosophy and the festival-goer.
Though I’ll tell you what. Stick any number of big names in that room and the quality and range of beer on display would not have been improved, there were some genuine monsters on display and every single brewery brought their absolute A-Game. We are truly living in a golden age.
Ok. The choice of location was clearly heart all the way over head. Head was saying it should be somewhere central, maybe Ashford or Canterbury; it should be in a big venue so I can fit lots of breweries in and it should be relatively cheap. My heart said to do it in the theatre I got married in, set my stall up in the spot where we were wed and play the wedding playlist over the Saturday afternoon session. I’m a sap, yes.
For those not in attendance, the venue was The Astor Community Theatre in Deal, Kent. Some brain bits kicked in during the choice that made it easier; it’s 5 minutes walk from the train station. That’s a good one. There was a local craft bar (Taphouse Beer Cafe) that was extremely cooperative and proved an excellent meeting point and venue for the brewers. It’s less than 5 minutes walk from the beach, which proved extremely popular for breweries based on the break between sessions and the super blurry videos/photos of drunk Hogman howling at the moon, pissed as Robinson Crusoe’s artisanal pickles.
Deal is quite undeniably pretty. It is also quite undeniably difficult to get to. Plans are in place to make things easier in future.
Ok so this’ll vary for you based on any number of things but I can give you the rough numbers I experienced:
Venue: About a grand. Our place was really good, all the right licenses, PA, tables staff on hand etc. More next year as we’ll be booking chunks either side for set up and break down.
Glasses: About a grand.
Security: About a grand, ticket sales were low for latter sessions so I ditched this.
Art costs: Something like £500ish.
Printing and promotion: I went mostly Guerilla but this was still around the £300 mark.
Sundries: Around the £300 mark again.
Ticket commission: A notional figure. We used TicketTailor who charged 50p per ticket.
All that petrol taking my Focus from Faversham to Deal!: I’ll dig out the receipts.
Your time: Ha! You won’t need that any more!
So I did it on a shoe string with the idea of it growing organically, it’ll probably all change next year.
Low. Across the board, pretty low. The two evening sessions were close to wash outs. The saving grace was that the afternoon sessions were well attended and customers seemed to be keen on small pack and merch. The two afternoon sessions were close to what I want the festival to be and the evening sessions need a clear improvement.
Looking back on it there were barriers, some that I put up for myself. Bank holidays aren’t the best weekends for anything it turns out, there was a rival beer festival on the same day (a much bigger CAMRA one so there were several very confused people turning up to Gen Craft via taxi who’d just said “the beer festival”.) There were also closures at London Bridge which meant anyone coming from London would have a rather extensive trip.
Next year I’ll be moving the date, reducing ticket prices and then making prices the same across the board. Something like £10 but don’t quote me on that. If I can garner more sponsorship than last year then I’ll also reduce pitch fees.
Time To Do The Thing
So the day comes and I’ve been straight bricking it for a good 6 months by this point. Anxiety levels through the roof as a lot of time and planning start to mingle. It starts with me turning up too early the day before to set up, therefore having to lug glasses and Lindrs up 2 flights of stairs to then bring down the next day. No biggy, I needed the exercise probably. Then it becomes clear that an evening booking means we can’t set up in the hall at all, that’s one for next year, book late evening before and early morning after for next year. Check check, tick. More than half of the breweries show up and we hand ball everyone’s gear onto the stage, except Iron Pier’s mega-rig, which we stowed in a shed. Close to start time and people start queueing up outside the front door. That’s a good feeling. Hold up where, the figgity are Vibrant Forest?! Check phone MISSED THE TRAIN! OMG! ALERT! ALERT! I get my volunteers to muscle all their gear onto their pitch from behind the stage and the boys turn up with 10 minutes to set up. Life isn’t easy, festivals… Less so.
Tell you what though. That vibe for that first session was something else. I couldn’t appreciate it at the time because I was basically hyperventilating in a corner, but now that I look back on it all I can remember are people smiling, chatting and enjoying the beer. Evening was a bust but the brewers seemed to see it as an opportunity for a drink and a catch up, which was nice, making the best of a bad situation. Saturday afternoon was when I finally got into the stride of things, busier than the Friday afternoon, more buzz, more fun, Fantome had turned up and sold out of bottles within the first few hours, Damo from Emperors was there doing his thing, it was close to feeling like fun. Saturday evening was poorly attended but, by that point, it was just about enjoying the moment.
I left it all in a somewhat sombre mood, not entirely sure what I’d done, not knowing whether it was good or not. It was strange, most things went how I expected them to go, some things went much much better than I expected, but it still feels a little hollow, as if I didn’t quite do everything I could have. Maybe that’s just how it feels after you invest so much time into something only for it to finish in the blink of an eye. I think I had fun, I think the brewers and the customers had fun, but I always want more, I wanted it to be better than it was. Maybe I should just be grateful that it’s done, the first is always the hardest.
We made a slight profit from sales, sponsorship and the money we took on our stall, which we passed back to the breweries in the form of a reduced pitch fee to apologise for the poor showings in the evening sessions. This means we about broke even, which can probably be considered pretty good for a first go, certainly a proof of concept if not an actual, on paper, success.
You can’t have everything. In fact there are a great deal of things you can’t have in life. There are a lot of things that could have happened, there were a lot of setbacks, there was last minute drama, the prep for the festival had everything. My initial lineup involved quite a few breweries that had other engagements, notably Mills and Little Earth Project. Breweries dropped out last minute, most notably Ridgeside, who were replaced by Fantome. Glasshouse sent their apologies and their beer was still poured on the Leviathan table alongside a last-minute addition of some Burning Soul, this all came about 2-3 days before the Friday. I’d pinpointed the bits that needed a while to get sorted and I made sure they were done in plenty of time so there weren’t any surprises with regards to venue, glasses or sundries. Overall, the months leading up to the festival were an exercise in planning and the 4 days before the festival was an exercise in understanding that, often, your planning doesn’t matter. Just roll with the punches and you’ll make it out the other side in, roughly, one piece.
Was It Worth It?
I don’t know. The festival is built to support the underdogs and help build a scene in Kent… So ask me in 5 years I guess.
I had fun sitting on the beach, eating chips, skipping stones and being an impromptu audience for a couple of very hard working paddle boarders. The two breaks between sessions will stick with me forever, from a personal level it was almost worth all the stress just for that.