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Tuesday 21 June 2011

A public apology to the organisers of SRAF

Its not often I do this. Admit I am wrong that least in part

Earlier tonight I wrote a rather unfair piece about the recent Scottish Real Ale Festival. I was on a high horse during the time I wrote it and I did not take into account many things. I am big enough and ugly enough to accept that many of the things I wrote were hurtful to organisers and were simply not fair. However I still stand by my initial sentiments that many things need to be done to improve the festival.

I chose not to go this year. So it was wrong for me to cast doubt on the beer list having not seen it in real life. Nevertheless the list I see on paper still could do with a shake up. I still stand by my earlier proposal that the SRAF should have a 'UK' bar. That is to say that some interesting casks from the rest of the UK should be given a section of the festival. I also still believe that more can be done to ensure that the SRAF can secure exclusives and once of tastings like traquair on cask.I still believe that breweries should be encouraged to rotate beer so that we do not have the same from every brewery each year.

I do not want to tell the organisers how to do their job but after an email I received tonight I am more than happy to offer constructive feedback to them. I am now going to respond to that email and I apologise again to regular readers who were given a bad impression of what is usually a great day out in Scotland's capital

The Scottish Real Ale Festival and why I was not there

Disclaimer- This article is not intended to offend. It is not intended to be Anti-CAMRA or a jibe at SRAF organisers but rather some constructive criticism. I currently have no brewery links and this article was not paid for by anyone.

Ok now that I have that out the way I feel I should explain why I didnt attend this years Scottish Real Ale Festival in Edinburgh. After all I am a CAMRA member and I do like a good pint but I just had little desire to attend this year which ultimately ended up with me just staying at home. There was a bit of a stramash before the festival with rumors of an alternative festival in BrewDogs new bar in the Cowgate. This turned out to be true and in true maverick style BrewDog named their festival the 'alternative' Scottish Beer Festival. Fair play to the guys; different markets, different beers and ultimately a different sales technique. That's not the reason why I didn't go to the SRAF though.

Number one reason; the beer list was thoroughly uninspiring. I know it must be difficult to keep a beer list exciting and new every year especially when most of beers available will be similar year after year; well certainly outside seasonals, once brewed beers or new brews. Nevertheless the beer list was at least 85% the same as last years (I havent checked this out as cold hard fact but I have compared both lists). Now I am sorry but that just is not acceptable for a beer festival the size of SRAF. There were plenty of breweries on the list but some of them only had some of their less brilliant beers there. Now I don't want to get into naming names as it is not clear to me who is at fault for this but Scotland really does have much more to show than what was on offer at this years Scottish Real Ale Festival.

Put plain and simply a beer festival is mediocre at best without a good and challenging beer list which rotates if not changes year in year out. Yes the big hitters and the festival winners and favourites are sure to be there every year; I don't have a problem with that. Please just shake it up a little bit more next year. Take some the the bland boring stuff out and source some more from some new breweries that have popped up recently. Dare I say it even have some stuff from the rest of the UK (GBBF have an international bar after all)

I have nothing wrong with other organisational aspects of the festival although naturally the one thing I cannot comment on is the change of venue as I was not there to experience it. However usually the atmosphere is great, as is the entertainment. That will never make up for a bland beer list though. Lets not get too negative here though. I know that I can't expect the best of the best every year. I know that there are constraints ; like what breweries have available and the links that organisers have with the breweries. Lets face it though; It happens once a year. In reality there should be plenty time to organise a good and changing beer list year after year if you are putting on a serious commercial festival. Alloa festival (especially the OctoberFest ) is always well run, very well in fact. I have no idea if any of the same people are involved in beer ordering but if not then they should be.

This years beer list did not make me want to pay for a train ticket to Edinburgh and certainly didn't inspire me to make a day of it like I usually would. I never go to a beer festival with the intention of getting slaughtered but I do usually like to try things I have heard good things about or things I haven't tried before. In terms of this years festival I dare say I could have spent and hour at most soaking in the atmosphere and having a few pints but I wouldn't have had any desire to stay longer. For me that does not make for a good festival. I know there will be those that will disagree with me, especially anyone involved or anyone who had a great time there. This year it just did not appeal at all to me.

I will still be organising a trip to other CAMRA festivals with Stirling University Craft Beer Society (notably Alloa OctoberFest) but unless I see an exciting list for next years SRAF I think I will be staying away again. Nothing against anyone involved but I don't want to see the same beers year after year.

Monday 20 June 2011

Fullers and BBC day 3

So its been a while and with moving back to the UK and trying to find employment I haven't been able to update the blog! Sorry for this. I'm back now and I'm working on several ideas for blogs in the next few weeks. In the meantime here is my review of my last day at the Beer Bloggers Conference in London.

 The last day was optional but there was no chance I was passing up a chance to visit a family run brewery in London. So despite my somewhat tender nature I got up had breakfast and made the long trek over to Fullers. I thought I was going to be late with the silly Sunday service tube trains but after jumping in a taxi I got there bang on time. First up I have to say a massive thanks to the whole team at Fullers. They worked on a Sunday especially for us and they worked damn hard making sure we all had a great time. When we arrived there was a massive choice of excellently kept Fullers cask to try. It was a bit early for my still rather tender head and I opted for a half of Chiswick Bitter which was rather tasty.

After all the troops arrived it was time for the real reason we were all here; the chance to have a good look around the brewery. I won't say too much about the workings of the brewery as I am sure most people reading this have seen a brewery or two (or twenty). Needless to say though it was the perfect mix of old and new. Some of the original kit still stays in the brewery (although no longer used) and they had the scariest lab I have seen in a brewery. I could spend many a geeky hour in their testing samples and playing with the equipment.

Next it was back into the old hock cellars to have some special beers and food. I can't list all of the beers we had as we had so many fantastic one's. All of them served with commentary from Derek Prentice from Fullers. Fullers Reserve 2000 and 2010, Brewers Reserve 1 and 3 and Past Masters. Everyone as good as the next. Fullers sometimes get a bit of stick from typical ale drinkers and especially from younger drinkers such as myself who are championing craft keg as well as cask but I was truly impressed with my tour of Fullers and all of the beers.

I then spent the rest of my afternoon with some of my new friends in the Euston Tap. This made me remember why I like finding new pubs.

I will be writing a little post about Fullers in the near future so stay tuned for that. Next post coming soon is my reasons for avoiding this years Scottish Real Ale Festival which will be a balanced look at why I couldnt bring myself to go this year. To make sure I don't ruffle too many feathers I am going to take my time and try to make it as balanced as possible.


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