From Portland to Perth, we’ve all been going daft for craft. And if you’re in London this weekend (26–27 February), you can save yourself some air miles and sample a world’s worth of brews at Craft Beer Rising. We sat down for a pint (of white IPA, naturally) with the event’s founder, Daniel Rowntree, to talk hip hops.
How did you go about organising a knees-up in a brewery?
It was a hobby to begin with – traditional beer festivals didn’t really match the demographic of people who were really getting into craft beer so we thought we’d do something about it. The model wasn’t rocket science: cool venue, accessible, decent beer served by the people who make it, served well, stick in some street food, put on some credible music and invite people along. Year one we had 45 producers and 2,500 people; this year we’ve got 150 producers and 6,000 people coming.
We can expect more than beards and brewing chat then?
We’re not brewers putting on a festival; we’re events people putting on a beer festival, so it’s done properly. We want to attract people that might be curious about beer but don’t necessarily want to go to a beer festival. ‘Music, food and beer’ is our ethos: we’ve got Rob Da Bank playing this year, James Lavelle, Don Letts… The first year we had Norman Jay and it was nuts: it was a beer rave in the middle of Brick Lane – everyone drinking craft ale and having a dance.
Any insider tips for this year’s ‘beer rave’?
Chicago’s Goose Island is doing a cool barrel-ageing store – if you head to their space they’ll give you an invite to this secret VIP bit underneath their stand and you’ll get a half hour experience with their head of brewing innovation, who will be here from the States, and do some food matching, too. Elsewhere, we’ve got [hip Peckham hangout] Four Quarters providing some vintage arcade games, we’ve got the launch of a beer awards, and some other top secret happenings…
And a little birdie tells us you’ve ventured into the brewing side yourself…
Yeah. I met a brewer at a wedding and we kept in contact while he did his brewing and distilling course. He sent me beers and they were great. We talked about setting something up, just to brew for CBR initially, but with a view to setting out our own brewery. And that’s how Big Hug was born. It was all about trying to create a brand for us: we’re not trying to be the coolest, most esoteric beer out there; we’re trying to be accessible. We want people to take that step into more tasty craft beer.
It feels like we’ve been talking about it for years now, so have we reached ‘peak craft’?
It has become mainstream to a point, but I think last year it contributed three to five per cent of total beer sales, so it’s still tiny in comparison. It’s really been fuelled by consumers, though – if people weren’t buying the liquid, all these breweries wouldn’t be opening. We look to the States for a lead and we’re probably about five, six, maybe even 10 years behind them in terms of our ‘craft beer revolution’ so I don’t think we’re at saturation just yet.
So what destinations should a beer-obsessed traveller add to their must-visit list?
In the UK, Manchester is pretty hot on it, Bristol too, but some of the other cities are a long way behind. Across the pond, Portland is amazing, and New York, naturally. For authenticity, Bruges never disappoints, or anywhere in Belgium for that matter…
You can treat your tastebuds at Craft Beer Rising this weekend (26–27 February) at the Old Truman Brewery, Brick Lane, London. Go to craftbeerrising.co.uk for tickets and more information. Images via Flickr.