Craft Beer Festival 2011 review

I’m a big fan of the We Love Real Beer craft beer festival, you can read my rave reviews on the previous two here and here. But unfortunately this most recent one was really not enjoyable at all.

All the ingredients were there for a great festival. A selection of fine craft beers, some good food stands, live music and a crowd of fun people. Unfortunately, the problem was the last bit, they let in way too many people.

It is difficult to explain how frustrating it is to be surrounded by great beer and not be able to get any because you can’t actually get to any of the stands through all the people. Then when you eventually get to a stand, there is a long queue for you to wait in.

Within a few minutes of walking in, I was unable to move forward or backward at all, completely stuck in one place being bumped and jostled the whole time. I managed to fight my way over to the Jack Black stand and taste the new pilsener (which is pretty good by the way). That was the last time my glass had beer in it.

I found a few of my friends but it was impossible to chat to them due to the noise and being pushed the whole time, so I decided to call it a night. On the way out I had a great steak roll from Kitchen Cowboys, which put me in a slightly better mood.

I really do not care to repeat that experience, and everyone I spoke to agreed.

I have just one question, why did they not open the back section? No need to put stands there, just put tables and benches around the outside, the band at the far end and and leave the middle as standing/dancing space. This would take the pressure off the beer hall. That simple solution would have turned an unpleasant exprience into an awesome experience.

A quieter, less crowded beer hall would mean you could easily taste several beers and ask questions about the beers. Surely this is the purpose of the craft beer festival? If it just involves standing around drinking beer and chatting to your mates, I can do that at any event.

On a positive note, I noticed there were some craft ciders available at this event, which is a great addition.

Anyway, I’m sure lessons have been learned (although, this is the 3rd one so can’t understand why lessons are still being learned) and the next one will be awesome.

Don’t forget, there are a bunch more beer festivals happening before the end of the year. See the list here.


  1. Ric October 3, 2011 at 10:07 am

    Opening the back would add another cost to the event organisers. They were obviously holding back on extra costs…

  2. Sam October 3, 2011 at 10:07 am

    I think the main learning is that craft beer is growing in popularity and that this festival is so well subscribed. There is a big opportunity here, and I think the craft beer producers could benefit so much more from an event that was moved to a bigger venue or was run over 3 days at the Biscuit Mill(perhaps a long week end).

    1. Dax October 3, 2011 at 11:19 am

      Sam, you’re right, craft beer is growing in popularity and the We Love Real Beer guys are doing a great job of promoting it, for the most part. I don’t think this festival did it any favours though, they would have had an idea of the numbers that might attend and they also were letting people in at the gate when it was already packed and not all people who had bought tickets online would have arrived yet.

      Ric, I hope it wasn’t a money thing. A conservative estimate of attendance would be 2500 people and at R50 each, that’s R125 000 plus the stall rentals. There should be more than enough to hire the extra hall.

  3. Erwin October 3, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    Well, although I am a huge connoisseur of so-called “craft” beer (I just know it as “good” beer), I opted out of this festival for that reason exactly. I think that over the last year, the local taste for beer that isn’t simple yellow wee water has blossomed greatly. I am seeing more local micro-brews being offered at bars, pubs and bottle stores, so I can drink a nice Ale in a regular venue with people that will actually enjoy my company despite my lack of trendy headwear. I always promote good local beer (not just &Union “craft” beer) at all the restaurants that I frequent and there are quite a few that fall from the radar still, i.e.: Triggerfish, Robson’s and Hudson’s Pale Ale, etc. And cheers to the new joint on Kloof St. that is trying to diversify the local beer menu.

    By the way, what the hell happened to Mitchell’s?

  4. laura melanie October 3, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    You have heard my frustrations on twitter too, It was such a great recipe for success and it was just the usage of space that ruined it for all. We were there luckily from 5 to enjoy a full hour with decent space and not loud noise nor was there queues to get to any stalls to actually taste a few, I had the cider which rocked as well as nextdoors cherry beer, helluva interesting and KUDOS to this craftbeers and the turnout however if there was just more room to breathe (especially me at 1.63 sitting in peoples’ armpits). Bumped into a friend while being in a ‘bodypushing train’ whos his ‘bodytrain’was going the other direction, he asked, “is there only one stall /type of beer here to taste?” this was at 8pm which made me feel so bad for the guy who paid R50 to get in to only think that there was one type of beer because you just couldn’t SEE amongst all the people.
    Definately comes down to some greediness, low costs on location and high income for tickets, and then turn DOWN the ppl who took the time to book online? I thought the whole online booking system was so that they could track the crowd number and prioritise those customers.. People with webtickets eventually also got turned away. tsk tsk, not cool.

    When I left at 8pm I looked outside to see the q still running out and along the road, incredible turnout but such a disappointment. WLRB have tweeted they are still small and learning, but after this being their THIRD year I recon you would learn some good strategies to make it a success? I won’t return again, which makes me sad as I dont have time and energy to waste but at the same time there is a recipe for succes here.


  5. Erwin October 3, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Again, I commend the organiser’s efforts to push beer into new and more interesting places for South Africans to enjoy, but why don’t we encourage local establishments to stock better beer so we don’t have to enjoy it only at festivals as a “treat”? We might need to nag the brewers as well, so that they try harder to distribute their bubbles more widely.

  6. @UnderthetableCT October 3, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    Personally I wasn’t too fazed by the crowd. I kinda expected it would be rammed, and was happy to see a party atmosphere. Still I do understand where everyone is coming from, I saw a few peeved people.

    If the wind hadn’t been howling then I reckon more people would have congregated outside, making it a bit freer. But then if you host a party in Woodstock and base your expectations on there being no wind you really shouldn’t be in the events business. The other amateur move IMHO was placing tables in the entrance to the hall – guaranteed to cause a bottleneck and frustrate everyone trying to move around.

    We found a bit of space, defended our territory & by 9pm it was perfect as quite a few people had left (the dinner crowd I presume). Or I had simply had enough beer that I didn’t notice the squeeze – call it “lubrication”.

  7. Dax October 3, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    Erwin, I think the availability of craft beers in restaurants and bars is coming along nicely. I’m sure the producers are doing the best to get it out there, after all, they need the sales. I think our job, as consumers is to put pressure on bars and restaurants to actually stock craft beer even if they have to find a supplier. Too many take the easy route and stick with the same old.

    As for the craft festival being a treat where we get to drink craft beer, I don’t see it like that at all. I see the festival as an opportunity to taste beers I haven’t tried before and perhaps be introduced to new beers that have recently been released.

    I personally get to drink craft beer all the time, at markets, at bars and restaurants and at home. The trick is finding the ones I like.

    In fact, when I finally managed to escape the craft beer festival in Friday evening I went to a new bar in Greenpoint called Chukka Churri and drank Darling Ale all night. It was delicious and the place was very comfortable.

  8. Erwin October 3, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    Yes, Dax that’s a good point about getting the opportunity to taste new beers. You’re right about that and I hope that next time around it will get back to being a showcase for new brewers. However, as I also know where to find beers that I like, not everyone is as diligent as we are in locating these places and I just wish there were more choices beyond &Union and Darling. I guess I was saying the same about Jack Black last year and the year before that there wasn’t much past Mitchell’s. But this will keep getting better I hope. Just this weekend I found Darling on tap and Camel Thorn bottles at a new bar. This is a great sign. Let’s hope the tornados don’t flatten the place right before it gets really good!