Derby CAMRA Beer Festival: Killing me softly

I know my audience. You ain't a tough crowd. You heard I blogged a good blog. You heard I had a style.

And that style isn't overtly critical - well, not often. This isn't a paying gig, I'm not sent out to try places and beers and feed the results back, there's no need for the pretence of a critic's presence. No need to report the rough with the smooth, the turd in the hopback, the wanker in the orange bib.

Which is why I really want to write about all the good things I encountered at the opening of the Derby CAMRA Summer Festival. So I will:

- meeting people I haven't seen and shared a beer with in too long a time

- meeting brewers who you feel like you never lost touch with because of Facebook and Twitter, but realise that you need to make more time to natter face to face, pint to pint

- getting to enjoy more beers from the likes of Lincoln Green, Sherfield Village and Revolutions

- drinking Jaipur, remembering that the reason why the likes of Thornbridge were there tonight to pick up yet another CAMRA award is because their beers are really bloody good. Call me a fanboy. Not bothered. I stood in the same venue a fair few years ago (2005?) and drank Jaipur for the first time. They've had me hooked ever since. Good beer is where you find it. I find it straight outta Bakewell.

So.. why do I really want to write about this:

- being kept waiting outside the venue. I've never known a Derby CAMRA beer festival to actually start on time.

- being kept waiting in a queue. It's trade day. You know how many people are coming. For maybe the only session, you know *exactly* how many are coming. Have more than one person to check for tickets. Given that the person wasn't overly bothered about checking who we actually were anyway.

- being spoken to like a prisoner at the cloakroom. Not "Good evening!". Just "Anything valuable? We take no responsibility. Your number is 4". No ticket. No smile. No manners.

- being left clueless as to what beers are actually available when and where. Some beers may not be on yet? Fair enough. Only about half of them? WTF? Fuller's own bar? Handwritten note, "open asap". Darwin Suite (where the rarer beers are to be found)? Walked up to the door, tango-jacket barks at me "It's not open". Before I had the chance to ask - politely - if it would be open later. "Possibly" was the shrew-lipped reply. (It was apparently still shut two hours after the paying public entered due to 'technical difficulties' ).

- being badgered to sign the anti-beer-escalator e-petition. No problem with being asked once. More of an issue to be asked three times in twenty minutes by three different people. CAMRA chuggers? And when someone on stage, talking to the trade audience about who knows what (mic levels all out of kilter) starts becoming hysterical about tax, I just want to switch off and drink elsewhere.

So I went home. Remembered my number at the cloakroom, was given a different coat; the one belonging to the bloke in the queue before me when we dropped them off. His was considerably better than mine - we'd even joked about me asking for the wrong coat on purpose. "I wasn't on when you were here" was the excuse. See those books of raffle tickets that every village hall shindig has used for cloakroom passes since time immemorial? That.

There are salmon-bottomed clouds and a fresh breeze outside as I write this. I'm off for another glass of Adnam's Summer IPA now I can actually sit outside and enjoy it. I wish I was still at the festival, finding great beers and having fancy banter. But... Derby CAMRA know how to keep killing me softly. By always getting what should be the little things wrong. Will I be back tomorrow? Course I will. That's what free entry for members is all about.

I'll just take a cheap coat, a thick skin and low expectations.


  1. This echoes some of my beer festival experiences, sadly. A few years back I went to the Battersea fest and my innocent and polite request at the door as to whether there was a cloakroom triggered an extraordinary and lengthy outburst along the lines of "We can't do everything, we're only volunteers you know." As if they are the only people who ever volunteer. I do think that while CAMRA's done some wonderful stuff as a voluntary organisation, its volunteer management practices are lagging badly behind, and now it's got so big, it should invest some of those membership subs in improving its volunteer management and helping some of its volunteers understand the bigger picture, rather than simply behaving as if this is something them and their mates do to please themselves.

  2. We queued too, but as visitors, so [sadly] used to it. Totally echo your post though as it sums up our experiences. The attractive young ladies jabbing the 'Duty Escalator' (it's not just a "beer tax"...) clipboards at people was amusing - no explanation, so many in the queue thought they were being asked (conned?) into signing up to donate money to something so refused to sign. Surely someone could have exlained to these lasses what they were doing and why, so they could have reached more folk's understanding and got more signed up? Lesson for future paper signing-up sessions here, methinks.

    The Fullers Bar finally opened around 20:00 and the Darwin Suite opened around 20:55 - but the latter for ciders only, no beer tonight lads... They "hope" to have the problem sorted by Thursday's opening. They'd better as due to the main hall closing from 15:00 to 17:30, it's the only place to get a drink, apart from the Fullers Bar I guess? No thanks.

    As so many other festivals are fine with all gravity cask ales, our concern was why Derby insist on having so many on hand-pulls which led to last night's frustrating problems.

    Many of our party were very angry that there was no indication of which beers were being "held back" so if you've travelled a long way and it's a one-shot chance - well you are stuffed, as were some of our group. This also led to wandering around trying to guess which beers might be on, so much time wasted. Not a good state of affairs to be honest.

    At least as CAMRA members we all got in for free, but if I was a paying punter and paid to get there, I would have been less than impressed.

    Going back on Friday (midday session) so hopefully all will be sorted then - fingers crossed. But beer availability and what is / isn't on? Answers on a postcard to: Derby Summer Beer Festival, Assembly Rooms,....

  3. Yes we are all volunteers, mostly taking a weeks holiday from work to put on the beer festival, for all to enjoy.
    Some points you raise.
    1. Fullers bar: at some stage after initial setting up, someone had turned the coolers off, the late opening was due to waitinf for the beer to get back down to a suitable temperature.
    2. Darwin Suite: Shortage of volunteers meant that the cleaning of the pipes was not up to the required level, and some of the beers were tainted. This could probably have been handled better...
    These volunteers were there till 02:00, and back again at 08:00 to make sure the Darwin opened on Thursday.
    3. Hand pumps: I can't answer for other areas, but the Darwin suite has a cooled cellar behind the bar, which is why the beers are piped out to pumps.
    4. Beer availability:
    a. All beers listed in the programme were ordered, some were not delivered by the brewery.
    b. All our beers are cask conditioned, none are 'bright', some settle quicker than others, and we do not serve them till they're ready.
    5. Volunteers: You say yoe are a CAMRA member, and will be re-attending. Why not stop moaning, and spend some time helping out. A bar shift is 3 hours, but any time you can give would be appreciated, and there are plenty of other jobs that need doing.

    I thank you...

  4. Anonymous,

    Thanks for the feedback. It's the lack of communication on the day that is ultimately more annoying than the problems themsleves.

    It seems that many of the fest's problems are self-inflicted. Other CAMRA fests seem to manage their resources better.

    I'm fully aware of how some beers may take longer to be ready than others. But, again, other CAMRA fests don't seem to have this issue on the same scale. When you sell a festival to the paying public and they they're told the beers they want aren't on, they feel cheated.

    "Why not stop moaning and spend time helping out"? I'll criticise and praise as I see fit - see latest post - and I put my hours in elsewhere.

    Echoing what Des says, I think CAMRA need to identify their best practice in volunteer management - especially in relation to communication and staff training - and make sure all branches receive the benefits. So many volunteers have so much expertise to share. Too many are left to do things their own way.

  5. I absolutely agree with the last comment. What folk seem to forget is that without these volunteers there would not even be a festival- now surely that would be something to moan about! If you have time to write negative blogs regarding the festival then you have time as a CAMRA member to volunteer. See what it is like on the other side and you may appreciate the hard work that goes into running this event. The staff at the festival take time off from their day jobs to work. Some arrive at 8am and stay until the early hours- all unpaid. So whilst you are enjoying a beer and thinking of the next thing to tittle tattle about, spare a thought for these people and their tireless efforts. If you think things can be ran better I challenge you to come and get involved.

  6. Do people not like to use their names all of a sudden?

    I've worked festivals. I've come home with sore feet, knackered knees, soaked in exploding beer, ears ringing from drunkard's rants. And then woke up and done it all again the next day. And the day after that. And paid my own way to be there.

    Without volunteers there wouldn't be a festival. Like any workplace, the majority do a great job. Like any workplace, sometimes things don't go to plan. Sometimes it's individuals. Sometimes it's because the individual hasn't been given the support and guidance that they need.

    I don't know how best practice is shared amongst branches. I don't know how / if branch feedback from wash-up meetings is fed into any review at regional / national level. I'll try to find out.

    One thing is clear to me, though. You can't just play the "we're all volunteers" card to any minor criticism. Not being paid doesn't exempt individuals, teams and organisations from wanting to provide the best service they can.