Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The Pieman and the Liver Bird

It's the Liverpool beer festival this weekend, but if you haven't got a ticket, don't bother going along; it's a ticket only do at a mind boggling £7 a session.  The Catholic Cathedral crypt is a great venue without doubt, but the festival's policy of selling tickets in Liverpool in the freezing weather in November means it is not serious about campaigning - one of the reasons (originally the main reason) for beer festivals.  This was brought home to me quite forcefully when I was queueing to enter the festival a couple of years ago and a group of women rolled up and asked about getting in.  Upon being told they needed to have queued three months earlier for tickets, they left in a huff while the real ale drinkers (who clearly needed no converting to real ale) looked on.  Surely these are the kinds of people a beer festival should be welcoming, not turning away.  If Liverpool beer festival cannot be open to anyone but committed real ale drinkers, then it's no more than a successful drinkers club.  Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but it's not what I think CAMRA is for.  This is not anti-Liverpool bias ~ I was born in Tuebrook. 

The Pieman supporting the pub.
In contrast, there's the Wigan beer festival on 3 to 5 March.  This festival has a great selection of beers and does not have a ticket policy - just pay on the door.  The venue is about a mile from the stations, but a regular bus will be running between the festival and the town centre from outside the Anvil pub, a good pub to have a drink in while waiting for the bus.  The venue is a sports hall, but it really doesn't detract from the good range of beers, the friendly welcome that I have always received in Wigan, and the fact that you can just roll up on the day and be certain of getting in.  Plus there are loads of seats.  Prices are:
  • £2 Thursday
  • £1 Friday afternoon
  • £3 Friday evening
  • £2 all day Saturday
  • CAMRA members FREE entry at all sessions
Give it a try.  I'll be working there as usual and I hope to see you there.


  1. What a well thought out article Nevile. This really sums up what many people, including CAMRA members feel about the Liverpool festival. See you at Wigan!

  2. I do feel the festival organisers have tried. They've reduced the number of advance tickets CAMRA members can buy, and they've limited the number that can be bought per person on the 1 day tickets are on sale.

    But demand is just so high. I queued from 7.30am for 10am opening and the queue was huge. All the Friday tickets went pretty much straight away.

    I'm sure they could easily sell out 5 or 7 consecutive nights, but that would require huge logistics and I'm not sure the Crypt itself would agree.

    Perhaps 2 festivals a year, but again, a huge ask of volunteers?

    The Waterloo Beer Festival in April looks good for a 'walk up and pay' festival.

    It is a shame that new people struggle to get in, but how can any event allocate tickets when demand is so high?

  3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSkrAMErSV0

    I was hoping to get to the Bristol festival this year, but they are also clearly struggling with over-demand.

  4. If they need advance tickets, the simplest way to allocate them would be to do it on-line (it's really easy to set up and for the customer to use), but I believe that the Liverpool Branch enjoy the drama of people queueing up at ridiculous hours. On-line sales would enable people who don't live locally to get tickets, which isn't the case now. I know there are some postal sales, but that doesn't really address the problem.

    My main point remains pertinant: that this festival is no more than a drink fest for those already in the know with no significant campaigning aspects.

  5. If anyone wants to get tickets on-line for CAMRA's Great British Beer Festival, 2 - 6 August, Earls Court in London, click here.

  6. Hi Neville,

    I'd never thought of it before, but totally agree with your comments re. Liverpool - from afar it must seem a really exclusive (as in not inclusive) event. A bigger venue is clearly needed.

    See you at Wigan maybe, I'll be there early evening on the Friday.


  7. Couldn't agree more. What's the point of holding a CAMRA run beer festival just for CAMRA members? Personally I don't go to any festival where advance tickets are required, it's just not right: where some tickets are available but you can still just pay on the door I don't mind, but just being able to turn up (and probably have to queue) is what these things should be about.

  8. The Liverpool festival is not just for members! If it were, why would we have upward of 100 people joining CAMRA during the festival?
    Anyone is entitled to queue for tickets and a wide variety of local people do so. If we went online, local people would likely miss out and we'd be in for criticism yet again. Live and let live, I say. Each festival has its merits, why condemn?
    I should also point out that Liverpool branch is currently running a series of events to attract new people to real ale in collaboration with some of our local pubs. We are far from being a closed shop!

  9. I think it is worth mentioning that I've personally never felt the Liverpool Festival to be an exclusively CAMRA event. Certainly standing in the queue this year, it was notable by the number of younger people and indeed young women queuing for tickets.

    For better or worse, I don't think we'll ever return to the days when you could simply turn up at the Ship n Mitre and buy tickets.

    As for the campaigning side of the festival, I can only point to the statements regarding the number of people who sign up at the festival and the large amount of space given over to information / advertising.

    And certainly the Liverpool Festival does alot to promote Merseyside / NW breweries, and this is important work for CAMRA and non-CAMRA drinkers.

    It's an interesting debate.

    P.S. I've no involvement with Liverpool Camra other than being a member...

  10. Well, in the spirit of "live and let live", I acknowledge the success of the Liverpool Beer Festival, and what I've written won't affect that success in the slightest.

    I agree with Jean's comment (by the way, welcome to ReARM, Jean) that the festival is not for CAMRA members only. No CAMRA festival could survive if attended by members only - there simply aren't enough of us about.

    I've no further points to make, so it's "agree to disagree" time - life would be boring if we all thought the same!

  11. ...err, as irony would have it, I have 2 spare tickets for TONIGHTS (Friday) session if anyone reads this message in time and would like them. Face value and I'll be around town from 5.30pm and heading to the crypt for the doors opening.

    Just leave a message here and I'll get back to you.


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