Beer lovers and ale aficionados will flock to Bristol this weekend for the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) Bristol Beer Festival.
Now in it’s 20th year, the festival attracts revellers from around the country to sample the extraordinary range of beer available on tap. This year, they boast more than 100 from around the UK, and 31 produced by breweries local to Bristol.
“This year, tickets sold out faster than ever,” says Richard Brooks, Chairman for Bristol & District CAMRA. “The Friday evening session tickets sold within an hour – it’s very popular.”
The event is staffed exclusively by volunteers – a team of almost 200 who help construct the stillage that holds the hundreds of barrels they’ll go through over the course of the weekend, steward the event, and man the bar.
“We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t enjoy it,” Richard continues. “Everyone behind the bar is enthusiastic about beer, which gives you a nicer experience. We encourage them all to have a taste so that they’re able to recommend great beer to people. It’s an experience you might not get in a normal pub situation.”
Bristol’s beer scene has grown rapidly in recent years, and the trend shows no sign of slowing – which, for Richard and over 3500 members of Bristol & District CAMRA, is excellent news. “In some other cities, the craft beer bubble seems to have burst, but in Bristol there’s a strong market for it,” Richard says.
“Traditionally, there was the Courage brewery here, but other than that there wasn’t much choice. Once it closed, there really was little brewing going on here. But there’s been a healthy resurgence and now there are a good dozen breweries here, and at least four or five have opened in the last few years.
“At one time we’d have been hugely excited about a new brewery opening, but now we’re almost blasé!” With all this great beer on offer, memberships of CAMRA too have risen, and now Bristol sits comfortably within the top five largest branches in the UK. Bristol is a destination to come to and drink beer – and the festival is the culmination of that.
“This event takes six or seven months of planning,” Richard reveals. “We’re celebrating beer and encouraging people to taste lots of different types. Pace yourself, try many and find a new favourite.”
During all the years they’ve been running the event, they’ve only once had to evict someone who had smuggled in their own cans of lager – “He hadn’t quite got the idea of a beer festival!” – and on the whole, Richard says, the atmosphere throughout the festival is friendly, mellow and buzzing – just like a good pint.
Read more: ‘Are craft beer pubs ruining Bristol?’