Beavertown Extravaganza 2017: paving the way for modern UK beer festivals

All eyes were on the inaugural Beavertown Extravaganza, an ambitious venture held across two sessions between the 8th and 9th September. Held at London Printworks in Canada Water, a former newspaper printing factory with 119,200 sq ft of floor space, the festival was a showcase of craft beer involving over 70 breweries from across the globe.

The Extravaganza was more than an excuse to overindulge, as Beavertown Brewery invited Good Beer Hunting to curate a schedule of insightful industry talks and discussions as part of the Symposium, which ran across both days. Guests included keynote speakers Steve Grossman, brand ambassador for Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, and Beavertown founder Logan Plant. Panel interviews with brewers and brewery representatives offered an analysis of trends and the state of craft beer today. 

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The Extravaganza attracted crowds of 4,000 attendees per session and tickets sold out months in advance. For £55, ticketholders were entitled to unlimited 100ml pours throughout their seven hour drinking slot. There were 16 food vendors on hand from KERB, London’s leading rally of food trucks, which included offerings from the likes of Burger & Beyond, Mother Clucker and Decatur.

To ensure that everything ran smoothly, Beavertown did their homework in recent months– they were in attendance at Mikkeller Beer Celebration Copenhagen to understand the minutiae of what makes a successful beer festival. They also ran a series of ticketed events in their taproom involving Trillium Brewing Company, giving drinkers a rare opportunity to sample beer from the venerated Massachusetts brewery in the UK.

It was a steep learning curve for the brewery after being on the end of a torrent of complaints from attendees following their Be(aver) My Valentine beer festival in February 2016. The free event saw an unprecedented number of revellers show up, causing hours of queuing for entry, and the industrial lot lacked facilities to cater to such great crowds. The feedback –especially the scathing online gripes– was clearly sobering for the brewery. For a large-scale event such as the Extravaganza, some mistakes were patently not going to be repeated.

Beavertown Extravaganza 2017

At Canada Water station, volunteers were on hand to usher the Extravaganza crowds to the nearby venue. Arriving at the factory, there was no queue for entry and large groups arrived at least an hour in advance to line their stomachs. Many lingered outside the entrance to the first room in anticipation of the session start time. When the doors were thrown open, individuals predictably sprinted towards the stalls of Swedish gypsy brewers Omnipollo and Brooklyn's Other Half Brewing Company.

For those who continued beyond the Rocket Room, they then encountered the Rainbow Room, where each of this year’s Rainbow Project beers could be sampled. These beers are an annual release of transatlantic collaborations between UK breweries and a different country each year, with seven US breweries participating in 2017. Two stalls stood as the end of this thoroughfare area, bathed in ambient purple light.

Walking through to the Skulloon Room, ample seating space was arranged around a Routemaster emblazoned with a Beavertown banner. Queues quickly amassed for Trillium, Three Floyds Brewing Co, Modern Times Beer and Cloudwater Brew Co while other fantastic offerings from California’s Green Cheek Beer Company and Cellarmaking Brewing Company and Toronto’s Bellwoods Brewery required no wait.

Beavertown Extravaganza 2017 J. Wakefield

The UFO Room didn’t attract the same snaking queues, and while Jester King Brewery from Texas and Miami’s J. Wakefield Brewing drew in crowds, they were swiftly serving drinkers. Volunteers manned the stalls, some working alongside brewers, an army clad in a tie-dye t-shirt uniform. About 150 volunteers had signed up for both days respectively, working one session in exchange for a free ticket on the alternate day, and ensured that lines kept moving.

Breweries were pouring beer from two taps, some offering six beers and others offering four during each session. Unsurprisingly, the most sought after stalls were quick to run out- take Omnipollo, for instance, who ran dry within a few hours each day. Friday saw a number of stalls empty out before the end of the night, a matter that caused uproar online. Some attendees complained that given the £55 ticket price, they should have a decent selection of beer pouring well into the night. Beavertown took this criticism on-board for the Saturday session, ensuring that stalls had Neck Oil and Gamma Ray to fall back on once their kegs were finished.

Beavertown Extravaganza 2017

The selection of beers available from US breweries at a UK festival was unparalleled – and the abundance of fresh and notable beers wasn’t limited to the most hyped breweries in attendance. Yes, some of the most memorable beers did require a wait, including Zombie Dust from Three Floyds, a hazy single hop pale ale with big resinous, juicy flavours; the rich and boozy Vietnamese Speedway from Alesmith Brewing Company; and the beautifully tart and fruity SpontanPentadrupleblueberry from Mikkeller.

No waiting was required for the Haterade Berlinner from J. Wakfield, perfectly imitating the bubble-gum flavour profile of a fruit punch Gatorade, and the intensely drinkable Appreciation Barrel-aged Saison with boysenberry from Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, which burst with dry sour cherries and farmhouse funk. Finally, Heavy Lord, a collaborative effort between Beavertown and Three Floyds, a Bourbon barrel aged imperial stout with cacao and vanilla, was served on cask and draught. Dispensed on cask, it was exceptional, allowing the coffee and vanilla notes to shine.

Quibbles aside, the ambiance of the Extravaganza surpassed the atmosphere from many more established – and expensive – beer festivals. Spread out across the expansive Printworks venue, there was generous seating and room for movement or general loitering with a drink in your hand. The music came in lively bursts and even the toilets were beyond sufficient for 4,000 people. The KERB food village merits further acknowledgment, ensuring that a variety of cuisines were represented and dietary requirements were catered for.

The crux of where Beavertown succeeded and recent festivals have underwhelmed has everything to do with the details; the venue, still equipped with giant abandoned printing presses, brimmed with character and food options had been carefully vetted. The energy of the crowd was palpable, and even for those not prepared to commit themselves to a lengthy queue and instead floated between stalls, none of the beers disappointed. Despite the size of the event, it wasn't soulless. It found the pulse of a zeitgeist: the resurgence in popularity that independent breweries are enjoying right now across the country.

The Beavertown Extravaganza made a rousing debut and for the details that missed the mark, these will hopefully be ironed out in time for the 2018 follow-up. But on the whole, this is an enormously welcome addition to the beer calendar that further solidifies the position of London as a global craft beer capital.

Mikkeller Beer Celebration Copenhagen 2017: the world's best breweries bringing their A game to Copenhagen

From hygge to smørrebrød, there’s a myriad of reasons to visit Denmark. Its capital city, Copenhagen, has established itself as a culinary mecca – boasting 15 Michelin Stars – but this time of year, people flock here for another reason. The month of May brings the Mikkeller Beer Celebration Copenhagen (MBCC), formerly known as the Copenhagen Beer Celebration, an event that attracts beer drinkers from across the globe.

Set in Øksnehallen, a former market hall in the city’s Meat Packing District, MBCC 2017 ran from Friday, May 12th to Saturday May 13th across four sessions: one in the morning and the second in the evening each day. Attendees can purchase a single session ticket, splurge on an all session ticket, or dig even deeper for a gold VIP ticket for all sessions – setting them back about £300. My red session ticket granted me free reign during the Saturday morning session for £60. Entry includes unlimited 50ml pours from over 100 breweries, most of which had two beers on keg, making the financial hit justifiable.

The MBCC is the highlight and crescendo of Mikkeller Beer Week (May 8th – 14th), which sees a host of events unfolding across Copenhagen’s brewpubs and taprooms. The whole premise is attributed to Mikkel Borg Bjergsø from Mikkeller, who launched the initiative to gather the world’s best breweries in one spot to showcase two of their best beers per session. And once the beer runs dry, it’s gone.

This is the sixth year of MBCC and tickets – especially those VIP or all session wristbands – are snapped up. The event has spawned a sister festival, the Copenhagen Beer and Music Celebration, stateside in Boston, Massachusetts. This is set to take place in September again this year. 

The ambiance of the festival itself vacillates between convivial and very serious – I made a beeline for Bokkereyder, a lambic brewery from Belgium that ran out of beer within an hour during Friday’s sessions. Aside from having a general idea of the other stalls to visit – admittedly nearly all of them – I made a point of pacing myself. Others, however, sat furiously recording their thoughts on each beer on their laptops and iPads. Some were rumoured to have runners, fetching beers on their behalf.

Despite this, the majority of people were there to try something novel. For me, I was especially keen on finally tasting beer from the impressive list of coveted US breweries. Despite the 2,500 drinkers in attendance, queuing was rare – only Omnipollo required a substantial wait, which was still less than fifteen minutes. I managed a good circulation of the room, trying everything on my hypothetical list with time to idle between drinks, load a hot dog with infinite toppings, peruse the merch stand and even meander over to familiar UK breweries.

The volunteers were chipper – I recognised many faces from London - concealing any hangover commendably. There was even a tattoo booth for the fearless. This year saw a section devoted to 25 new talent breweries, representing countries from Sweden to China. Stigbergets from Sweden was a highlight that I'd experienced the night before, when their beer was pouring at Fermentoren, but tasted equally as outstanding during the MBCC session.

A large section of the beers were barrel-aged or imperial strength. As the session wore on, it became increasingly difficult to differentiate one beer from the next, but despite this, some did stand out as being exceptional.

Bokkereyder: Muscaris Lambic

One of the two lambics that we began our session with, this was an alluring beer that I would've returned to had it not disappeared so quickly. Poured from a bottle, decanted from a basket in the traditional Belgian fashion, the Muscaris embodied beautiful lambic characteristics, with funky, sour notes on the nose and bone-dry tartness in the mouth. Fruitiness comes from hints of white grapes and apples, paired with a nice acidity to balance everything nicely. This soft and sharp beer was both being excellent and unique in contrast to the bolder and darker styles that were abundant.

Jackie O's Pub & BrewPub: Pockets Of Sunlight

Ohio-based brewery, Jackie O's, had two solid beers on, including a bourbon barrel aged maple imperial porter. But Pockets of Sunlight, a beautiful saison, really stood out, a charming beer brewed with honey, coriander and lemon verbena. Spicy, funky and crisp, this is a delicate, but mature, saison: it's fermented with mixed cultures and wild yeast, then stored in a stainless steel barrel following fermentation for six weeks, where the mixed culture is reintroduced. As a result, this complex - yet subtle - beer is highly palatable and refreshing.

Jester King Brewery: Bière de Lenoir

Once again, a shift away from those rich imperial stouts with this alluring sour. Jester King Brewery's Bière de Lenoir is barrel aged in oak, then refermented with Lenoir grapes. It pours a crimson red with red berries and tart cherries jumping from the glass. Sweetness from the grapes is tempered with a vinegar-like tartness and the beer is exceptionally dry, making it easy to indulge in another sip. 

Monkish Brewing Co: Monkey and Toad

Another glorious saison was offered up from California's Monkish Brewing Co. This was brewed to commemorate their 5th birthday and is an oak fermented farmhouse ale with peaches and nectarines. The fleshy fruit came through in a torrent, making this easy to savour. Reminiscent of fuzzy peaches sweets, this sweet and tart combination was a marvel. I was charmed with this beer and returned for seconds, as I found it an intensely enjoyable palate cleanser.

Other Half Brewing Company: Hop Showers - Double Dry Hopped

Brooklyn's Other Half Brewing often knocks it out of the park, so it came as no surprise that we relished their double dry-hopped IPA. Incomparably fresh and bursting fruit aromas made this the IPA of the session with juicy hints of tropical fruit. Big on fruit and lightly complemented with pithy bitterness, this is a thing of beauty. Their Dream in Green was just as popular, a cloudy, milky IPA that gets a creamy body from oats and wheat and also bursting with juicy, tropical hops.

Omnipollo: Gimbagagompa Coffee Vanilla Granola

A beer that required a queue, this was a classic jaw-dropping Omnipollo beer. This Swedish brewery are venerated for their creative, bold styles. Here, a delicious rich imperial stout stood apart from the rest with a powerhouse of dark chocolate, coffee, hazelnuts and caramel in the body; chewy roasted malt and intense sweetness made this an outstanding dessert stout, topped with a frothy creamy head. It only inched ahead of the Mikkeller Beer Geek After Eight stout, which tasted like liquefied After Eight chocolates (better than it sounds, I promise).

Prairie Artisan Ales: Prairie Bomb!

Prairie Artisan Ales hail from Oklahoma and were proffering both their Prairie Bomb and their BA Prairie Bomb. While both were superb, the original Prairie Bomb was the surprising favourite. This luxurious imperial stout is aged with espresso beans, chocolate, vanilla beans, and ancho chile peppers, giving it a rich spectrum of flavours. Decadent chocolate and intense espresso meets just a hint of heat from the ancho peppers. Moreish sweetness veils its 13% ABV and a velvety body help this go down with remarkable ease. While the barrel aged version was also delicious, the bourbon barrels imparted a stronger alcoholic taste - despite having the same ABV, rendering it slightly less balanced than the original Prairie Bomb.

While it would be reckless to attempt to recount every beer that tickled my palate - and this list is certainly not exhaustive - these are some of the most memorable beers enjoyed. There's a high contingency of USA breweries, yes, and while I downed countless excellent stouts, it was difficult to pinpoint the standalone great examples. This might explain why the saisons and sours made such an impression on me. I also enjoyed many superb beers from UK breweries and the new talent as well.

MBCC granted me the opportunity to try some of the big American breweries that rarely make an appearance in the UK and to access a long list of new breweries from around the world, all of whom were eager to make an impression. Paired with a trip to stunning Copenhagen, this was a festival that lived up to the hype and was an enchanting break from London, even if it felt like we'd brought a slice of London to the party.