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.
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.
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.
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.
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.