There's that word again: 'craft'. Apply it as a qualifier to beer, and you're opening a can of worms. For a largely meaningless term, it's amazing how much 'craft beer' implies – from the promise of beer brewed by small independent artisans, to absurdly 'inventive' drinks marketed solely at laughable hipsters. The reality is often far from this, but the interpretation is up to you. It's marketing dynamite, either way.
It's not just brewers who have sought to cash in on the buzz around the concept of craft beer; the organisers of some beer festivals are also keen to portray their events as ground-breaking and iconoclastic, distancing themselves from 'traditional' beer festivals in order to attract a 'cooler' crowd. We've lost count of the number of London beer events in the last couple of years that have been promoted as 'a whole new type of beer festival', but inevitably the reality tends to differ from the hype. In London at least, beer festivals (and beer drinking in general) have been progressively attracting more mixed crowds for several years, so many of the 'new types of beer festival' are not quite as different as their promoters would have you think.
One forthcoming 'craft beer' festival is Craft Beer Rising, returning for its second year this month. The event's publicity describes it as "the original big brother of all urban craft beer and music festivals", promising to break "the shackles of the traditional beer gathering" with an "adventurous" collection of brewers exhibiting their wares, "the UK's finest streetfood vendors" selling tasty food, and an array of DJs providing a musical accompaniment. It sounds great, but is all this promotional detail just bombastic hype?
Yes and no. If last year's Craft Beer Rising (which followed a similar format and took place in the same venue) is any indication, this event will not be especially ground-breaking. It may resemble, dare we say it, a beer festival. However it could still be rather good. We found last year's event to be very enjoyable, with a wide range of beers from an interesting variety of brewers, and it looks like this year will be no different in this respect – the list of exhibitors indicates a good balance between lesser-known beer producers and some of the bigger names in brewing. We were impressed by the selection last year, and pleasantly surprised to see some of the larger brewers (such as Sharps) bringing along some of their more unusual or experimental beers; hopefully they will follow a similar formula this year.
So if you're looking for a truly innovative beer event, the likes of which has never been seen before, you might be a bit disappointed by Craft Beer Rising. But if, like many discerning beer drinkers, you're looking for a beer festival with an interesting range of beers from a great selection of brewers, good food, and an upbeat musical accompaniment, this might well be worth a look.
Craft Beer Rising will take place in the Old Truman Brewery building, off Brick Lane, 21-23 February. Tickets booked in advance will get you entry to a specific timed session, lasting between five and seven hours (depending on the date), and cost £15 and upwards (plus booking fees). This may sound a bit steep, but each ticket includes £5 worth of beer tokens (and, of course, an obligatory branded pint glass), which makes the price a bit more reasonable. Check out the website for full details.