Monday, 18 March 2013

SIBA BeerX Sheffield 2013

Now then,

      I managed to get to the inaugural national SIBA event twice in my home city and thought I might share my observations about it.

Its my own fault I didn't get Thursday - a bit annoying it was ticket only but I'd have missed the Maharojah if I'd gone so it all evens out. Friday I got a ticket but I could have paid on the door. Entry fee covers a very large programme and a glass. Which, as I quickly worked out, is replaced with a fresh one (unless you helpfully offer to reuse, as we did when the glass washer broke) for every beer. An unusual idea, slightly wasteful on the face of it although it was incredibly thin glass - does that make it easier to recycle?

The programme was, well, quantity over quality am afraid. Being set out by region was a fine idea, but the beer rotation scheme meant you had no way of knowing when anything that took your fancy would be available, so was more of a reference point for where the brewery was based rather than a useful way of locating the ales you wanted. And the alleged regional split on the bar was not rigorously adhered to. That said, the cyclops ratings were interesting, and I enjoyed the challenge of identifying which county every single brewery location was in. Its a geography nerd thing.

Beers? Well, Christ, if you're going to showcase British beer its nailed on that getting on for 500 brews is going the right way about doing so. New, old, micro, nano, piko, mega and medium breweries from all over the UK were on offer, all at the same price.

Given recent understandable debate about piss taking prices of craft beers (whatever they are) and the absurd premiums attributed to Keykeg beers the festival's flat £3.00 per pint price  was a fantastic opportunity to try a mixture of strengths and dispense methods without paying any extra. I was going to take this as a rallying call for pubs to take less liberties with the single use keg costs but someone, indeed manyone, mentioned that the beer was donated to the festival. So that kind of wipes out that argument if it's true. I genuinely don't know if it is, but it would also help explain the great value of some of the stronger beers.....

Selecting from a mix of cask bottle and Keykeg also gave me the chance to follow a heavy cask beer with a palate cleansing lager or wheat beer. The Hawkshead Lakeland Lager and Hop Studio Pilsner were two of the most quaffable beers I've had in years, but packed with flavour, and from a decent range of lagers. British brewers have learned that simply adding lager malt and some German hops to a cask beer does not a lager make, and that it can stand a little chill. And that was another bonus - drinkable Keykeg! No asking for a warm glass form the glass washer like in Thornbridge pubs.

However, back to the slightly less positive, and the need for cold drinks number two - it was boiling. Given the abject fiasco of the Sheffield Fest in 2011 when the place was like a sauna, you'd think that the organisers would have stipulated a cold venue - if they did, and Ponds Forge (or whatever the distasteful corporate insignia is) failed to deliver, you'd have to ask whether they are really up to the job.

Meanwhile, I got back in Saturday having cashed my tickets in Friday night, and although you still have to pay a fiver (so its £10.00 for two visits, arithmetic fans) the fact that it was quickly becoming my favourite festival of the last decade meant I managed to let this go. On reflection now, I admit that this was actually quite an expensive festival

Plus there was some absolutely brilliant beer on.

Beers of the festival for me were the impeccable Oakham Green Devil IPA, Fyne Sublime Stout, Anarchy Sublime Chaos Breakfast Stout, Art Brew Orange IPA, Hop Studio Pilsner, Allendale APA, Marble Dobber and Pin Up Milk Stout. The only beer I didn't like was one that I love - Dark Star Revelation. Having had it on gravity as well as handpumped dispense, it was nice to get a chance to find out that handpumped cask was it's best and Keykeg it's worst dispense, without being shafted for the privilege.

And of course, there were 3rds. Brilliant. An ideal solution for the long festival visit - owt over 5.5% have it in a 3rd. Owt below, have a half. Easy. A great way to try more beers without necessarily getting more pissed.

Finally - the rotation. A logistical nightmare as some said, and a bit puzzling to the casual visitor, since you walked up at times to sections of the bar with 10 handpumps turned round. I later discovered that some beers were taken off before they ran out and put back on later, so if you went to one session and saw a beer go off, you might still try it at the next. The main and most impressive feature of this system was there was absolutely loads of beer still on sale when I left around 20.00. Not even Magna managed that. Great for late arriving customers.

So, SIBA Beerx made a big and very good impression. It offered choice of beers styles and dispense method but all at the same price. It offered third or half pint measures, and a greater chance of trying beers that you had your eye on. It was funny watching the tweets coming up on the screen above the band on Friday (not so for them maybe) and it was great bumping into folks from the world of beer, as it always is. And without starting a debate all over again, I didn't have my bag searched, twice. Just saying....

Please can we have a cool venue next year though, that's all I ask.

Wee beefy


  1. interesting take on it all, mine was slightly different, as you can probably guess...

    the 'one price' system is common to all SIBA fests I've been to, frustrating if you want to drink lots of mild good if you want lots of keg IPA. overall it probably balnces out, though a tad steep given as you say the beer was donated (had at least 2 brewers tell me that)

    The rotation system is IMO ridiculous. The festival is advertised as 500 beers, yet you'd be lucky to see 100 at any given time. If like me you went with a 'shopping list' then you would be disappointed - I went to try 10 new to me breweries, NONE were available. Also, if you're gonna rotate them, there's no excuse to not have all pumps occupied at all times.

    As for plenty of beer left at the end - well it's a tad easier when you're not bothered about wastage cos the cost is borne by the brewers not the organisers!!

    Agree thirds were a positive, may more festivals in Ponds Forge take that lead...

    Heating-wise, I don't think one can blame the venue, most of the head was emanating from the light things over the bar, which I assume SIBA either supplied or stipulated, since they weren't in use for the BAGS fest

    Finally, on the Thursday I can't help but feel they looked a bit silly, following Keith Bott's SIBA chair) speech about all that is good about beer, to have a middle aged bloke trying to act like a 20-summat character he plays years ago, especially given said fellow took on a pub and bankrupted it, as well as having a phantom brewery while getting the piss-poor beers (not so) secretly brewed elsewhere

    So, overall, while it had a few good features, I think it's by a long way the second best festival at Ponds Forge...

    1. Hello Dave,

      in some ways am quite glad that there were some downsides - writing this post it felt very unnatural and disturbing not to have been annoyed. And am not being facetious when I say that.

      I didn't get Thursday night alas so not sure about any speech related malarkey.

      And I did consider that if you had a must have list you might be disappointed. I do agree in so far as I wanted to try plenty that in the end I never saw, and I suppose you could say that the rotation system means you didn't even know if they'd been on and run out or were still to come.

      I'd really like to know for definite if the beer was donated, as that is kind of pivotal to my interpretation. If it's all free then it could be considered expensive, although there is the benefit of all of it in one place (even if not at one time....) which is co-incidentally an argument for going to any beer festival, despite legitimate cnocerns over quality.

      Re which, I think I was swayed by the quality. That's what made me go back Saturday as much as choice to be fair.

      I think it's difficult to compare with a CAMRA festival because like you say there is probably no concerns about wastage. But then that just makes it better, even if the option to provide so much choice at the end is much more difficult for CAMRA fests where I am certain they pay for all the beer.

      Still, the main sense i came away with is that I'd enjoyyed what I'd spent my money, which is a decent bottom line.

      Seizure Soon.


    2. annoyingly, I probably would have had another stab Friday and/or Saturday, but for the fact the weekend was unbelievably cluttered, what with the Shakey and the Star in Hudds also having fests... as it happened the Star had 3 of the 10 breweries I wanted at Beer X, so I potentially missed 3, though I doubt all 500 beers even made it to the pumps over 3 days so who knows...

      As for the wastage policy, you say that makes it better... but for whom? certainly doesn't make it better for the brewer who has to donate probably over £100 worth of beer, and then buy it back for £3 a pint like everyone else!

      that's why for my money a pub fest is always better than a CAMRA or SIBA one - generally all beer available at start, and less concern about wastage cos the pub is still there after the fest. Ok they'll never have the sheer numbers of some 'proper' festivals, but they'll often have more than you can drink in even 2 or 3 sessions, and in any cases the list will be more interesting (partly due to not having to stick to intransigent BAGS rules and policies)

      obviously it would be unprofessional to name the 'celebrity' giving the speech, so lets just say in the case of his pub and brewery, 'Can He Fix It? Can he phuq!'

    3. Amusingly I now know who you mean!

      I take your point re brewers - who can afford to give away £100.00 of beer? Well apart from Thornbridge and possibly Wells/Youngs, I suspect few. But my point was consumer wise. It makes it better for the consumer. I am one. Does the average punter base their opinion of a fest on price or necessary consideration of impact on breweries?

      Well, no, of course not. Doesn't make it fair of course. Just a more enjoyable customer experience.

      Also, I would have loved to have been able to afford to attend the Shakespeares fest but I had to prioritise. So, as a long time advocate of the Shakes, I know i'd have enjoyed that as well, but could not afford both.

      Overall the unrestricted choice of their's plus the huge range of styles at SIBA would have been the best option. Meaning neither was the ultimate format.

      Finally, I agree re the 500. Assuming the beers were donated (wastage consideration) and the rotation scheme was used in extremis, 500 beers were unlikely to have made it. But once again, I loved all but one of those I tried. And for Neil B, I should point out that I did so by choosing breweries I rate. Sure fire satisfaction, apart from 1.

      Perhaps a Shakespeare fest the weekend before would have made it the best fortnight of beer for many years?