My, has it been a year already? How time flies when you’re not drinking beer.
The weekend of the 11th was, indeed, the second annual East Hendred Beer Festival. While the first of any event is a daunting task, last year’s festival went so well that it was, arguably, with more trepidation that I approached this year’s preparations. Would we get the same amazing weather? Would more, or fewer people show up? Word around the village was that the event clashed with both the West Hendred bingo night and some Elvis impersonator in Ardington – scandal was sure to ensue. On top of that, my parents began to suspect that a strangely high number of people would be away on holiday, despite our cunning choice of the first weekend after schools reopen.
Nontheless, we are committed to progress so we ordered more beer than last year (to start with, anyway), more wines and, controversially, two ciders. Well, a cider and a perry. Which is pear cider. So two ciders. Powwownow kindly stepped in to finance another round of excellent glasses, complete with a brand new design of my own devising. To keep cash out of the main bar we once again printed up tokens with the shiny festival logo on them and different coloured card from last year to foil any would-be forgers. Even the food got an overhaul with fatter sausages and a new chef who offered to lend us his own barbecue instead of the monstrosity I’d hulked all the way up from my friend’s place in Berkshire.
I was nervous, though. When we tapped and spiled the beers some of them were very lively and spat foam in our faces. When we broached the Midsummer Madness, the tap leaked and we had to take it off the stillage – ruining 24 hours of good settling time – and put on a new one. At noon on Friday I tasted some of the beers and found every single one to be cloudy. The Madness actually had lumps of something floating in it. I tried not to panic.
We opened the doors at 7pm while I was still printing out name badges and barrel labels. What with the bingo and the Elvis and whatnot it didn’t seem quite as busy as last year but – thank God – the beers were running clear and delicious. Amazing how an extra six hours or so counts for so much after more than 24. I can’t give you much more detail on this because last year’s statistics were limited to the highly accurate method of Carl estimating how much we had sold. Yes, I admit: when I honked for the 500th pint last year, it was a total guess. I mean lie. Well, educated lie. An estimate?
Saturday is the big day however and when I crawled out of my tent (don’t ask) I was not impressed by the light rain that greeted me. As we prepared ourselves at the hall, printed off last-minute helper badges and generally rushed about, I managed to take strategic photos indoors for the minute-by-minute photoblog which wouldn’t give away the dire weather situation to undecided guests in London. But then, just as we opened the doors, a miracle! A brief glimpse of sunshine! I quickly took a photo and posted it. Ooh, so sneaky.
Attendance was good through the afternoon, plenty of families (more than last year or was that just my imagination?) and the barbecue did brisk business as the sunshine came out in longer and longer spells until, finally, it was no longer a grey day with bright spells but a gloriously sunny day with a few clouds. I couldn’t believe our luck. Then the Powwownow gang showed up and it all went to hell. Stew started drinking all the good beer, Casey started causing a fracas with some fellow Australian and Juha’s unruly gang of Scandinavian hoodlums tore up the joint on motorcycles before setting fire to the barbecue and screaming “That’s how we do it in Finland you pansies!” * Even Neil, normally a stalwart sales team player, was causing trouble behind the bar. Can you imagine?
Last year’s event was propped up in no small way by the thirsty crowd from Powwownow who devoured a large portion of the ale stocks during the afternoon. This year’s festival seemed to have caught on locally and we were selling briskly all afternoon. By 7:30pm I estimated that we were about on track – based on previous experience not many people would arrive once the band took to the stage. I decided we’d done well not to order that eleventh barrel from the Ardington brewery.
At 8pm the band started to play and it percolated into my slightly fuzzy mind that the garden seemed to have a frightfully large number of people in it. I was going to check at the door but I was met halfway by a perspiring godfather.
“Carl – do we have any more tokens?”
“Well, we have the rest of last year’s, I suppose.”
“Because we’re about to run out.”
I hurried back to the house and proudly presented an extra £500 worth of tokens to the door guys before returning to the bar to help deal with the .. large .. queue .. which had formed. Now, I don’t mean to be too hard on myself but you would have thought that at this point I would have noticed that (a) clearly a LOT more people had arrived than last year and (b) WE’D JUST SOLD OUT OF TOKENS. Yes, that’s the amount tokens which were purchased to cover the entire cost of everything we had for sale plus 30%. So we had 130% as much currency out in the wild as we had beer and sausages to sell. I’d created my own miniature version of 1930′s Germany and DIDN’T EVEN REALISE. We were lucky some crazy right-wing beer enthusiast didn’t seize control amid the panic buying.
At 8:30 we sold out of our first beer. By 9 we were down to five out of the ten. At 9:30, finally, as we were down to two (including the heavy Mild that only the exceptionally brave liked) the gravity of the situation hit me and I staggered outside to call the brewery. ”If you can get here by 10:20,” I slurred into my hapless cellphone, “bring everything you can. Everything. Bring the brewery and set up shop. These people are merciless animals; they’ll drink whatever you bring.”
Sadly, of course, it was too late and around 10pm my poor father was compelled to take to the stage and deliver the words no drinker ever wants to hear: ”You’ve drunk us out of beer.” It wasn’t as bad as all that, though; the hall has its own bar serving Greene King IPA and Fosters (shudder) along with sundry bottles but the festival, in its best form, had been quite literally sucked dry. The band played on, which was some consolation, and by eleven when we closed up everyone had had an excellent time.
I can’t pretend I enjoyed the morning after, of course, but one bright side was the confirmation that, without counting the extra profit the hall’s bar took after we ran out, we raised about £2,000 profit for the hall.
* I may have exaggerated the fracas and the tearing up a little bit.
This year I managed to keep detailed statistics. We dotted a sheet of graph paper with every half pint sold so we’d know exactly how much was left in the barrels at any one time. Yes, I know this makes my poor insight into the desperate beer shortage all the more woeful, shut up. Anyway, it was rather interesting to see how the sales pattern looked in the end. The Funky Monkey seems to have taken a very early spurt (not just literally when we tapped it) but weirdly was, in the end, the second to sell out after a late sprint by the Codrington Codger. Last year’s first sell-out, Doom Bar, underperformed consistently, the worst-selling beer (the brutal Mild notwithstanding) all through the festival.
Even more interestingly, I handed out a number of voting slips so people could tell us their favourite three beers of the festival. Adding up 3 points for first, 2 for second and 1 for third, I added up the scores to give us the top three beers of the festival and the winner was neither the Codger nor the Monkey!
|1||Best Mates Alfie’s||16%|
|2||Purity Mad Goose||13%|
|3||Milk Street Funky Monkey||13%|
So there you have it. You can’t rely on last year’s figures, you can’t judge sales on early performance and even if you ask people what they like they lie to you. God help marketers!