Event review: The Croydon Craft Beer Festival II, 17th – 19th March 2016

By - Wednesday 30th March, 2016

CCBF number two leaves Paddy Blewer feeling fuzzy around the edges

Photo by Nudge Factory, used with permission.

We all know that the second time is often better than the first. You know what you’re doing. You’re organised. You know what works and what doesn’t. There’s less of the well-meaning fumbling. At the same time, if the first go was great, you’ve raised expectations of your performance, which can lead to nerves: the ‘difficult second album’ syndrome…

Well I’m happy to say that the second Croydon Craft Beer Festival (CBFF) built on the success of the first, but was also an improvement in a number of areas that we will get to later. The CCBF is a brilliant event that shows off a lot of great attributes not necessarily automatically connected to Croydon by outsiders. A varied community, passionate about a traditional but innovative product, and a bunch of smart entrepreneurs working together to pool diverse skills and tap into a later market, CCBF is Croydon at its best, and should be celebrated.

What really resonated was the comfort of the crowd. Last time, there was a great beer-y vibe, but we were all feeling our way. Perhaps fumbling a little. This time, the fairly diverse crowd seemed far more at ease with itself and the event. The diversity was mildly surprising. It’s was still quite white and quite middle class but not exclusively so. I was surprised at the age range of mid-twenties through to seventies, and there were lots of women there; certainly a greater percentage than has been the case at suburban beer festivals of my experience.

This group of people seemed delighted to be there and was extremely at ease with itself: lots of chat between strangers, opinions offered with grace and knowledge… it was like being at a massive friendly local boozer. It felt familiar but was also exciting, as we know these festivals are few and far between, yet it felt like the beginning of something entirely repeatable. There’s clearly a significant market for this product in Croydon; this won’t be the last CCBF and there are plans for a June festival in Purley.

One of the reasons behind the success of the event is the skill of the entrepreneurs that run it and the lessons that they learned from the first event. Whereas last time the beer ran out, this time there was plenty. No fumbling here. The whole gig ran as though it were on rails.

Nudge Factory provided genuinely smart branding, content production and event management which meant that the event felt professional and adept, but, I feel, also had the right tone of voice for Croydon. I do something sort of similar when I’m not scribbling for the Citizen, and I give the team a professional nod of respect for what they brought to the party.

The Cronx Brewery is a very good thing

Freshfields Market in Church Street is a gem for beer lovers. It’s got the best craft, real ale and quality lager selection that I’ve ever seen in this country and the staff are brilliant, natural communicators with love of the product. I bought a lot of beer from them for Christmas and it was all great.

Finally, the Cronx Brewery is a very good thing. The company has built up an impressive portfolio of beers in a short time and the product is great. For me, they straddle the craft/real ale divide. They aren’t as heavy on the hops as you get with some breweries, but innovative flavour combinations and cool branding differentiate them from some of the more traditional brewers.

Unlike some entrepreneurs that I’ve worked with, this crowd clearly values teamwork and collaboration. CCBF wouldn’t work if it was one man with one vision. It’s a collective vision of complementary skill sets. Well done to all involved – you’ve created a great product.

For all the Citizen-correlating ‘let’s all be a friendly community’ vibe (which, indeed, was the vibe), this event is judged a success or failure on the quality, quantity and variety of the beer. The organisers managed to source more than fifty different beers available on tap, and more than one hundred more in bottles and cans. This would be pretty impressive at a fair-sized CAMRA gig, and it offered great depth and breadth.

As was the case with the first gig, there was plenty for the craft enthusiast, from nine percent dry-hopped monsters to grapefruit IPA to imperial stout; lots of beer to which one could stroke one’s goatee and make a slightly pretentious but equally heartfelt comment or comparison (guilty, m’lud). There was also a lot of great beer that perhaps would be looked down on by the trendy ‘Hox-Ditch’ craft brew crowd that seem to hate real ale as much as it hates factory lager.

I think that the South London ‘craft’ industry is somewhat more inclusive than other parts of the country. Many breweries make recognisable craft beer but will also produce something that would be seen as real ale with funky branding. This was especially the case for the beer served on gravity – straight out of the barrel. Of course some were pretty hop-forward, or used some interesting additions in the fruit/spice line – and branding does matter (says the communications consultant), but an awful lot of this beer could have been served at a CAMRA festival and it would have tasted just as good.

The beer was all of outstanding quality and was served by staff who were well-trained and friendly. I had some exemplary pints: Cronx’s Kotchin and Anglo-American; a By the Horns Session; and a monster of an Arbor which means that everything else is a little fuzzy.

It really is all about the beer

My dad accompanied me, and he has more traditional tastes than me, being more of a real ale than craft beer drinker. However, I got him involved in a couple of session IPAs in the can/bottle bar which he commented would go perfectly with a BBQ on a hot day. He’s absolutely correct, they do indeed complement heat, flames, smoke and meat.

I think that I’ve made myself clear. CCBF is a very good thing. It mixes much that is good about Croydon and sometimes overlooked in terms of community and business capability and success. The marketing was slick and the setting and service were outstanding. But as mentioned, it really is all about the beer. Put this much great beer within twenty minutes of where I live or on the way back from work, and I will keep coming back every time. I suspect that I’m not the only one.

Paddy Blewer

Paddy has lived in the Croydon / Sutton area since 1983 and in Waddon from 2001- 2015. A communications advisor in the City, he loves the variety of Croydon, particularly its options for eating and drinking and its great parks for the kids. A sports nut, supporting Munster, London Irish, Surrey CCC and Spurs, he has a sneaking regard for Palace, despite having a Millwall fan for a dad.

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