BREW CON London '17 - An Appraisal
Last June I called up a bunch of home brew retailers and brewing supply wholesalers to talk to them about an event I wanted to put on. I was in a tricky position of not having a track record in events or being particularly well known in the home brewing community. Having met a lot of home brewers I believed however that the event, the UK's first ever home brew conference & expo, was long overdue and would be well received. I was seeking out people who shared not only a passion for amateur brewing but a vision for what this pastime we adore could become, ways we could expand the community, establish new links and change the majority of people misconceptions of what home brew represents.
It's safe to say I was met with some skepticism. One Home Brew Shop that will remain anonymous scoffed that there hadn't been a decent home brew event in the UK for thirty years and he doubted there ever would be again. Fortunately for me, and for the event, the nay sayers turned out to be a minority and after a number of trips around the country I had found a handful of supporters for the first ever Brew Con London event. Key players in getting the event through a very successful Kickstarter were Rob at Malt Miller and Jo & Will at Muntons. It's safe to say I came away from my meetings with those parties energised, enthused and incredibly eager to make the event not just happen, but be the very best event we could organise.
A successful Kickstarter campaign later (we raised the £5000 target in less than 48 hours), was followed by a tricky search for a venue (I visited over two dozens sites across London), a necessary rescheduling of dates and a furious round of emails and phone calls to potential speakers, exhibitors, sponsors, event planners & various hire companies. All this whilst holding down a pretty exhausting full time job. The event started coming together. Having worked in beer for over 15 years I was lucky enough to have a few contacts in place.
Stu McKinlay was the ideal Keynote Speaker for our first ever event. Charismatic, passionate and a veteran home brewer before turning Pro. On the day he really managed to kick things off with a bang. Getting the likes of Dave Carpenter, Des De Moor, Andy Parker, James Rylance and Mark Dredge amongst many more on board provided some other great talks on the day. After Malt Miller and Muntons had got the ball rolling a number of brewing businesses got in touch eager to be part of the day - Grainfather, Hopcat, Ubrew, Brew Club, Charles Faram.
And so to the event itself. It was manic, I'm not gonna lie. It was my first large scale event and even though I'd taken two weeks off work to prepare I was still unsure how the day would play out in all honesty. But you know what? I'm quite proud of what we did. There are a dozen things I wish we'd done differently, and I will go into more detail below, but even if the event is a bit of a hazy memory by now it was quite fun, wouldn't you agree? In case you haven't seen the latest announcement we've decided that we will definitely be doing the event again this year. Last year was hopefully the first of many, many more Brew Con events. Sure lots of things need to be improved at this years Brew Con London event, and they will be. In our first year we wanted to bring the community together, to get people motivated, encourage new relationships and fortify existing ones and I'm proud to say I think we did a great job there. Below is one of my favourite quotes from the day (apologies I didn't catch your name - lovely South African guy who brews at a Rugby Club in Twickenham).
Now to the nitty gritty. In the aftermath of Brew Con London 2017 I sent out a (rather long) survey and 65 people were kind enough to fill it out and send it back to me with vital information on the event, on what worked and how we could improve. Below is the outcome of the survey, with my thoughts and how we will take on board all the information.
OVERALL RATING 7.4 / 10
Not too shabby for our first year. I'm aware that there was a lot of goodwill from the community and that this score reflects an appreciation for the time and effort, not to mention the risks and financial implications, involved in putting an event like this on. We know that this year's event will have to be much better organised, with separate rooms for main talks & exhibitors.
- Great first effort from within the community
- Club Night extremely well received
- Good topics on talks
- Great Buzz / atmosphere
- Lots of Pro brewers in attendance
- Networking and meeting people from other clubs
- Meeting suppliers, especially Rob from Malt Miller
- Good selection of beer at bar and well priced
- Great prizes from World Series Comp
- Inaudible talk theatres
- Clearer timings / signage for talks
- Need more vendors with actual stuff to sell
(specifically hops & speciality malts)
- Hoping to see more mid range equipment
- More seating
- Food running out and a bit pricey
- Sunday is not ideal, Saturday would be better
- Bar menu a bit unclear / location of bar not ideal
- Not enough freebies
LIKELIHOOD TO ATTEND 2018? 8.2 / 10
What is going to influence people's decision to return again or not? Well it will come as no big surprise that the main concern was the talk theatres. The second biggest concern was the day the event was to be held, as Sundays just didn't work out best for many people. We've taken this feedback and gone back to Oval Space and come up with a plan which we believe will satisfy most peoples issues with last years event.
We shall outline all the changes to the event on Launch Day - next Thursday, 5th April!
LIKELIHOOD TO RECOMMEND 8 / 10
The vast majority of our attendees were happy to not only return in 2018 but to recommend the event to friends and fellow brewers, or home brewers in the making. Again the main worry that would hold them back from bringing a buddy was the lack of suitable audio solutions for our talks. There is not much point bringing a novice to learn about brewing if they can't hear very much past the fifth row. That said a number of our attendees pointed out that the event was the perfect place to bring any friends who may be interested but are wary of taking that first step as it was a great opportunity to chat to the actual suppliers of home brewing equipment and ingredients. As one punter pointed out very eloquently -
WHAT YOU SAID ABOUT BCL '17?
"The bar had amazing beers and was well staffed, so service was quick and slick"
"If they can sort the audio issues out this has great potential"
"Well done, very brave to start this event, you're on the map now the only way is up"
"I think the event would really have benefitted from some live brewing"
"The club night was fun, but could have been more structured"
"I also liked the more technical talks (brew lab and sour beers)"
"Everyone was obviously working very hard to make it happen"
"I was very impressed by the quality of the sponsors and prizes for World Series"
"Best thing about the event? The attendees!" (courtesy of Ted Bruning)
What other feedback did we ask for? We asked everyone to give certain areas of the event a score out of five. This is what we got back.
World Series 4.15 / 5
The inaugural Brew Con World Series was a success overall. It too wasn't without flaws. I would say I personally somewhat over-reached, with over 250 entries to sort, five initial judging rounds and two BOS rounds to organise and a beautiful venue yet quite hard to access venue separate to the warehouse. This year we have a small team in place to help organise the event, and an increased number of BJCP qualified judges thirsty for opportunities to judge! And we will be updating the scoresheet system with the barcodes used by our good friends at London Amateur Brewers.
The main prizes however, sponsored by Muntons, Beer 52 & Warpigs were pretty spectacular and I'm hoping we will be able to match them again this year. You can find out the first of the prizes, for Champion Brewer, on Thursday.
Quality of Exhibitors 4.16 / 5
The overall response to our exhibitors was very good. The name that kept popping up was Rob at Malt Miller. You can't beat being able to talk and discuss options with your supplier directly.
One complaint though was that there wasn't enough mid range options to spend money on. People leaving with home brew money burning a hole in their pockets! We've got a long list of distributors, retailers & ingredient suppliers we want to be at the event. We also want to make sure there is enough cool stuff to take away from the event on the day.
Bar 3.96 / 5
The bar was kind of thrown together but we had great beer pouring from the get go, including some cask. There were 8 beers on that were collaborative efforts between home brewers & commercial breweries. We hope to replicate this again this year, and will be encouraging home brew clubs to get involved. We hope to able to have kegs of the winning beers not just from Thornbridge's home brew competition like last year but also from Elusive's comp in January and the upcoming One Mile End and Drafthouse comp.
Quality of Speakers 3.98 / 5
The speakers also went down remarkably well. Stu McKinlay was a great keynote. We had a great range from style specific talks, Going-Pro talks, Ingredient specific talk and BJCP training sessions. This year we plan to have a completely separate area for extensive BJCP training and tasting sessions. We will have a separate area for the main talks of the event and more intimate spaces for workshops, live brews and other activities.
Food 3.4 / 5
The food on offer was great, if somewhat pricey for some. Unfortunately it ran out far too quickly. This year we have already spoken with a new supplier who we are comfortable will be able to deliver quality food, at reasonable prices, for everyone at the event.
So there we go. It's fair to say we have a lot to take on board from last year's event. I hope everyone appreciates that we have gone through everyone's feedback and will take everything on board, and we will also do so not just this year but every successive year that we run this event. We have already made a couple of key decisions that we are confident will enable a much smoother running of Brew Con London '18. We will be launching this years event THIS THURSDAY - 5th April - from a very special location. There will be a limited number of Early Bird Tickets priced at just £12.50 available for purchase.