Take a dystopian tour behind the scenes, at the world’s first online beer festival
Friday 05 June 2020
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Summer of love
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We all love the monthly members’ bottle share – getting out and sharing great beer with members is always our favourite part of each issue. Then along came Coronavirus and spoiled the party. “We could do it online – there’s this great app called Zoom,” I suggested, helpfully. “Or we could take the same broad format and invite… a few more people,” countered my boss, Beer52 co-founder and master of understatement, Fraser Doherty.
A few short weeks later, CyberFest – the world’s first online beer festival – is streaming live to over 10,000 people, and I’ve landed squarely on the wrong side of the camera. Fraser pops his head around the door between live segments: “I’m reading the comments and they really want you to put your shoe on your head. I think you should do it so we can move on,” he says, earnestly. Great.
The thinking behind the festival was two-fold: as well as getting everyone together for a spirit-raising knees-up, we wanted to help support some of the breweries we’ve worked with most closely over the years, by buying beers during a time when other sales channels may have dried up. Thanks to the enthusiasm of our members, we were able to pay the breweries up-front and get 12 truly exceptional beers into the CyberFest box.
The idea seemed sound, but would people actually go for it? Nothing quite like this had ever been attempted before, and there was genuine concern we’d end up with a warehouse full of beer and egg on our faces. But, if you build it – as a wise man once told Kevin Costner –they will come. Well, you certainly did, in droves. To our massive relief, the initial Friday night allocation sold out in less than 24 hours, and we quickly decided to open up a second night on the Saturday.
Eight hours, you say?
All of this heart-warming enthusiasm left us with the challenge of filling a total of eight hours with high-quality, original TV gold, while also making a magazine, selling beers and answering customer service calls. Fortunately, we had the services of a small but very dedicated production team, including my co-host Doug Garry (or Young Hagrid, as viewers unanimously took to calling him) producer Pavel Shepan, video editor Zsolt Stefkovics, researcher Siobhan Buchanan and our director, Fraser Doherty himself.
Brewers in your living room
More importantly, we quickly discovered that every single one of the 20+ breweries involved was more than keen to chip in with their own guided tasting videos, which ranged from super-slick showreels to frankly bizarre lockdown confessionals. What definitely came through in each video though was the passion and personality of the brewers, and it was great to be able to share that directly with viewers.
But it wasn’t only the brewers who we got to know a little better. Over the course of both evenings, we also got to chat live with members in their homes. While this was technologically the most nerve-wracking part of the evening, it was great for us to see you guys at home, enjoying the beers along with us.
Elsewhere in the programme, Beer52’s own Phil Hall chipped in with his characteristically odd pub quiz, delivered with Forsythian showmanship from what appeared to be the throne room of a down-at-heel cult leader. Answers were served up by a host of celebrities garnered from the remotest corners of the celebisphere, including Boysie from Only Fools and Horses, Chris O’Dowd, the legendary Roberto Carlos (who donated his fee to charity) and a gentleman calling himself Captain Beansy. Good wholesome fun. We also had some amazing appearances from stand-up comedians including Robin Grainger, Jojo Sutherland, Jay Lafferty and Liam Withnail.
Thank God that’s over
Despite numerous technical panics, we had great fun putting the show together, and the feedback from viewers and brewers alike has been amazing. So much so, that we’ve decided to do it all again at the start of June. Some of you reading this will have come along to share a beer at CyberFest 2, so we hope the technical gremlins stayed at home and that the whole thing was as much fun the second time around.
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