An October beer festival had been held in Weymouth for several years during the 1990-2004 period. This was run by the Small Independent Brewers Association South West area. SIBA South West had hoped that the Weymouth festival in October would be a “counterpoint” to their very successful Maltings festival held in April in Newton Abbot in Devon. After several years trying, the festival was not meeting their expectations, so SIBA were thinking of ending it.
That’s when the West Dorset CAMRA team took an interest. We were already running a successful regular annual festival – Beerex – in Dorchester each February. We thought if we could do that we should be able to make a go of a similar event at another time of year. So in early 2005 Rich Gabe and I made a pitch to the SIBA group: “Can we have a go at running the festival?? We’d initially have only SIBA Beers and we’d keep costs down by using our volunteers etc.” Their response is well summarised in this piece from the SIBA Web Site:
“28 July 2005 A plan by the West Dorset branch of The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) to run the Weymouth – based beer festival has been approved by SIBA South West . This clears the way for the festival to be run again in 2005. The dates will be Friday and Saturday 7th and 8th of October with lunchtime and evening sessions each day. There will be live music in the evening sessions.Over 30 SIBA – brewed beers will be featured at the festival along with some ciders from the West Country. As before entrance to each of the four sessions will be by ticket.
The aim this year is to get an increased number of people through the doors as a means of promoting real ales. To achieve this the local CAMRA team is planning to keep both ticket prices and beer prices low. This coupled with an organised advertising campaign will be the key to success.
As the festival is outside the holiday season, most advertising will be focused in the local area using posters, handbills and drip mats in local pubs, together with spots in local newspapers and on local radio. Wider area advertising will consist of publicity material placed in What’s Brewing, on the local CAMRA web site and the SIBA web site.”
So that is what we did. Over the years we have tried to keep costs low so that we could deliver a good choice and we have still managed to grow the festival year by year from an initial 35 beers and corresponding number of visitors up to the 60 or 70 we are able to offer today.
There are many memories of the early years when we were printing things like tickets and vouchers on our home printers and burning the midnight oil guillotining and perforating as if our lives depended on it. This year is our ninth successive event and thankfully the festival is successful enough for us to have some of that printing done professionally (Thanks Weyprint!!). There was even one year when we were so short of volunteers that three of us “on the committee” had to spend our whole Sunday morning striking the stillage and carrying it and all the barrels all up a winding flight of steps – happy days!!
Over these years we have developed our own pattern of “themes” for the festival. We like to try to provide beers for every taste. With only a small number of beers to work with in the early years we settled on the idea of featuring beers from a geographic area every other year. So one year we’d have a range of beers from Scotland and the next year we’d have all the beers from our home region, the South West. Last year it was the turn of England’s South East counties, so we are back with the West Country for 2013.
Talk about success bringing its own problems, we had been growing the festival carefully for five or six years when we heard that Brewers Quay, the building we had been using for all that time, was to be re-developed and would be closed. We had been thinking that we were running out of space to expand in that building, so we decided to “bite the bullet” and uproot to a much larger venue here in Weymouth’s Ocean Room.
It is pleasing to report that in this our third year here we have managed to overcome year another upheaval – the council have divested themselves of the building and passed the running of it over to a “not for profit” local organisation. Weymouth Pavilion Community Interest Company is that organisation, and we wish them the very best as they work to keep this striking venue “alive and well|” to all our benefit!
Enjoy this year’s festival! Dave Harris