A brief discussion with Steve Powell, from Bristol Beer Week.
Hey Steve, how’s it going? A little rough around the edges but pretty well thanks!
The second annual Bristol Beer Week has arrived! Excited? Could you give us a little insight into the event? Where did the idea come from to start the week? I am very excited indeed. The idea came from the US via my beer week husband Lee Williams. He lived in the US for quite a while and experienced a number of beer weeks. He asked me whether I’d like to help him set up an equivalent event for Bristol when he moved back to the UK. The rest, as they say, is history. I’ve tried explaining beer week in a number of largely unsuccessful ways. The best I’ve come up with so far is “it’s like the Edinburgh Festival but based around Bristol’s blossoming beer culture”.
How many people are involved? At the moment there are three people involved to a varying degree. Me, Lee “hoptopia” Williams and my best buddy Mike O’Connor. Unfortunately, Lee’s had a lot going on this year so hasn’t been as involved with the general running of beer week as he’d have liked. Mike is the brains behind the Bristol Beer Week logo and, as a very experienced graphic designer, has given Bristol Beer Week the illusion of professionalism! My role is to coordinate and publicise. I am the “Head of Communications” if you want to give me a silly title.
Before the Bristol Beer week was formed, what were you up to? Is this a huge new venture for you compared to your previous 9 to 5? I’ll take it as a compliment that you have assumed this is my actual job! Alas, I still very much have a 9 to 5 too. I work in communications in an industry which has very little to do with beer (pensions!). I’d love to think that Bristol Beer Week becomes successful enough to support at least one person in a full time role but the problem is, beer week is very much a community style event and introducing any kind of commercialism could be really detrimental at this early stage.
Have you always been a big lover of beer? Well, not when I was a kid. Sorry, couldn’t resist! In a word, no. I went to University in Bristol so that was three years of drinking the cheapest stuff we could get our hands on. My 20s weren’t much different, though the beer got a bit more expensive I suppose. Belgian beer was probably my first beery fascination. I’m a bit obsessive myself so I love the whole glass matching thing. But it wasn’t until I had my first properly hoppy beer a few years ago (probably a Moor So’Hop) that I was hooked.
At the minute, the beer business seems huge! What do you think about the current beer scene? Are you noticing any changes in the way pubs function and what sort of drinks they’re offering customers? I think the current beer scene is 95% great. A huge range of beer available in keg, cask and bottle with establishments really trying to offer something interesting to the customer, all molded around an ever increasing community of likeminded people. I am only really qualified to talk about Bristol pubs but definitely I’ve seen a change, yes. We’ve always been blessed with great traditional freehouses selling a wide range of different, mainly local, beer. But whereas in the past we’ve generally had cocktail bars for people who didn’t fancy the trad pub route, we now have a new wave of places filling the gap in between. Whilst I don’t want to go anywhere near the cask/keg/craft/young/old debate, it’s undoubtable that there a lot of people who are having their eyes opened to beer as a result of these developments.
Just to going back to the 95% thing quickly, which may seem like an odd comment. Nothing is ever perfect, you wouldn’t want it to be. With rapid growth trends you will always get some people who either don’t get it or think they get it more than anyone else and designate themselves as an expert whose opinions cannot be challenged. I am not a huge fan of either group but it’s only 5% of the “scene”, so let’s not dwell on it.
On the opening night of Bristol Beer Week, Bishopton Supper Club hosted a beer matching dinner & in the Bristol Beer Week program Stella of Avon Gorged talks a little about beer & food pairings. It’s an exceptionally interesting topic! Could you explain a little more? What should we be drinking with what, for example? I went to the Bishopston Supper Club meal and it was fantastic. Danielle’s food is right up there with the finest restaurants in the area and the beer chatter from Adrian Tierney-Jones was enthralling, even for the least beer-centric people in the room. The thing I like about beer and food tasting is that it doesn’t really have any rules. Well, that’s not strictly true, there are guidelines that you will learn if you aim to become a beer sommelier or certified cicerone. But it does feel a bit less regimented than wine and food matching. When Adrian was discussing his pairings he always concluded his summary with a question of “do you think it works?”. That’s the beauty of beer and food matching for me, it’s new and it’s inclusive. If you like it together, drink it together. Hopefully that covers the “what should we be drinking?” question too. The answer being “whatever you like”. I will say that the Wild Beer Co Modus Operandi with the pork terrine was pretty out of this world in terms of the way it worked together, so that’s as good a place to start as any.
It seems that we’ve reached the end of a long slog for cider & I know there’s mixed opinions regarding cider with the Wriggle team alone. But with companies such as Carling jumping on the trend to create their own cider, is there any concerns that the real ale & craft beer business might have a similar fate or is that really out of the question? I am going to steer clear of cider if that’s OK. It’s a huge part of the West Country and something I know next to nothing about so I absolutely don’t want to offend anyone. I think I know what you’re getting at though. Yes, there absolutely will be big breweries who try to get a share of the craft/artisanal/micro beer industry, in fact it’s happening to an extent now. Some of the bigger breweries are actually creating offshoots smaller breweries that aren’t so restricted in what they can brew. I think that’s fine, as long as they’re producing good beer. Ultimately, it’s something they wouldn’t have done 5-10 years ago and I think that’s a really interesting development. Not everyone agrees with me but that’s a three pint discussion at least!
Has Bristol always been your hometown? If not, what brought you this way? No, I moved here 18 years ago when I went to Bristol Uni. I’ve never stopped being excited by Bristol and that’s why I chose to stay here after I graduated. I love the independence and creativity of the place, we always seem to do things a bit differently. That’s why I got involved in the music scene a few years ago and that’s why I am involved in the beer scene now.
Probably a tricky decision but where’s your favourite place to grab a drink or two? Anywhere we should be heading for a bite to ear & a pint? There are, of course, a number of places you should be heading to for a bite and a pint, most of them are covered in our beer week programme which is dotted about the city and is available to download on our website. There are places I go quite a lot but, as a general beery advocate for the city, I probably shouldn’t pick out my favourites!
Back to the festival – what are you most looking forward to about the rest of the week? Well, there are only a few days left now unfortunately but I am hoping to try and get around as many events as I can before Bristol Beer Week ends. Again, I am not going to pick out a specific event because I think that would be against the spirit of my involvement in the week. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed where we keep everyone up to date with what is happening, there will definitely be something special for everyone.
What’s the future got in-store for yourself & Bristol Beer Week? Anything we should be keeping an eye out for? The future for Bristol Beer Week is, I think, pretty rosy. We have fantastic levels of engagement this year and it’s been a palpable step up from last year. At the moment, the best I can say is that we hope we can take the same step forward next year and the year after and so on. The more I think about it, the more I think Bristol Beer Week can become a Bristol institution and be a huge event on the tourist calendar. I’d certainly like to continue to be involved as that happens.
Anything else you’d like to add? We hope that everyone has had an amazing time during Bristol Beer Week. Thanks to everyone that has bought a t-shirt, attended an event, followed us on Twitter and recommended us to their friends. Thanks also to the venues and breweries who have made the week what it is.
One of the things that we do want to do soon after the week has ended is try and get some tangible feedback so that we can put a good case together for future years. We’ll be issuing brief questionnaires via our website in a week or so and we’d be incredibly grateful if people could find one or two minutes to answer them. We’ll also be thinking about a round of crowd funding whilst we’re at the front of everyone’s thoughts so please keep an eye on our website for more details of that. Cheers!