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As a lady who is under 35, I can say that at beer festivals I often feel a little out of place. Rarely do I have the opportunity to meet other ladies of my generation at a festival bar. The terms "Real Ale" and "CAMRA" generate a certain picture in people's minds, and sadly it does not include young ladies. This image is so pervasive that even I am surprised and excited when I meet another young lady who loves beer like I do. I find it a little bit scary that the drink I love has such a strong association with bearded, sandal-wearing men ticking off lists (not that there is anything wrong with beards, sandals, or lists). However, this not an inclusive image and I worry that this picture that pops into people's minds may actually be putting them off attending beer festivals, and particularly CAMRA festivals.
I know CAMRA is currently going through a process to try and get in touch with wider society. I know the organisation wants to connect with the new generation of beer enthusiasts. It’s a challenge and it’s a complicated situation that I cannot provide a solution for. I can share my recent observations and maybe they will help resolve the problem so that CAMRA does not die.
Over the summer, I have had the pleasure of attending several beer festivals. Some have been CAMRA supported, others haven't. What I have noticed is that there tends to be substantially fewer young ladies in attendance at CAMRA festivals. I believe that the image mentioned earlier may play a part in this. In fact at CAMRA festivals I find myself noticing all the young ladies precisely because there are so few there. Even at the Great British Beer Festival there were fewer ladies than I had expected, although I was pleased to see several behind various bars.
In comparison, when I attended the London and Bristol craft beer festivals, I was not paying so much attention to the ladies there because there were more of them. I would estimate that around one in four people attending were women. Not only that, but there were also far more ladies behind bars. Women are getting involved with the beer and demonstrating that ladies do know what they talking about. This is the beer culture we need to encourage.
Even more amazing than the craft beer festivals was my visit to the London Vegan Beer Festival. This was held in Hackney on 15 July, and when I walked in I was a little gobsmacked. The majority of the crowd were in the 35 and under age range. I went into the beer hall and as I stood at the bar I noticed the number of young ladies around me. I estimate that around 40% of the people at the festival were women. It was incredible. The best part of all? The beer was fantastic! There was a fair amount of beer on keg or in cans, but it was really good. The cask beer available was also really good. All the beer was in good condition. If a beer wasn’t ready then it didn’t get served.
The thing that I took away from the festival is that beer can reach out to everyone. Maybe London is the best place to see it because the city is so multicultural. Good beer is diverse in styles and flavours just like the people who drink it. Beer festivals are celebrations of an amazing beverage that is constantly evolving, maybe beer drinkers need to evolve with it. Perhaps we need to remember that beer is meant to be enjoyed and try to avoid getting so tangled in definitions and rules that the experience is lost.
As Captain Barbossa said of the pirates code in Pirates of the Caribbean: “They're more guidelines than actual rules."