Beer at its best is a democratic social lubricant. As long as beer has been around, it has been greasing the wheels for large gatherings and celebrations. There are many famous beer festivals spanning the globe that are held every year.
Oktoberfest may be one of the oldest active fests in existence—yet, if you’ve been, it’s less about the beer and more about the people.
When it comes to festivals focused on beer and the people that make it, we can look no further than our capital of London. Built on the sweaty backs of CAMRA, the Great British Beer Festival is continually the largest in the country. While it focuses on real ale, craft brewers have insidiously snuck in to snap up a few awards in the past (Siren Craft Brew, Tiny Rebel).
Across the pond, the Great American Beer Festival is annually held in Denver, Colorado with great fervour. For many, this competition represents the best of the best in the craft brewing world.
But festivals don’t have to be all about awards. They also don’t need to be massive gatherings with ticket lotteries and black market scalpers.
That’s why we're here to tell you about the one of most relevant new beer fests that you haven’t heard of before!
When you visit Ilkley for the first time, you will be greeted by a picturesque hamlet encapsulated by moorland on all sides. A spa town, Ilkley is full of stone terraces, and cottages and at this time of year, cherry blossoms at the Grove.
The remains of a Roman fort can be found in the town centre. Remnants of Bronze Age settlements and a stone circle can be found in the surrounding landscape. It’s no surprise people have lived in the area since 11,000 BC.
It’s a beautiful canvas of green, grey, and sky blue (occasionally). One must have felt they were in “(insert omnipotent being)’s country.”
Humans would have to wait patiently for an Ilkley craft beer festival. It took 13,000 years after the first Britons settled the area before Nate Kane thought to himself, “Why don’t I organise a beer festival here?”
Each of us has our origin story when it comes to discovering craft beer. For Kane, it lay within his career path. Helping to run Friends of Ham in Ilkley, Nate was introduced to the world of classic and new beer styles.
“I didn’t know a lot about well-made beer until joining the team at Friends of Ham. At the start of each shift, it was our job to taste every beer on draft that day—there were twelve draft lines!”
Sour beers became his first love. Nate quickly carved a path through the biggest styles eventually becoming an IPA fiend, chasing the snappy bitterness of West Coast IPAs.
“Like many during COVID, I was furloughed and had a lot of time to think about things. I thought, ‘why not try and start a craft-focused beer festival here in Ilkley?’ I quickly buried that idea but after having a few drinks with a brewer, I was gently nudged into turning talk into action.”
Where does one even begin to construct a beer fest? “I created an Instagram account and added industry people I knew [from working at Friends of Ham]. Before I knew it, I had over 2000 followers,” says Kane.
Feeling confident from social proof, Nate figured the next thing he needed to do was find a venue. He felt Ilkley would definitely be the place since it offered “good rail links” with late services to/from Leeds and Bradford (and a beautiful backdrop for festival attendees).
The 2022 Crafty Dogg’s Beer Festival was held in two venues, Ilkey’s Kings Hall and Winter Garden. Kane found the contrast of the next-door venues to be like yin and yang. Many attendees and brewers preferred the spectacle of the great hall while others enjoyed the bright natural light of the self-contained gardens.
It was such a hit with festival goers that it “had to be held in the same two places for this year.”
Okay, so you’ve found a lovely town and some smashing venues. The real question is, how do you entice craft brewers to pour at your beer fest?
Kane answers, “From the beginning, I wanted this festival to be all about the small brewers. I hate to use the word ‘underdogs’, but I had a strong urge to give humble and less shouted-about producers a platform to promote their beers.”
This year’s Crafty Dogg’s Beer Festival includes many exciting up-and-coming breweries including Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing, Merakai Brewing Co., and Xylo Brew
By focusing on the have-nots, Kane discovered that less is more with the initial Crafty Dogg’s Beer Festival. “I was so stressed out for the first fest. Brewers kept offering me a beer, but it sounded like the last thing I wanted at the time. I had to stay switched on to make sure everything went smoothly,” Kane stated about the 2022 event.
After it was all said and done, the founder of the fest wasn’t sure if it was a disaster or a success. The organisers of the Leeds International Beer Festival had attended the event and assured Kane that he’d produced a solid hit on the first attempt. But it was festival goers and brewers that signalled there should be a Crafty Dogg’s Beer Festival in 2023.
Nate recalls, “loads of customers kept coming up to me and thanking me for putting on the fest. And several brewers thanked me for the opportunity to share their beer with new people.”
This year’s event will be held on the 5th, 6th, and 7th of May. New additions that Kane is excited about include glass-rinsing stations and cornhole. Perhaps more important, a DJ will be slinging funk, reggae, and ska all festival long!
When posed the ultimate question Nate has this to say:
“We’re supporting the small brewers [...] this is a chance for people to sample beers they won’t likely find anywhere else. Breweries like Xylo—never been to a beer festival, Powder Monkey—never been to a beer festival.”
Kane added, ”these smaller breweries are working so hard and making fanatic beers, they need to be shouted about. It’s not about making money for me. Last year I broke even. Every pound we make goes right back into the festival [and] back into the community.”
Talking about community, one of the organisations the fest sponsors is the Ilkley Pride & Diversity Group. The group was elated to host the first Ilkley Pride last year.
Simply by purchasing tickets, you can feel good knowing some of the proceeds from this fest are going to support good causes.
Come join us at Crafty Dogg’s Beer Festival on the 5th, 6th, and 7th of May
Of course, we’d like to add another reason why you should attend Crafty Dogg’s Beer Fest: Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing will be pouring at this year’s event! Having to keep a tight lineup, Kane is delighted he could fit us in for this year.