Love Beer London is a three-day keg beer festival run jointly between Craft Beer Cares, the London Brewers’ Alliance, and SIBA (a brewing association). If, on the 13th and 14th of February you weren’t otherwise engaged in Valentine’s Day activities, and if you were willing to schlep up to Tottenham Hale, you’d be greeted with 80 different beers on tap, a barbecue, and the warm, fuzzy feeling of knowing all beer token proceeds went to charity.f
Now, I had a fabulous time drinking at Craft Beer Cares last year. I also had a lovely time volunteering at the Great British Beer Festival, and my partner keeps badgering me to do more charity work. It was only going to be a matter of time before I put the ideas together.
As with GBBF, signing up to volunteer for these things can be a little daunting. Hopefully reading my account of the experience will reassure you that signing up for a shift volunteering at Love Beer London or another keg festival is a great idea.
The official volunteer slot wasn’t due to begin until 5.30, but as I’m keen to avoid my day job whenever possible I headed to the venue early to see what I could do to help. Very quickly I was put to work, cross-referencing labels with the tap list and hauling kegs from the chillers to the bar. It’s only once that’s finished that I realised I should probably make myself known, and so I tracked down the enigmatically named “G” to get started properly.
G led me and a few other volunteers upstairs to get signed in. Not everyone’s lanyards were quite ready yet, so I made myself useful by helping to laminate, cut, and stick whatever was handed to me. As well as names, our badges listed our preferred pronouns: one old chap had written in “just call me Bill” on Bill’s, so that’s what we called Bill.
Already, it was a very different set-up to GBBF. With such an established event on that sort of scale, everyone’s roles were very clearly defined. Here at Love Beer London, the boundaries between roles were blurred. It felt like there was more flexibility to just pitch up and help wherever help was needed.
My list of jobs for the evening was about as simple as it gets: five hours behind the bar, with a break right at the end to enjoy the festival before we wrapped things up. It was quiet at first, especially because I was stationed at the far end of the bar with the latter part of the alphabet (the taps were sorted alphabetically by brewer). But before long our first drinkers were propping up the bar, squinting to make out our hastily scribbled masking tape beer labels.
Serving beer from kegs is a very different skill from pulling pints from cask. I’m not ashamed to admit I overestimated my abilities at first, thinking my experience illegally pouring Stella at my summer job when I was sixteen would see me through. Keg ales are a lot livelier than your average barrel of Fosters, particularly when the kegs have only just been set up an hour before. With guidance from some of the more experienced volunteers, however, I was up and running. Only the Doppelbock, an especially lively and, annoyingly, very popular beer, was still frothing out of control by halfway through the evening.
The biggest difference between Love Beer London and GBBF was down to the scale. Yes, at face value the number of beers and venue size at LBL were smaller. But the sheer size of GBBF is such that it would be impossible to try more than a tiny fraction of the beers on offer; here, pouring small enough tasters you could get through a decent chunk.
We were able to build rapport with the drinkers, who’d keep coming back to the bar for more recommendations. One old boy steadfastly returned to me every twenty minutes for another half of the Twickenham Session IPA. A brewer from Wild Card kept asking for us to recommend the best IPA while gleefully clutching the Best Strong Ale award his DDH IPA had won earlier in the evening. I complimented a man in a Brick t-shirt on the quality of their sours: five minutes later he was back at the bar, pressing a pile of cans into my hands to try later.
Chatting to the other volunteers revealed the huge range of people who agreed to help out. Many worked in the beer industry in some form: distributors, bar managers, even brewers who’d decided they hadn’t done enough hard graft for the day, but also keen homebrewers and people who just loved beer.
The shift flew by, and before I knew it “just call me Bill” was bellowing out the call for last orders like a beet-red town crier. Clearing away was as simple as counting out the beer tokens, tidying away litter and packing things up, with the hard work left to a cleaning team in the morning.
Volunteering at Love Beer London was a phenomenal experience. I got to meet a whole bunch of lovely people, pour (and taste) some amazing beers, and all in support of a good cause. The dates aren’t up yet for next year’s festival, but when G gets around to booking in volunteers, I’ll certainly be coming back – hopefully I’ll see you there.