Bloemfontein Finally Gets a Craft Fest Right
We’ve attended a couple of festivals in the judicial capital over the last year and there’s always been a stack left desired and wanting. Last year we hit up Freedom Fest and while the fest itself was awesome, the one beer brand on offer, on the day, was pretty awful (fortunately, they’ve since improved significantly). After that, poor attendance at the fest at No 16, Stoep negated the variety of beers. Following that, Bloem Beer Fest turned into a host’s nightmare but we learned a lot from it; for instance, appealing to the local community and keeping supply local makes for a better foundation than going all out off the blocks!
Enter Bloemfontein Craft Festival, subject of this piece and the first real success story in terms of beer related festivals in the Free State. Sure, there have been art markets that had beer here and there but this fest was clearly focused on craft beer and food…more importantly, it was focused on bringing the community together.
Just over a year ago, we drafted a guide on standards for any craft fest, using Capital Craft as our model. It’s really easy to have a successful beer fest by keeping to these ten simple standards and Bloem Craft Fest nailed 9 of them (but we’ll forgive the lacking social media presence this time).
So what of the beers? Before we get there, I must pause to mention the deep fried burgers; my new favorite companion to any beer. Okay, now we can move on to the beers…
Over-expectation can hurt an event and blending the event as a craft festival as opposed to a beer-centric festival was a stroke of genius. This allowed the fest to get away with four brewers’ stalls because they existed in conjunction with craft cocktails and craft food. Did I mention the deep fried burgers?
Come and enjoy these deep fried burgers at the festival today! Tickets will be available at the entrance gate in Alexandra straat at Ramblers from 12:00. See you all later!
Beers on offer came from locals Stellar Brewery (still holders of my personal second favourite stout next to Gilroy’s) We also had the local staple of The Famous Brew and Still. Newcomers, Jan Brou (who also double as a brew store), are interestingly one of only a handful of brewers to pasteurise their wares and I make particular reference to their date and honey ale…which is a must-try.
On the day though, there can only be one winner for beer of the fest and that honour must go to Kovsie Brewing; specifically their fruity and crisp Amber. Fortunately, I only got to it towards the end of my run otherwise I might not have had the inclination to sample any other beers on the day.
Hosted at the historic Ramblers Club, the event proved to be the perfect day out for any collective looking for a bit of gees catering for anybody. Parents who brought their kids could hang out near the jumping castle and people who enjoy music could explore the limits of their tolerance in front of the aspirant professional karaoke singers.
Yeah. If there’s something that should be prioritized for improvement for next year, it would be the live entertainment.
But it didn’t matter. As a very well established beer prophet once told us, a beer festival need not bring in the best names nor the most beers. It need only bring us together and Bloem Craft Fest finally did that…and did it well.
A combination of affordable entry fees, a 3 month long marketing drive and established local brew and food talent led to one of the most well attended day festivals I’ve seen in the area for some time. With a variety of seating areas and sufficient facilities, the various stalls were well spaced out and while there were many people, it wasn’t as claustrophobic as it could otherwise have been.
More importantly, people seemed happy to be there. There was a clear distinction from what I’m used to further up north. With festivals in places where they’re commonplace, attendees often seem like they’re only there as a FOMO-avoidance strategy and this manifests in a quick, show your face, post a couple of pictures so people know you were there and that your life is fakeishly more amazing than theirs and then drive to the next fest to repeat. In this instance, it seemed that the community wanted to be there and sincerely enjoyed it without the beer piousness I’ve gotten used to observing.
Of course there’s room for improvement and that’s a vitally important thing. If a fest was perfect from the word go, it would peobably be too overpriced and nobody would attend. Building slowly is key. Speaking with the organizers, they already seemed to know what changes they’d make next year.
Fortunately, in this instance, room for improvement doesn’t equate to bad festival. As far as Bloem Craft Fest goes, it checked the right boxes to do the right thing; bring the community together, get them jolly with or without beer and feed them.
All that “room for improvement” means now is answering the question, “how do we bring a bigger slice of the community in?”
Which new brewers are going to be there? Will there be other artists performing? Will they move it out onto the field? Will they have an ice-skating rink? Will they have a tasting board off all the brewers upon arrival? Will they brew beer live? Will they bring Gordon Ramsey in to cook with beer? Will Obama be there? I don’t know but I’m certainly keen to go again and check it out!
I’m already excited!