Festibière | An Interview With The ‘Slow Beer Club’

Festibière | An Interview With The ‘Slow Beer Club’

The second edition of the Festibière beer festival took place in October 2014 in the small Walloon city of Gembloux in southern Belgium.

It is a new festival on the Belgian beer festival calendar which has been created and organised by the ‘Slow Beer Club’, a young beer club established in 2013 in the Walloon province of Namur whose goal is to champion craft breweries and beers.

While there is no shortage of Flemish beer clubs in the national beer consumer ‘Zythos’ network, the position in the French speaking south of Belgium is quite different and the Slow Beer Club was formed to give those in the Namur region the opportunity to taste, to brew and to celebrate artisanal beers from the region at their very own festival.

I caught up with Michaël Hulet, one of the founders and a committee member of the Slow Beer Club, to ask why he organised the festival, how it went in 2014 and what plans are being put in place for Festibière 2015.

FESTIBIÈRE INTERVIEW

BK = Breandán Kearney, Belgian Smaak

MH = Michaël Hulet, Slow Beer Club

BK: What is Festibière and how did it come about?

MH: Festibière is the yearly event hosted by the Slow Beer Club organisation. We started last year with the idea that no beer festival in Wallonia was exactly how we think it should be: a family event first and a place for brewers to meet new drinkers; a nice place to learn about beers and breweries; and a place where you come with your friends and family.

BK: Who or What is the ‘Slow Beer Club’?

MH: The Slow Beer Club is the only organisation in Wallonia promoting craft beer and brewers. It was founded by 6 guys who share the same passion and vision about beer and who focus on the taste of beers and the work of brewers. We currently have more than 100 members. Many of them brew themselves and we will be happy to help them take the next steps. Next year we will do tastings with brewers, beer & food pairing events, brewery tours and of course, Festibière 2015.

The Slow Beer Club committee, back row from left to right: Pierre Lebrun, Mickey Vermeren, David Blocteur and Frédéric Bekaert; and front row from left to right: Michaël Hulet and PH Lebrun.

BK: Why the name ‘Slow Beer Club’?

MH: It is a reference to slow food, ‘Good, clean and fair food’, and to the fact that in Belgium, beer also has a bad reputation of being gulped down by only a part of the population. We want to share our passion for beer so that people can enjoy it ‘slowly’ and so that it can be appreciated.

BK: What types of breweries and beers can people expect to find at Festibière?

MH: The breweries at Festibière are mainly micro- or nano-breweries, but also gypsy brewers and client brewers with the project of moving into their own brewery in the future. This year we were quite happy to welcome 5 French breweries and a British brewery in addition to the Belgian breweries. We are thinking of repeating this next year with another guest country. We try to offer a large choice of beers to people visiting Festibière and we want beers that are accessible to everyone. The full list of beers poured at the festival is available on our website.

BK: Festibière was a real ‘family’ festival. What types of things did you organise for children to do and for families to do together?

MH: There was a big room for children with lots of toys, games and colouring books. The Kids Zone was supervised by local scouts and they even did some Halloween DIY. There was also a quiet place for breast-feeding women and young parents with babies. Next year we will have even more activities for children. On Sunday there was a demo and competition of the ‘mijole’ game, a classic wooden game played in Belgian ‘estaminets’ or small cafés decades ago. It was funny to see adults playing like children!

BK: How did you go about securing sponsors for the event?

MH: To be honest, we don’t have a lot of sponsors. This is our main challenge for next year. But for the little experience we have with this, we were quite surprised to have some sponsors coming to us by themselves. I think we have a good team to sell our idea and with many contacts all around Belgium.

BK: Are there any plans for next year’s Festibière?

MH: Of course there are. We are already busy with next year’s Festibière. We learnt a lot this year and we are quite excited for the next years. We want Festibière to become a recognised beer festival in Europe. It will take years but I think we will succeed. The concept is great, our team is awesome and we have everything in our hands to succeed.

BK: You say you learnt a lot at this year’s festival. What would you do next year to make the festival even better?

MH: We’d like to make improvements to the Kids Zone and to the brewers’ booths, to find sponsors and advertise both online and more locally, and also to offer more culinary options to visitors.

BK: What is the thing you are most proud of after organising this festival for the second time?

MH: Well, happy brewers singing and table dancing on Saturday night! Honestly, I’m happy when a brewer with a smiley face tells me that he wants to come back next year, and when visitors have a similar feeling after spending several hours discovering beers they didn’t know about before the festival.

FESTIBIÈRE 2015

Next year’s Festibière takes place on 24 and 25 October 2015.

Michaël will be expecting you there.

More information on the festival can be found on the Festibière website and the Slow Beer Club website.

Certified Cicerone®. Accredited beer sommelier (UK Institute of Brewing & Distilling). Certified ‘algemene bierkenner’ (CVO Panta Rhei, Ghent). Beer Writer of the Year 2015. Best Young Beer Writer 2015. Best Beer and Food Writer 2015 (British Guild of Beer Writers).