I missed out on the first Craft Theory festival at Katesgrove’s South Street Arts Centre last year, but I read the reviews with excitement and suffered a major case of FOMO [note 1]. I was in a unique position for the festival on 13 and 14 April this year; not only did I volunteer for Friday behind the jump [note 2], pouring drinks and loving it, but I also arrived bright-eyed on Saturday to spend the afternoon getting merry with my pals.
Craft Theory is the brainchild of Anne Marie and Charlie Beatty, who own Reading’s local beer shop, The Grumpy Goat. They’re both passionate about beer and cheese.
The festival brought together a selection of great craft breweries, amazing food, DJs and live acts. The goal for Craft Theory is for people to have fun, try something new, drink great beer and eat great nosh. The plan is to continue it as an annual event; this year it made its mark quickly, with all sessions sold out.
I did the rounds before the Friday opening and asked lots of questions; I like being nosy. Anne-Marie was busy all over the building checking- in with the breweries, volunteers, and South Street’s own John Luther, who was already in his yellow T-shirt ready for action. Charlie was busy at the South Street bar end, managing the food selection.
Anne-Marie was clear on the mission:
We just want everyone to have fun – loads of fun, because that’s what’s important to us.
Anne-Marie had lovingly placed me in a corner towards the back of the main theatre. My new pal Gijs had come from the De Kromme Haring brewery in Utrecht. I was lucky enough to try everything Gijs had. The sour raspberry Lactic Fantastic went down like a dream, as well as the other sour special, the Rhubarb Gurnard. Butcher’s Tears from Amsterdam was next door to Gijs; they had four taps of loveliness on offer.
The team from the 18-month-old Turning Point brewery from Yorkshire was really impressive; their stand was bright, clear and in tune with their online identity. Passionate Cameron and ex-solicitor Aron were chuffed be out of the brewery for a day, mingling with their fellow brewers and – of course – tasting all their wares. “I’d been home brewing for about five years, and he [Cameron] was running a bar, but really well. We joined forces. Luke, who’s here with us, is our first official employee,” said Aron.
Craft Theory brought together many local faces to DJ through Friday night and all day Saturday. Music met conversation which met dancing-with-your-mates to some top quality tunes. Not only that, but it brought together faces from CAMRA [note 5] , faces from local pubs, the landlords and landladies, the brewers, the marketers, the bloggers and the drinkers.
They say people don’t buy what you do, but why you do it, right? We are in strange and evolving time, but natural inquisitiveness is meeting cultural goings-on, and I must say it is a heartwarming relief that people will come out and support good work.
On Saturday, I explored Craft Theory as a punter.
A few miles away from their Finchampstead base, the warm and gracious Siren Craft team had set up a big old bar at the Macdevitts end of the arts centre. The Limoncello IPA was on an almost-constant stream; perfect for Saturday’s sun-fest. Silchester’s Wild Weather Ales enjoys an almost cult following from beer fans; their beers sell out quickly at the Reading Beer Festival, so I quickly got my laughing gear around the Colour of Despair; dark ale with hints of cherry, rich and deep in flavour.
The atmosphere was so buoyant and the day so warm that many of us stood outside chatting and drinking. The hours flew by and the vibe [note 3] across the festival was one of pure joy. The food stands were wonderful. There were the famous Pie & Hay vegan scotch eggs [note 4] to enjoy, the quality Grumpy Goat cheese boards to gorge on, the Chaat indian street food stand and good old Indie Burger. Outside, it felt more like a glorious street party on Saturday afternoon.
This fantastic festival at this re-vamped Reading venue gave me hope and reassurance that things made with love go a long way. Every act that graced the Macdevitts stage was welcomed with open arms, cheers, recognition and respect. On the Saturday afternoon many of these acts – most notably comedian Laura Mugridge – interacted with children and families, and it was wonderful to see.
Bryan Ferry once told us that loneliness is a crowded room; those words were alien to anyone at Craft Theory. Anne-Marie and Charlie led from the front, and perhaps the crowd were the first followers, as the saying goes. Well, there are quite a few of us in this town, every one of us happy to be led, and there are many more who wanted to come but couldn’t because it was sold out. We were happy to be led into asking questions and trying new things, led towards understanding the craft behind the beer; the stories, struggles and happy accidents.
Rome may have not been built in a day, but this little gem is just 24 months old. Here’s to the next one.
Editor’s notes for older people
Editor’s note for younger people
 CAMRA: the Campaign for Real Ale.