Organising a conference is hard, especially when you’ve never done it before.

Six years ago me and Keith had the idea of organising a conference about historic brewing styles, techniques and stories because there wasn’t anything else like it at the time, while there was also a growing number of researchers and enthusiasts getting into the subject.

But where do you even start?

Firstly we sat over a few beers and discussed the subjects that we thought we’d like to hear people talk about, and then after the alcohol had started to take effect about some of the subjects we didn’t want to hear about. And when we realised that this wasn’t just for us, and if we were going to put on this conference we’d have to make sure it appealed to the widest possible audience we could. Else it’d just be me and Keith sat in a pub with people coming and speaking to us. Which tends to happen anyway, but we don’t usually get a choice in what they’re talking about and we don’t normally pay them to do so.

So we sat and chatted first about a time period we wanted the conference to cover, we didn’t want it to all be far back in history – and not just because there weren’t that many people who studied beer and brewing of that time period and it’d be a short conference. And we didn’t want it to be too modern, the whole thing about this conference was that it was a historic one. So we settled for prehistory to Prohibition – whose effects were still in place a lot later than you’d think. And it also rolled off the tongue nicely whilst being kinda vague and allowing us to pretty much choose what we wanted.

Once we had the timespan in mind, we started thinking about who would be good to invite to give a talk, who’d make a great host for it all (I was quickly told I wasn’t allowed to do that), and who would be a good keynote speaker. We also decided on having an opening and a closing keynote; because we could.

The next stage was to stop talking wistfully and actually look into seeing if this could actually work. We thought about how long each talk might be, and therefore how many talks we’d be able to fit in. And then we realised we couldn’t do them all in one day, especially as we wanted to make sure there were decent breaks between them to nip to the loo. And as we started planning a theoretical schedule we also realised we couldn’t fit them into two days. So the idea came up to have two tracks of talks.

The problem with having multiple tracks of talks at a conference is that you can often miss one or more talks you want to see, because they clash. So if we were going to have two tracks of talks, we’d have to think about a way to minimise clashes.

A couple of pints later, we had it. We started to try and pair up ideas of talks so that if someone wanted to listen to one of them, it wasn’t as likely that they’d want to listen to the other one. And we noticed that we’d naturally formed the two tracks, the more technical subjects and the more social based ones. Even working forward in time for the talk subjects, this worked.

So we had worked out an idea for a schedule that worked, based around talks that we thought people (other than us) would want to hear, and we started to look around at potential venues. We were lucky and found one straight away, so were able to then start looking at the practical side of things, such as the costs.

Okay, at this point we got a little silly. Rather than planning sensibly to minimise costs and make sure it would be a viable event, we started looking at mad ideas, such as a historical era seven course feast, with each dish coming from a particular era and having beer from that era to match it. We have since shelved that for possible future years due to costs, practicalities and utter madness. 

Then we continued looking at the costs in a more sensible manner.

We decided right from the start that we wanted to pay everyone a going rate. Whether they were an international superstar speaker, or someone local that was a mate. If it was going to become an annual thing, we wanted to know it was a sustainable annual thing.

So we worked out the costs for the speakers, along with possible travel and accommodation costs involved. We added in the venue hire, and all the other costs we could think of, and there’s a lot more than you’d think, liability insurance, glass hire, temporary alcohol licence. Wifi hire, staff wages, etc, etc. And then we had a serious, sober chat about how much we thought we could realistically charge for a ticket. The thought being that once we knew how much we would charge for a ticket, we knew how many tickets we’d need to sell to break even. We’d decided early on that this wouldn’t be aimed to be a profitable event, we just wanted to make sure that we weren’t going to lose money on it.

It wasn’t as many tickets as we feared, especially seeing as the costs for everything have gone up a lot since we first started planning this. But in short, to break even we have to sell 120 tickets. Thankfully the venue we wanted could seat 200, so at least we can fit enough people in there.

One of the ideas that we had thought of that we decided to keep, unlike the feast, was the historical bar. We loved the idea of having a bar on site that was a mini beer festival of historical and heritage beers, matches to the talks that the speakers would be a given. So delegates could hear about a beer style, and then get a pint of it. I mean, how awesome is that? Plus, bars can also be a source of income.

So we had the venue, we knew if we sold 120 tickets it would cover its costs, we had the bar to help mitigate ticket sales somewhat, just in case. Next thing was to start inviting people to give talks.

I don’t know if it was because we had been organising this for six years, or because I’ve made a fair few connections in the beer world, and Keith had a whole other network, but we got most of our “Dream Team” on our first ask! And we were incredibly lucky that we’ve been able to fill the gaps with other speakers who are just as amazing and talented.

Apart from having to postpone because we lost our venue, twice, and then the whole COVID thing, everything has been pretty smooth so far.

Except ticket sales.

Tickets have been on sale now for a couple of months and we haven’t sold enough to cover costs. A lot of people have said that they’ll be getting tickets, and if everyone who said they would did, then we’d likely be fine. But I can tell you now, if we don’t sell enough tickets in the next five weeks we’re going to have to cancel the event.

There would still be eight or nine weeks before it went ahead, but there’s non-refundable deposits to pay, accommodation and travel to arrange, and a whole load of other costs that we have to stump up for before the conference starts.

I’ve been talking to folks who run other conferences and events and have been reassured that there’s usually a flurry of last minute tickets sales, but neither myself or Keith are rich and we can’t afford to take that risk.

So please, if you are planning to come, buy a ticket as soon as possible so that we can make sure it goes ahead.

Find out more about the conference, and get your tickets here: