Written by Tom Becham for Professor Goodales
(Octoberfest picture courtesy piximus.net
Okay. As a new or seasoned Beer Geek, you will at some point want to attend a beer festival. Should you? If so, which one(s)? How do you approach them? What should you take?
Well, I’m here to give you a good guide to attending beer festivals.
First of all, at this time of year, when the weather is starting to warm up, there will be a metric assload of beer festivals. Sure, they happen all year ’round, but Spring and Summer are when you will find a huge number of them. And, unless you are independently wealthy and don’t have a steady job (and possess the liver of Hunter S. Thompson), it will be literally impossible to attend all of them just in your area! So, you need to be selective.
Check out a festival carefully before purchasing tickets.
If the tickets are expensive, make sure the proceeds are going to a charity. Festivals that charge exorbitant amounts for admission, and don’t donate to causes, are all about the commercial aspects and care little or nothing about promoting craft beer.
]Which means you also want to check out which breweries will be vending. A large commercial enterprise in my neck of the woods, the California Beer Festival, promotes events all over the state. And while they do feature some craft brewers, the “usual suspects” of Bud, Miller, Coors, Corona, Guinness, Newcastle, et al, tend to drown out the craft voices. The CBF festivals may be fine for neophytes, but attending once is more than enough.
A responsible festival promoter will limit samples, sample sizes, pouring times, and even have deals for designated drivers. Most such festivals tend to be promoted by individual craft brewers, or groups of home brewers and/or fellow Beer Geeks.
So, now you have an idea which festivals to attend. Now on to what to take with you, and how to act.
Thoroughly check out the weather forecasts for your festival venue, and dress accordingly. If it’s outdoors, TAKE A HAT or other head covering. Nothing will put a damper on your festival day more than sunstroke. Which means you should also take some bottled water. You will need this not just because of the sun, but the dehydrating effect of the beer you’ll be sampling. As well, you don’t want to get completely blitzed (or at least not too early in).
If you are a Beer Geek who keeps tasting notes, either for yourself or for writing, don’t forget a notepad and writing implement. Just be prepared for your tasting notes at the end of the festival to be less legible, and a bit incoherent (even pacing yourself, vendors tend to be generous with pours, they can forget to take sample tickets, etc.).
Lots of vendor tents will have swag, too, like logo coasters, buttons, stickers, posters, etc. If you like that sort of thing, bring a bag or pack.
When sample tasting PACE YOURSELF. Yes, having 15 sample tickets for a 3 hour event may seem like you’ll need to pound down samples and move quickly to use all your tickets. Especially if it’s a popular fest and features many great brewers.
The way around that is to take a couple minutes at the start of a festival to get a map and plan your attack. If, say, The Bruery is present and you love all of their stuff, it might be best to go to their tent first, even if it is all the way to the back of the venue. I know all the other tents at the front are tempting, but STAY ON TARGET!
Don’t be afraid to try new things. The Peanut Butter Imperial Stout offered by Mother Earth brewing did not appeal to me at all when I first saw it at Stone Brewing’s last anniversary festival. But I’m very glad I tried it, and now that Mother Earth is the talk of SoCal, I understand what all the hoopla is about.
Above all, beer festivals are social events. If you don’t take a friend, or meet a group of friends there, just be open and talkative and willing to meet people. Beer festival attendees tend to be extremely friendly. While that may seem like an obvious statement about any event that serves alcohol, consider a similar event at which the beverage served is tequila, and consider how many fights would happen, then tell me it’s only about alcohol.
I’m sure there are vital bits of info which I’ve forgotten, but if you are bright and observant, you’ll figure them out. Enjoy festival season!
Tom Becham lives in Oxnard, CA and as reviewed many brews and breweries for The Professor: as far away as Hawaii. He has compared breweries all over California and written commentary as well. His writings have graced the pages of Professor Goodales for many years and after the trick we just played on him, above, we certainly don’t deserve such talent. The bunny ears simply add to the pleasure of having him here at PGA. Or they are a genetic defect… he won’t admit to either. Or the first GMO human. (Genuinely Magnificent Oddity)