BA’s Survival Guide to Beer Fests

Feature by | May 2008 | Issue #16

Photos by Derek Kouyoumjian

As producers of over 16 beer fests and attendees of scores of beer events throughout the world, we’ve been on both sides of the brewer’s booth and have witnessed a lot—good and bad. Generally speaking, fests can be overwhelming experiences filled with excitement and the overzealous urge to jump right in and try everything is natural; but before you do, we’ve compiled our personal guide that’ll help to ensure that every fest you attend is both enjoyable and enlightening—instead of a blur.

Tolerance
Get to know yours—how much you can handle, where that sweet buzz spot is and when to take a break. Getting some good sleep, food and hydration in beforehand will also impact how much you can handle.

Don’t Drink Before the Fest
The last thing you need before four hours (or more) of drinking is being well on your way to Drunktown. Enter the fest with a clear mind, otherwise you run the risk of not truly enjoying yourself or being ejected.

Moderation
If you’re attending a beer fest to get drunk, you should stay home. Beer fests are not frat parties or marathons. They’re excellent opportunities to sample, appreciate and expand your mind and palate.

Learn Something
Sometimes, there’s more to beer than just drinking it. Ask questions. Talk to brewers. Read the program. Talk about what you do and don’t like. Think about what you’re drinking. Try new styles. Get educated. If all you get from the fest is a hangover and a T-shirt, then you’ve truly missed out.

Hydrate
This is of paramount importance. You cannot get enough water in your system. It helps to detoxify and counteract the alcohol that strips water from your system. Water is your friend.

Eat
This will not only replenish the system, but it will help absorb the alcohol so you don’t get tipsy too quickly. Taking some vitamin and mineral supplements never hurts either. No one wants to witness a weak, depleted and drunk beer drinker in action.

Get Your Sample and Move
Don’t be “camper,” aka people who block brewer booths. Once you get your sample, move to the side and away from the booth. If you’re trying to talk to the brewer, motion from the side. Basically, get the hell out of the way!

It’s OK to go Small or Dump
If you’re trying to moderate your intake, ask for a small pour. If you feel like you can’t finish a sample, for whatever reason, you don’t have to finish it. It’s OK to dump it versus forcing it down your throat.

Milk Thistle
Used for thousands of years, this badass herb, if taken correctly, promotes the protection of your liver by aiding in the detoxification process and stimulating the production of new liver cells. It is also an antioxidant more powerful than vitamin C and E. Note: Before using this patron saint of the liver, consult your doctor or pharmacist.

Time to Go
When the taps are shut off, the lights are dimmed and some 7-foot tall security guy is kindly asking you to wrap it up… realize that it might be time go home. There’s nothing worse than confused stragglers or testosterone filled hooligans at the end of a beer fest. Just go home. Additionally, beer fests are not concerts. There’s no encore, and you don’t need to stay for the entire fest or another session. When you’ve had your fill, just leave. Any other course of action just gets sloppy.

Public Transportation
Don’t rely on designated drivers as a crutch—these programs promote excessiveness (for those not driving) and abstinence versus responsible drinking (for those driving). Take a cab, subway, bus, book a room. Plan ahead. Don’t drink and drive while over the legal limit.

Respect Beer
See all of the above.

Tips for Brewers

You’re the beer gods that we pray to, but like we mortals, you’re far from perfect. Based on our experience as fest organizers, here are some quick tips for having a successful showing at any fest.

  • Refuse to participate at fests that charge booth/entry fees and don’t offer to pay for your beer.
  • Send a knowledgeable rep or brewer to man your booth. Properly represent your brand.
  • Pimp out your booth. Have fun, make your presence known!
  • Bring gear to sell. It’s a great way to help cover some costs and get your brand out there.
  • Bring take-home information for attendees so they’ll remember you.
  • Respect the fest and venue staff. They’re there to serve you.
  • Moderation. Remember: You’re on the clock as the face of your brewery and the industry.
  • Always bring a couple of “beer geek” beers to wow the crowd—free hype.
  • Don’t serve attendees who are drunk. It’s a legal risk to the fest, venue and your brewery.

Beer Fests!
Your guide to beerdom for spring/summer 2008.

Obviously beer festivals of all sizes and themes occur throughout the year, but there’s something about the warmer months that screams “Let’s go to a beer fest!” They’re great opportunities to experience new beers, meet like-minded people and help support brewers and local beer scenes. We highly encourage you to attend one, check out our online calendar for more listings and post beer fests that we might be missing on BeerAdvocate.

In the meantime, here’s a roundup of “must attend” fests. Unfortunately, we can’t list every one, so we decided to list some of the more popular fests that we feel are well worth traveling to. And yes, there are some shameless self-promoting plugs too—someone has to pay the bills.

List compiled by Jay R. Brooks and Jason & Todd Alström

May

Weekend of Spontaneous Fermentation
Buggenhout, Belgium | May 24 & 25
Dig Lambics and Gueuzes? Then this fest put on by De Opstalse Bierpallieters with upwards of 70 of them is for you. Free entrance, pay as you sample, with other specialty beers and local Buggenhout brews available, too. Bring some Tums.

Mondial de la bière
Montreal, Canada | May 28–June 1
This is more than a mere festival, with over a hundred breweries pouring nearly 400 beers in addition to cider and wines. There’s also an emphasis on food, especially cheese. Throughout the five-day festival there are seminars and workshops on beer and food. “The mission of the Mondial de la bière is to return beer to its place of honour among the pleasures of the table.”

Maryland Brewer’s Springfest
Fredrick, Md. | May 31
Presented by the Brewer’s Association of Maryland, this fest aims to introduce spring in style with over 60 beers from local Maryland breweries, live music, local food and shopping—because everyone loves to drink and shop.

June

Washington Brewers Festival
Kenmore, Wash. | June 13–15
Boasting the largest selection of craft beer in the state of Washington, and it’s on Father’s Day weekend. This means you can give the best present to your father, beer! Come on, hook your pops up.

National Homebrewers Conference
Cincinnati, Ohio | June 19–21
Not really a beer fest, but this conference for homebrewers will have plenty of beer flowing. Celebrating its 30th year, it’s hosted by the American Homebrewers Association and is designed to “enhance homebrewers’ brewing skills and knowledge and increase homebrewing camaraderie.” If you brew, you should go.

American Craft Beer Fest
Boston, Mass. | June 20 & 21
OK, so this is one of those self promotions we mentioned. But we’re aiming for it to be one of the largest craft beer fests on the East Coast, held at Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center with upwards of 75 American brewers, 300 craft beers and possibly the largest gathering of BeerAdvocate members ever, too!

Colorado Brewers’ Fest
Fort Collins, Colo. | June 28 & 29
Perhaps the best way to taste a state is through their beer. This fest will be offering brews from 40 Colorado breweries and live music to please your ears. Proceeds help fund other local downtown Fort Collins community events.

July

Seattle International Beerfest
Seattle, Wash. | July 4–6
SIB is brings over 130 brews from over 15 countries to the palates of beer lovers in outdoor event held at the Mural Amphitheatre, including some obscure beers, local barbeque and plenty of live music. A similar fest is held in Portland, Ore. July 18–20 (portland-beerfest.com).

Empire State Brewing & Music Festival
Syracuse, N.Y. | July 11
Equal parts music and beer, with an eye toward supporting the craft beer industry and educating consumers, this upstate New York festival is held in Syracuse’s own festival grounds, Clinton Square, in the heart of the city. During the festival, 75 breweries offer festival-goers samples of over 300 different beers.

Vermont Brewers Festival
Burlington, Vt. | July 18 &19
vermontbrewers.com
In view of the beautiful Adirondack Mountains by Lake Champlain, the Vermont Brewers Festival features dozens of brewers sampling their beer along with music, educational tents, craft vendors and food. It’s the longest running festival in the East and consistently ranks among the nation’s best beer festivals.

Oregon Brewers Festival
Portland, Ore. | July 24–27
The 21-year-old OBF takes place at Tom McCall Waterfront Park along the beautiful Willamette River in the heart of Portland, a town with more breweries than any other city in the US, if not the world. The 75 breweries pouring at the festival are only permitted to bring one beer, prompting many to brew a special libation just for the event.

August

Mammoth Festival of Beers & Bluesapalooza
Mammoth Lakes, Calif. | Aug. 1 & 2
Held in a remote location past Yosemite Park and Mono Lake in California’s northern Sierra Mountains, the Mammoth Bluesapalooza is as much a great music show as beer festival. Nationally know blues acts perform among redwood trees in a serene outdoor setting while 50 breweries pour their finest in an idyllic wooded grove.

Great British Beer Festival
Earl’s Court, London, England | Aug. 5–9
The GBBF is the grandfather of modern beer festivals, having been held every year since 1977 as a vehicle for CAMRA to showcase England’s real ales. The original aim of the festival was to save cask-conditioned ales from extinction. Last year, over 70,000 people enjoyed more than 350,000 pints of 700 different beers.

Great Taste of the Midwest
Madison, Wis. | Aug. 9
Great Taste is the second-oldest beer festival in North America, with over 500 beers from over 100 breweries. There’s also lots of great food, including tons of Wisconsin cheese. It’s held in spacious Olin-Turville Park where families can bring lawn chairs and picnic for the day, all the while listening to the music of wandering minstrels.

State College BrewExpo
State College, Pa. | Aug. 16
“Drink less, drink the best,” is the motto of this fest, held at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel and featuring over 60 microbrewers, specialty importers, 150 craft beers and educational seminars. Get schooled in the world of beer.

September

Great Canadian Beer Festival
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada |  Sept. 5 & 6
Canada’s longest running beer festival takes place in picturesque Victoria on the southern edge of Vancouver Island just over the Strait of Juan de Fuca from the American border. Kept purposely small, it usually sells out in a few hours after tickets go on sale. It boasts over 40 American and Canadian breweries pouring nearly 150 different beers.

Telluride Blues & Brews
Telluride, Colo. | Sept. 12–14
It’s one of the best music festivals anywhere, tucked away in the scenic mountains of Colorado and topped off with beer from over 50 small breweries. The musical acts include some of the biggest names in blues and rock & roll. The festival recently won Best Combination Festival at the first US Music Festival Awards.

Great Lakes Brew Fest
Racine, Wis. | Sept. 13
“Our goal is to become the premier festival for the craft brewer and craft beer drinker in the Great Lakes Region …” pretty much says it all. Though it’s no Great Taste, it’ll certainly taste great with more than 250 brews from 100 brewers on the shore of Lake Michigan.

Night of the Funk & The Return of the Belgian Beer Fest
Boston, Mass. | Sept. 26 & 27
Hailed as one of our most popular fests, this two-day event offers a special night of spontaneously fermented and funky beers. The following day boasts hundreds of Belgian and Belgian-inspired beers from all over, plus guest speakers and the most addictive waffles on planet Earth.