Hitting a beer fest is a pretty amazing thing, you have tons of people (beerpeeps are the best), Brewers who are happy to talk about their brews, swag, and BEER. With as popular as these events are getting, attending one of these can be kind of overwhelming… especially if you are a first timer.Even the simplest things are not simple if you don’t know. Is this an indoor festival? Is there someplace to pack the parka I had to wear waiting to get in in January? Is this an outdoor Festival in July? Can I find someplace to get out of the rain and muck if it storms, or maybe cool down when it 110 degrees? Is there food? entertainment? Are VIP Tickets better than general admission?To get you past the hurdles, here are some tips you may want to know if you are getting started.
KEEP YOUR EARS OPEN – You will want to keep an ear out for upcoming events; there are a lot of established annual festivals, but there are new ones popping up all the time. If you missed whatever the mega fest is in your area, no worries, smaller ones can be just as fun and may give you even more chances to meet people and brewers. Social media, beer groups, breweries, and other beer enthusiasts are great ways to find out about upcoming events both large and small. As soon as you hear about them find out everything you can; when tickets go on sale, what sets VIP apart from general admission(it varies), is there limited parking, hotel access etc. Also check sources like GROUPON for special deals, because you usually want to order tickets early .
HAVE A PLAN – Some of these events are HUGE. The Chicago Beer Festival had offerings from 73 brewers, in a 4-hour time frame (with 1 hour of that being VIP access). If you figure that most brewers were offering 2 or 3 different beers and you are faced with over 200 choices in 4 short hours. I may be good, but not that good. You gotta plan ahead. You need to know going in what you do not want to miss and if there is some kind of ticketing system. It helps you keep your priorities straight.
Beforehand, find out what brewers are there who you HAVE to see, find out if anybody is bringing something special, it may mean checking Facebook or twitter feeds, but it is worth it. Get to those brewers EARLY for two reasons. First: these guys can only bring a finite amount of beer – sometimes the good stuff goes fast – like halfway through the event fast. Second: you want to drink those special bourbon barrel cocoa nib almond stouts made with hops from Jupiter while you can still appreciate them.
“Download maps, look for numbered areas they may be at, research what breweries will be there, make your wish list from that list, again, depending on how many people are in your group, they all have a different “want” go with them to that tent, ask them why they are so interested in that particular brewery, try something from that tent, I’ve been turned onto great beers this way. If the fest offers VIP early entrance, justify what you’re getting for that upcharge, it’s usually worth it.” – Ed Regan
BUDDY UP – Before you start, you gotta have a buddy. This is an event to be shared, not you slumped on a bar stool tossing down $1 PBR’s – you wanna be social.
Fortunately, I have my wife, who gives me a sounding board (read that as listens to my drunken rambling as the night progresses) so we get to talk about what we like, people watch and of course, she holds my beer when nature calls. Plan this out WAY before you arrive, order the tickets in pairs, and have a plan on how to meet up if you get separated. If you are going to attend in groups – Great!! The more the merrier, but still make sure everybody has someone to keep track of and avoid the post festival search for a that guy passed out under a bench.
“Everybody in your group has special wants, different desires from what they want to take away from the fest, if someone is interested in looking at the merchandise cart, simply go with those people, it’s so much easier than trying to find them later, etc” – Ed Regan
UBER IN/UBER OUT – PSA time… DRINKING AND DRIVING DO NOT MIX – you are going someplace for the purpose of drinking, a lot of drinking, why are you driving? If you have a designated driver – perfect, otherwise find a way there that will not jeopardize your life or anyone else’s. Just look at the people stumbling out when all is done, and you will be happy you avoided that 5 car fender-bender right at the exit of the parking lot. Many fests offer extremely discounted tickets for your DD.
SWAG BAG – Yes, I admit, sometimes I think I am too cool to haul around a bag; it feels emasculating to have a tote bag at my side or worse on my shoulder (shudder). But you are going to need something to drop your stickers, buttons, bottle openers, and other stray beerporn you pick up. Also if you buy any t-shirts, glasses, hats etc. you do not want to start layering your clothes and trying to figure out how not to break the glasses you just dropped 5 bucks on. Guys, cowboy up, get a cloth brewery bag, fold it up while you are in line, and have it ready when you get in, you will be amazed at how full the thing gets, and do not even begin to think your wife/girlfriend wants to haul your two new sweatshirts around in her purse, she has her own stuff to worry about.
“You wouldn’t believe how many peeps come up to me midway asking where they can get a bag, you see the frustration and jealousy wash over them when you explain you brought it from home. In the summer outdoor fests, it’s great to drop your sunglasses into, bug spray and water!” – Ed Regan
HANG ONTO YOUR GLASS – A lot of beer fests give you a tasting glass when you arrive, that is your glass for the evening. Yes, the first time you may look at it and think “it is sooooo small”, but it is perfect for 5 oz. pours, you won’t be getting pints at each station. Keep track of that taster, especially if it is glass, you are gonna need it. If you lose yours, usually you can get a new one at the desk, but why risk anyone telling you you have had enough. Lots of folks will even put that glass on a lanyard to keep track of it, it is that important. Towards the end of the event, you may even be able to pick up extras, they come in really handy for beer shares and bottle release lines. OH and another thing, they all look the same on the highboy table that you are sharing with the perfectly nice strangers you just met. Hmmmm…. does that one have a cold sore? Which glass is mine? Yeah, think about that.
DUMPING IS OKAY – If this is your first time the 5 gallon buckets that seem to be at every booth may confuse you. Those are dump buckets, as in dump what is in your tasting glass and try something new. Dumping perfectly good beer may seem like a sin, but sometimes you gotta do it to move on to a perfect beer. Yes there will be times where you just do not want to let a drop of that perfect black IPA go to waste, and you may pound down the last 2 oz.. But if you try to keep that up all night, you may be face down on the floor FAST. If you are ready to move on, or just not loving what you have – dump the glass, and you can ask for a rinse when you get your next pour. Nobody will think less of you, you will enjoy the event more, and you will get to watch everyone who has not caught on to this trick crawling for the door 2/3rd’s of the way through the night.
KNOW WHERE THE BATHROOMS ARE – yeah, it seems stupid, but when nature calls, the cry may be loud and urgent. Whether the facilities are port-a-potties, or wonderful indoor plumbing; you want to know where the facilities are, and try to figure which ones will have the least amount of casual traffic. Of course, halfway through the event you can just figure that the longest line you see is for the bathroom, but hey, that may be one time special tapping of that cinnamon porter with rare malts harvested from underwater kelp beds you heard so much about; sure you may get a pour, but it will be embarrassing when you wet your pants as you hear them pulling your drought.
FOOD AND WATER – We all know that drinking on an empty stomach leads to wonderful YouTube videos. Eat before you get there. If you are allowed, throw snacks and water into your swag bag, you will want water at some point in the night TRUST ME. If there is food available at the event, about the time you realize you want it, you will also notice that everyone else will seem to have had the same idea. Also the food probably is not part of your ticket price, and may deplete your t-shirt fund. As for water, do not ask the brewers if you can grab one of their bottles of water, those are there for rinsing your glass and dumping, don’t make them say no when you were having such a good time. Some beerpeeps know how to do it right…. string pretzels and wear them as a necklace. Then you can munch away as the night goes on.
So there you have it, just a few tips to keep you happy and on your feet, if I missed anything add it to the comments below.