Friday, November 4, 2011

Beer Festivals 101

 With beer festivals being held all over the country and new ones being added every year, you’re going to want to make the most of your experience. For the both the novice “beer geek” and the seasoned festival pro, it’s always good to prepare yourself before going to an event.
 I recommend that you bring a note pad to jot down information on the beers that you're sampling. With 2-4 beers being sampled at each booth, by say 35 to 40 different breweries, that could be a lot of information to retain after a 4 hour event. Bring a small backpack or tote. It will keep all those free information sheets and stickers which breweries provide, safe. Be sure to eat before or during the event. Most of the beer you will be sampling will be a minimum of 5% ABV and those 2oz. samples will add up quick. If you eat during an event be sure to have water not soda.You want your palette to be neutral. Some festivals allow you to bring "Pretzel Strings", string necklaces made of mini-twist pretzels. Check first though. These are also great for cleansing your palette in-between samples, and to keep something in your tummy. I suggest the unsalted variety. Salt can affect the taste of the beer. Always rinse your sampling cup between beers as any residual beer can adversely affect the taste of the next beer. Rinse water is usually provided; if not then invest in bottled water from the concessions stand. You won't need much to rinse your cup. Don't be afraid to sample the same beer profile i.e.; IPA, Pale Ale, Hefeweizen at each booth. You may find Dogfish Head 60 min IPA a bit too aggressive for your palette, but Harpoon IPA fits just right.

 Beer festival fans should also do some research into the festival itself. In recent years opportunists have latched on to promoting beer festivals as a money making venture. Your average festival ticket price will run $25 to $50 dollars. Multiply that by 3,000 to 5,000 festival goers and you can see how lucrative the business is. Often time’s festival promoters will reach out to local distributors and their breweries for donated beer, under the guise of "brand exposure". This only further reduces their cost of putting on an event. The reason I mention this is that more and more craft breweries are taking a hard look at the ROI (return on investment) for doing an event. I spoke with one popular brewery which said they get 10-15 inquiries a day to participate in events. Not to mention the requests that come to each of their Field Reps. Breweries are selective these days on which festivals they participate in. They want more than just exposure for their brands. They’re looking for an increase in sales and new distribution, in the form of draft and bottle placements, within the market of the festival. Breweries and distributors have begun to label non-productive events as “drunk fest’s”, where the only goal of festival gores is to see how many 2oz. beer shots they can put away in a 4 hour period. So be cautious, there may not be an actual brewery rep for every beer at the event. If so, you run the risk that the person pouring the beer has limited knowledge on what they are pouring.  Before you shell out $25+ dollars for ticket you may want to place a call to the local distributors. Ask for their “Specialty Brand Manager” to see if they’re participating in the festival. If not, it’s likely that a brewery rep will not be there either.

 When you do find a Beer Festival that interest’s you, get your tickets early. They are usually cheaper and you avoid a potential sell out at the gate. Most good festivals will have a website or Facebook page. The site will provide a list of participating breweries. Although the exact products being poured may not be provided, there are usually links to the brewery websites for you to gather information on all the beers they produce.  Get to the festival early. Most breweries will bring limited edition products which go fast and you don’t want to miss these. And above all, please be responsible. Just as you would for a night on the town, have a designated driver. Beer Festivals often have ‘Designated Driver” tickets available at a greatly reduced rate, which allows them access to soft drinks, water and food only. I have even been to some events where soda and water were provided free of charge with their ticket. Don’t be cheap either, you and your friends all pitch in for the cost of the designated driver’s ticket.

 So, go forth my friends into the wonderful world of beer festivals. Have fun in gaining new knowledge and understanding of craft beer. Interact with other festival goers; make new friends, network with like minded adventurers. Ask questions, but most importantly become a part of the “better beer revolution!”  Cheers.

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