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One of the best things for a craft beer fan to go to is a beer festival. These events are held around the country and feature beers from a wide range of breweries. In this post, I’ll give you a quick overview of what a beer festival is, what to expect, and a few pieces of festival etiquette. These can often coincide with The Craft Beer Weeks many cities have, like Pittsburgh.
Let’s have a look at Craft Beer Festivals.
What Is A Craft Beer Festival?
A beer festival is an organized event during which a variety of beers are served for tasting and sampling. Basically the idea here is that for a few hours, usually 2-4, many vendors and brewers showcase their beers in sample size to a crowd of beer fans. These festivals are held across the country and can focus around a specific style of beer, a specific time of year, or just be all around craft beer festivals.
Why They’re Cool.
I would like to think this goes without explanation. For the time that the festival is happening, you’re welcome to try any and all of the beers on the floor. You generally get a nice collectable taster glass that holds 4-6 ounces, and with this glass you have free reign to taste all the beers! Many beer events even offer a VIP session where special, hard to get beers are sampled. This can include cask ales, vintages of certain age-able beers, and off season beers that have been saved for a special occasion. These really are a beer-lovers playground. There is often music, free food samplings, and almost every brewery/vendor has free things to hand out.
What To Expect
I imagine that if you’ve never been to a beer festival that the idea of doing this might be new to you. Here are some basic guidelines and ideas if you’re going to your first beer festival.
First, expect to pay anywhere from $25-$150 per ticket, depending on the size of the festival, what is offered at the festival, and what level the festival is at. For example, you will pay $65 per day for the 3 day Great American Beer Festival that is held every year, and around $25 for your local 20-25 brewery festival. Now, the GABF is a huge event drawing breweries and vendors from across the country, so it will definitely be more expensive.
2. Sell Out
I’m not talking about the Reel Big Fish song here, but depending on the size and hype surrounding a specific beer festival, expect tickets to go quickly, especially VIP tickets, if there are any. This depends on how many tickets are being sold, and how popular the festival is.
3. The Pour
No matter the size of your glass, expect to get no more than a 4-6 oz pour from each table. The size of your glass doesn’t matter when sampling. You really only want a 4-6 oz sample anyway so you can continue and make it through all the beers at the festival. If later in the day you want more of a certain beer, you can definitely go back and get another sample. This means don’t tell the guy pouring your sample to “fill it up” or ask for more. This leads me to the next expectation…
4. Keep It Short
Don’t expect to hang out and have long talks with the brewery tables and the people working at them. About half or more of the tables at a beer festival are staffed with volunteers or by reps, not the brewers. Some tables will have staff from the brewery, but not all, and even those with brewery staff, they may not know all about brewing. Their main job is to briefly tell you about the beer and to serve you a sample. More likely than not there will be a line behind you, waiting for their samples, so don’t hover and take up their time. If they know about what you want to ask, and there is no line, by all means, ask away, but know that their purpose there is to serve beer, not talk the intricacies of each beer with you.
Expect food. Generally, but not always, some form of food is given away, and if not given away, almost always sold. Food can help cleanse the palate and give you a much needed-mid drinking meal. Make sure to take a break from sampling to get a bite to eat.
6. Plan Ahead
Expect it to be busy. There will be a lot of people. Make sure to check online if possible to see what breweries and beer will be available. This can help direct you to the rarest beers so you can try them before they get drank!
7. Save Your Palate
Also, try to do your samples in basic sampling order. Try to start with the least bitter (lowest IBU) beers and work up to the stronger IPA and other high-IBU beers. This will ensure you actually taste as many as you can before your palate is wrecked for the day, which will happen. Oh, and don’t ask the guy or girl pouring your beer “how many IBUs” the beer has. They don’t know and you shouldn’t care that much. Keep Pale Ales, IPAs, Stouts for later, start with fruity beers, Gueuzes, ciders, etc first.
8. Know Your Etiquette
Lastly, know basic festival etiquette. There should be water jugs or coolers available. These are both for you to drink (if in a sealed cooler) but more importantly, these are for cleaning your glass out between beers. Don’t hand someone a sticky, half-filled glass and ask for another sample. Clean it out. This will help you taste the next beer better, and keep things less gross for the other guy.
How To Find A Festival
Beer festivals happen all around the country. The best place to check for ones in your area are good beer bars. If you have a local craft beer place, I’d check there. Also, if you have a distributor that focuses on craft beer, they might know. Don’t hesitate to ask someone either. Some bars even have smaller beer festivals, so it never hurts to ask a bartender if they know of any beer festivals coming up in the area. Lastly, do an internet search. Most will come up fairly easily if they are promoted correctly.
Not all beer festivals are great. There are many that cost a fair bit, and only offer beers you may have had before, and even some you may not like. Weigh the cost of the ticket against what will be at the festival. I’ve personally been to a few that weren’t worth my money at all.
That’s about it! Hopefully you have an idea what a beer festival is now, and you can get out there and enjoy beer with your friends at a good one.