Ooooh Beer Festivals. That most debilitating of spectator sports. How I love you.
It’s getting in to Beer Festival season. We went to one last weekend, the Asheville Winter Warmer Festival. It was a blast, and the first of several this year I’m sure.
A couple of days ago, I was advising a friend on beer festival strategy. Apparently I was a fountain of information, because she told me I needed to do a blog post about surviving a beer festival. So, Jennifer, here you go. Everything I know about Beer Festivaling.
I’ve been to 4 festivals in the last year and a half. So in case you’re wondering about my credentials, there you go.
Ok. Two ways to approach beer festivaling: Selective Swigging and Total Toasting.
Selective Swigging: You know what you like, and you’re sticking to it. Chances are, you’re at the festival because you want to get your fill of some obscure brew. Maybe it’s a seasonal. Maybe it’s a small batch. Maybe you only like light beer and anything else makes you gag. Whatever you like, you find it and you stick to it, and anything else gets tossed. Only tried 4 different beers? No problem for you. You’re a beer snob.
Total Toasting: You believe variety is the spice of life. Chances are, you have a broad beer palate. Or, you’re a newbie and don’t know what you like. Your goal is to try as many different beers as you can. You have grand plans to take pictures of all the beers you like, so you can find them later. You don’t like Porters? You just haven’t found the right one. Maybe it’s here, maybe it’s not, but you’re going to make sure you’ve tried them all just so you know.
In case you’re wondering, drunk levels tend to be similar regardless of approach. And know this…you WILL get drunk at a beer festival. I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t. If you’re sober at the end, you’re not trying hard enough. Just sayin’.
So if everyone at beer festivals gets drunk, why in the world would anyone want to go to one? (Well, besides the obvious.) Answer? Because they are FUN. Because you will meet 5000 new friends (most of those while you’re waiting in the bathroom line). Because there are beers that you don’t get to drink every day. Because there’s no consequence if you don’t like one. Because there are food trucks and live music and stickers and brewery t-shirts. Because it’s an experience.
Try it once, and if you hate it, tell me, because I’ve never met anyone who didn’t have a good time (even if they felt horrible later).
The way it works, for the most part, is pretty simple. You buy a ticket (usually between $30-50) and that gets you entry into the festival, and a cup. Festivals range in size, but a decent one will have anywhere from 40-60 brewers. Each brewer typically has 3-5 beers. DO THE MATH. Brewers are set up like a trade show, and they pour you whatever you’d like. Lines move very quickly, so waiting isn’t an issue. There are usually buckets and water jugs so you can empty and rinse out your cup between beers if you like (or if it’s outdoors, just pour it on the grass).
Important Survival Tips
Most of the festivals I’ve been to have given me a 2-ounce cup. (Winter Warmer gave me a mug – bad news.) Two ounces doesn’t sound like much, I know. IT IS. Brewers are there to attract new customers, so the majority of them are generous on the pours. They want you happy, and they want you to have a good-sized sample. I love that, I really do. That said, I don’t know anyone who’s been to a beer festival and made it to every brewer, every beer. I’m not sure it’s even possible. So, how do you make the most of it?
Simple. Ask for half pours. I didn’t know I could do this until halfway through my second festival. You’d think it would be common sense, really… but most of the people I’ve talked to also didn’t know it was an option. It most definitely is. The brewers are more than happy to give you a 1-ounce pour. The smaller pour lets you try it without feeling like you need to drink it all or waste it. If you want more, just get more. Do this from the start, and you can extend your sobriety for quite some time, which makes it easier to taste more beers. Believe me, I know.
If you don’t like a beer, don’t drink it. Pour it out. The brewers won’t mind.
Also, work the buddy system. When we go, we all get a different beer. Then we try each other’s. I like IPAs, Jimmie likes stouts and porters. I try his without having to drink a whole lot of it. Another thing that should be common sense, but surprisingly isn’t something you see a whole lot of. (Though to be honest, by the end, I’m trying the stouts and porters, because everything tastes great.)
At most beer festivals, if you lose your cup you’re out of luck. Don’t lose your cup. And do not, under any circumstances, take your cup into the bathroom. Because you will lose it in there. I know this as well. Every festival I see girls with cups (some full, some empty) in the bathroom, and I just shake my head. Ask your buddy to hold your cup. Not hard.
BE NICE. People are going to run into you, step on you, and cut in line. Big deal. There’s plenty of beer. Be nice to the people, be nice to the brewers, be nice to the event staff, and for crying out loud, be nice to the security or police officers. JUST BE NICE.
Eat a LOT before you go. Preferably something heavy and hearty. Burgers are good. Pancakes are good. Salads are not good. Beer festival day is not the day to worry about your diet. You’re going to blow it, so just embrace it and repair the damage later.
Eat a LOT after you go. You might not feel like it – in fact, you probably won’t. I never do. But you need to, just like you need to drink water after. As tempting as it may be to drink more alcohol once you leave….DON’T. You’ve had enough. Just trust me on this.
And it should go without saying, but take a cab. Or walk around. Or call a friend. Just don’t drive. It’s not worth it.
What to Wear
I’ve been to two outdoor festivals, and two indoor. Surprisingly, the attire isn’t that different. Check the weather and plan accordingly, of course, but there are a couple of things to consider.
Gents, you can skip most of this. Or read it to your ladies. As usual, you have a much easier time dressing for events.
Comfort is the goal here. Comfort is above all else the most important thing you need to worry about. If you can find the balance between cute and comfy, you’re golden. I like dresses if it’s warm (just make sure it’s not too long, or it’ll get stepped on). If it’s chilly, go for leggings or skinny jeans or something equally comfortable. Honestly, for the next Brewer’s Jam I’m going to wear my workout clothes, because it’s the same day as Race for the Cure.
If it’s cold, by all means, take a jacket. Both of the winter festivals I’ve been to had a free coat check. (If you do this, take a picture of your coat check ticket!!!)
Wear shoes you don’t have to think about. This means absolutely no heels. If you wear heels to a beer festival, honestly, you should be turned away. Flats, boots, tennis shoes, Toms….I wouldn’t do flip flops because people step on your toes a LOT at beer festivals. Plus, they tend to fall off or catch on things…like the floor.
Also keep in mind that you’re going to get beer spilled on you. It’s a given. And it will be someone else who spills it on you. (Again, be nice.) Wear something you can clean easily, or something you won’t be too upset about. And think about the fabric – what breathes well. Be selective about jewelry – make sure it’s attached and can’t get caught on things. I’ve lost earrings. I’ve gotten tangled on people. It happens. If it’s outside, take your sunglasses, or even a hat.
It’s been my experience that the less you have, the better. Ditch the bag and put everything in your pockets if you can. Or, take a small crossbody bag. Nothing big, and nothing that you have to think about. Follow the clothing guidelines and pick something easy care.
Here are a couple suggestions for good beer festivaling attire.
What to Bring
Check with the festival to see if chairs are allowed. If they are, take them. Yeah, it sucks to carry them around, but you’ll be thankful you have them. Buy a helium balloon and tie it to one of your chairs, so you can find it easily. It probably goes without saying, but don’t leave anything valuable at the chair by itself.
If you’re worried about rain, don’t take an umbrella. Take a poncho. Yeah, you’ll look like a dork, but you A) don’t have to hold the umbrella, and B) won’t stab anybody.
One word: SNACKLACE. You might think they look dumb. You might feel dumb wearing them. You might feel like a kindergartener on the way to school with your pretzel necklace or your fruit loop necklace. So you might decline to wear one. And then, an hour in, you will sorely regret not having it, and you will be forced to pay $8 for one.
They’re easy to make. Just get some snacks, and some string, and you’re set. Trust me. You’re gonna want it. And actually, at Winter Warmer, people were super jealous of ours. We got tons of Snacklace props. Yogurt pretzels, fruit loops, peach rings, butter cookies, pretzels…anything with a hole in the middle. I also tied fruit rollups, Slim Jims, and cheese sticks on them….because you know, you need protein when you’re drinking.
As for money, bring cash. It’s easier and faster, and universally accepted. And there will be stuff you want to buy, whether that’s food or brewery memorabilia.
And yes, you need your ID. To, you know, get in.
Truthfully, there’s not a whole lot else you’ll need. I usually take some chapstick, and of course my phone, but otherwise, that’s about it.
Finding a beer festival is easy. There are tons of sites, but I enjoy Real Beer and the Beer Festival Calendar. Both are great, but neither are all-inclusive, so the easiest thing is to Google “beer festival + your city.”
My first festival, I tried to keep track of the beers I liked using my cell phone. I tried typing in the names. Then I tried pictures. Finally, I gave up. Then, I found the Untappd app. It lets you log and rate beers. I used it at Winter Warmer to keep track of the ones I really loved. It’s a free app, and a lot of fun – and available on both Android and iPhone. Sign up, and friend me: my username is EmeraldElephant.
If you find a brewer you like, or a beer you really like, follow them on social media. It’s an easy way to say thanks, and to let them know you enjoyed them.
And finally….take lots of pictures. You’ll get some great ones, and you’ll get some hilarious ones. But it’ll be tons of fun the next morning.
Oh, and one more thing….
Have a blast!