Jun 062008

The Session logoHappy Friday, and welcome to my first Session! The Session is a monthly event for the beer blogging community which was started by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. On the first Friday of each month, all participating bloggers write about a predetermined topic. Each month a different blog is chosen to host The Session, choose the topic, and post a roundup of all the responses received. This month’s Session is being hosted by Thomas Vincent, who runs the Geistbear Brewing Blog – head over there to see this Session in its entirety! For more info on The Session, check out the Brookston Beer Bulletin’s nice archive page. This month’s topic was beer festivals.

I have a love/hate relationship with beer festivals. The first real beer festival I attended was Beer on the Pier in NYC. This was about a year before I started brewing, and I think that festival is indirectly responsible for sparking the passion I have for beer today. At the time, I enjoyed beer, but didn’t really know anything about it. I certainly had no clue about the range of beers that were available. I went to Beer on the Pier on a whim, and was floored by the number of breweries represented – where were all these beers in my local stores? (Turns out I was shopping at the wrong stores). At the very least, the festival had opened my eyes to the expansiveness of the craft beer world, and I started to experiment beyond the usual Heineken and Sam Adams.

Since that day, I’ve been to a handful of beer festivals, ranging from brewery parties (Harpoon’s Brewstock) to mass-marketed affairs (Beer on the Pier 2) to events showcasing a particular range of styles (Beer Advocate’s Extreme Beer Fest). They all present a great way to expand your beer experience and sample a wide array of styles. However, I’ve also noticed beer festivals have two common flaws:

The Crowd
The more popular beer festivals have become, the more crowded they have become. I generally don’t like crowds, although I’m willing to tolerate them for a good beer payoff. Problem is, beer festivals seem to be attended by fewer beer enthusiasts than “drunk enthusiasts” – people who could care less what beer they are drinking, as long as it contains alcohol. These folks typically get wasted as quickly as possible, wind up making a mess of the place (especially restrooms), and often incite fights or rowdiness… I’ve seen 90 lbs girls turn barleywine samples into shooters, meatheads who only wanted to know which beers had the highest alcohol content, and overheard one disappointed moron ask how he was going to ‘get his buzz on’ with only a 2 oz sample glass at his disposal – he reasoned that he shouldn’t have eaten before he left home. I have nothing against getting drunk or having a good time, I just really wish these people didn’t interpret “beer festival” as “drink-as-much-as-you-can-as-fast-as-you-can-before-passing-out festival”.

The Bathrooms
This is an area where most festivals are sorely lacking. It is more of an issue for the women I’ve gone with, but even I have to admit the bathroom situation is often abysmal. Porta-potties become nasty approximately 7.8 seconds after the festival starts, and thousands of folks + alcoholic beverages + four porta-potties = disaster, and some, umm, creative alternatives to waiting on the line. I think Harpoon had the best outside arrangements I have seen, with separate banks of porta-potties for males and females. However, irresponsible people managed to ruin it for both genders. Best festival restrooms I’ve seen were at the Extreme Beer Fest in Boston, since they were actual indoor restrooms with plumbing and everything. Highly recommended!

Really, I think brewer’s dinners like what The Ginger Man’s South Norwalk location and RockBottom’s Braintree location (SINCE CLOSED!!) put together are the way to go. Smaller, more intimate affairs which really highlight a small group of beers, presenting them with paired cuisine and giving the attendee a real chance to enjoy the experience. For the same price as a beer festival, you get a full meal, a flight of beers, and the possibility to converse with the brewery representatives. These events definitely attract a more foodie/beer enthusiast type crowd than a beer festival. Maybe I’m just getting old, but this sounds much more appealing to me.

All this being said, I still feel beer festivals calling their siren song to me…I see a list of hundreds of breweries presenting and even though I know I will only taste a handful of beers, I fall under the spell. I figure they must’ve figured out the kinks this time around – maybe they’ll have good food, limit attendance, and keep the restrooms clean! Yup, even though I know the truth, I trick myself into believing there’s nothing better…I guess there’s just something about gathering together with 6,500 drunks to enjoy standing in line for a lukewarm taster glass of Boston Lager that appeals to me.

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