Beer festivals are interesting events. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, yet the goal is largely the same: Bring in a bunch of people to try a variety of beer. It takes virtually no effort to have an enjoyable time at a beer festival, but it does take a little bit of planning to do one right. This post will be spent guiding you through my experience at the Spring 2013 NYC Craft Beer Festival, while simultaneously giving some advice on how to approach the event properly.
Step 1: Find someone to go with and get your tickets
You can bring as many or as few people as you want to a beer festival, but there are some general rules, all of which are fairly obvious.
1. The people going should like both drinking beer, as well as talking about it.
2. You should enjoy the company of the people going.
3. If in a large group, you should be comfortable with separating and meeting back up.
Personally, I like small groups (2-5 people) because you get to share the experience with a few people, but the group isn't too large. For this particular event, my favorite sister, Maria, joined me.
Once you have decided on your partner-in-drinking, make sure to get the tickets before they sell out, which is the case at a lot of beer festivals.
Step 2: Make sure you have your tickets and arrive early
The tickets that we got were given to us by a wonderful friend, so they were waiting at will call. We had no idea what type of tickets they were (VIP, General Admission, etc), so we showed up about 30 minutes prior to the VIP entrance time. By the time we had out tickets in hand (and found out they were GA), there was an hour and 15 minutes before we were allowed to go in. At this point, the line for general admission was about 20 people long, so we decided to just wait. Thank God we got in line (eventually the line spanned about an entire long NYC block). Hanging out on line for an hour isn't fun, but neither is getting into the event late. All you need to do is just chat with the people around you and make a plan for your tasting.
Step 3: Plan your tastings
Before you enter the event, you should have a good idea of the the breweries that you want to visit first. My suggestion is always to try the rare ones first (either breweries that your area doesn't normally have, or beers that are hard to find). These events are usually 2+ hours long, so you will have time to try as much beer as you want. Unfortunately not all of the beer will last that long. The Night Stalker, from Goose Island was one of those beers. Within 15 minutes of the general admission, they were on their last 2 bottles. I was fortunate enough to try it and I'm glad I did.
Step 4: Be adventurous and don't be afraid to dump beer
This is a beer tasting. You absolutely should not be drinking the beer you drink everyday. You should try new things. Bayou Teche is a brewery out of Louisiana that I have never heard of before. The Boucanee is a smoked beer that they make. I honestly had no idea what it would be like before I tried it. Turns out, it is awesome! This is precisely the reason I like beer festivals: They allow me to try a bunch of new beers easily. Unfortunately, not all beers turn out to be as good as the Boucanee. Some are downright unappealing. After a few beer festivals and some wonderful hangovers, I have learned that you don't need to drink all of the beer. You can have a good, tipsy time easily enough only drinking the beer that you like. If you don't like a beer, pour it out and try another. I can all but guarantee that you won't be able to try all of the beers, so you will never run out of options.
Step 5: Pace yourself
It is really hard to pace yourself as well. You want to get your money's worth and you don't usually drink out of such small glasses. It is really hard to tell how much you are drinking. My method is to take a lap around the event, making sure to try all of the beer that I couldn't live without. Once that is done, take a little break, sip on the beer I have, and chat with someone. There are usually a wide array of reps, brewers, and knowledgeable volunteers that are really happy to talk to you. Maria and I had conversations with the daughter of brewery owners, the founder of Untappd, and several reps from various distributors and companies. It is a really easy, fun way to keep yourself from forgetting the entire event.
Step 6: Eat something
You will be putting away a ton of beer throughout the festival. On one of your breaks, wander over to the food section and eat. For goodness sake, you are skin and bones! Eat! It will be delicious, and keep your stomach from revolting. I didn't take any pictures of my snack, as I was completely engrossed with eating it, but I had a delicious savory pie. Maria had a tasty pulled pork sandwich. I can tell you that your money would be much better spent on a sandwich than that "Beer Diva" shirt that you've had your eye on.
Step 7: Enjoy yourself
The rules be damned! Just go about the festival however you want. The steps above are how I get the most out of the festival. Some people want to go and get drunk. That'll be an easy one. Whatever you do a beer festival, make sure you have a good time. Relax and enjoy yourself.
Step 8: Closing Time
As the festival starts to come to a close, the breweries will stop pouring and you will be given a gentle reminder to get the hell out in a few minutes. As you finish up your beer, walk around and if you see something that you like, ask someone if you can have it. The Goose Island guys were nice enough to give me this glass, simply because I asked. This isn't a rare occasion, either. I have come away from beer festivals with a tap handle, a serving tray, a Brooklyn Brewery flag, glasses, bottle openers, and even entire beers. I didn't even steal these things (don't be an ass and steal from these people). Just ask them at the end and a lot of times you will get it.
Step 9: Nap
Seriously, it will do wonders.
Each festival has a different feel to it. If you find one you like, keep going. Personally, they all have their own charms.
If you want me to look at a particular beer, drink, place, or have anything to say to me, email me at email@example.com. Find me on Facebook and Twitter (@ofmonksandmalts). You can also buy my pictures here: http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/robert-rizzolo.html.