So you want to go to a beer festival. Wouldn't any self-respecting beer aficionado feel the same?
Brew fests are a lovely rite of passage, with their exclusive releases, tasting flights, food pairings and live music.
Still, the wonderful parts don't just happen without due diligence on the part of the beer lover (that's you.) Before you pony up for tickets or set out with your necklace of pretzels and a souvenir tasting vessel, take some advice from beer festival pros:
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Pick an event that will expand your beer experience. You can get hammered any time; your first beer festival should be more about really tasting regional brews and enjoying brewery lore and culture. According to LA Times Food contributor John Verive, to find a festival that's more about showcasing local or regional brews and less about pounding beers, look for a festival organized by, or in support of, a nonprofit. "Next time you're at your favorite local brewery, ask them which upcoming events they're excited to attend," noted Verive, who is also the founder of Beer of Tomorrow.
Also, note how the beer will be served. Some events have unlimited samples; others provide a set number of drink tickets with your admission. "The all-you-can-drink events are usually more expensive up front but they can work out to a better value if your goal is to try as many brews as possible," Verive noted.
Consider volunteering your first time out. If you take the advice to seek out a non-profit festival, a good way to get your feet wet is by volunteering instead of plunking down money for a ticket without knowing what to expect. Most festivals with volunteer opportunities ply volunteers with souvenir glasses, post-shift tasting tickets and free event t-shirts.
If you go this route, next year you'll know what to expect at the festival and whether or not it's worth investing in a ticket. Full disclosure: Some volunteers have so much fun they never do graduate to becoming attendees, instead returning year after year to pour beers and take tickets with friends they've met in years past.
Form a plan and then pace yourself. Figure out which brewers will be at your selected event and locate their booths on the festival website's map. As you enter, start far away from the entrance if there's only one, so you can avoid the rush to the closest stands. Plan to visit the stands with limited releases or those that feature home brews. Another strategy is to visit the tiniest breweries first since they tend to run out of at least some of their beers the most quickly. "Use the same strategy you would use at a theme park—hit the highest-demand tables first while the lines are short," Craft Beer and Brewing magazine advised. "Then as the lines grow, branch out to less-crowded ones."
Chat up the brewery reps. To really enjoy your first brew fest, seek out the booths and vendor tables with brewers and brewery employees doing the pouring, Verive recommended. "Instead of asking for 'the strongest' or 'the most hoppy' beer available, ask for advice on what you should try," he added. "Especially if you're new to beer, the brewery staff can point you toward the styles and brands to try first."
Don't get drunk. That's not the point, not this time. Make sure to eat a meal about an hour before the festival, CBB recommended.
"Give yourself some time to digest your meal. Drinking beer on a empty or full stomach can be equally uncomfortable and inadvisable." Also drink water before, during and after your time at the festival, especially if you'll be in the sun or warm weather. "
For every ounce of beer you drink, drink the same amount of water," CBB said.
"Not only will you feel better during the festival, but you'll also feel much better the next day, letting you get right back at it. And if you're at a festival full of octanes (beers above 8 percent alcohol by volume), consider making it a 2:1 rule."
Three good bet beer fests
After you soak in all this beer fest knowledge, if you're still considering which beer festival will be your first, here are three very good bets:
June 1-2, 2018
There isn't a single craft beer festival that comes to the level of class and sophistication of Savor, according to Ale/Sessions. "We're talking a whole new level of beer and food appreciation generally reserved for wine snobs. It's quality over quantity for this festival, with a select number of brewers chosen to pair with creative culinary dishes. High class beer at its best."
July 26-29, 2018
Another pick from Ale/Sessions, Oregon Brew Fest is also one of the longest-running beer festivals in the country. It attracts a robust crowd of, oh, 70,000.
Sept. 20-22, 2018
The only American festival to make the Collector's list of 2018 "8 Best Beer Festivals," these three beer-soaked days of celebration feature more than 800 breweries and 3,800 beers. The festival includes both a public tasting event and a private competition.