I am not here to insult you; I know you know how to enjoy a beer. But what about hundreds of them within a few hours? Yes, again, I know you can just drink yourself silly, but why would you want to do that? Even at 21, I don’t understand why we did that. Getting stupid drunk sucks! Getting pleasantly buzzed, on the other hand, while enjoying a full palate of flavors of a variety of craft beers from breweries that work their asses off to perfect these flavors, now that’s enjoying a beer festival.
I am here to tell you how to do that. Besides, you probably spent about 50 bucks for this event, so I imagine you would love to get your money’s worth. While not everyone may want to learn everything about every beer including hops, yeasts, adjuncts, fermentation times and types, and whether or not it was aged in a rum barrel or bourbon barrel, attending a beer fest is a great way to gain some knowledge on some beers, at least enough to give you some confidence when you decide it’s time to start brewing your own beer.
Ten Tips on How to Enjoy a Beer Fest
Tip #1 – You Belong Here
It doesn’t matter if this is your first beer fest; you belong here just as much as the annoying beer geek next to you in line who insists on talking about every single beer he has ever tried, and how he knows more about any beer fest in the country because he’s been to them all.
Just nod your head, smile, and then ask if he knows if they serve PBR here. That’ll shut him up.
Tip #2 – Leave the FOMO at the Door
FOMO – fear of missing out – You will not get to sample all of the beers; you will actually not want to sample all of the beers. Even if it’s a smaller brewfest, there are just some beers that you will not like, and you do not need to like them at that moment. Yes, as you become more of a craft beer drinker, your palate may change, but at that moment, it’s ok to give yourself permission to say no.
Tip #3 – Try New Things
On the other hand, don’t assume you will hate all IPA’s, for example. Just because you didn’t like the first one you tried two weeks ago, you might like the second one you try today or the tenth one you try six months from now. There are so many types of IPA’s from hazy to West Coast to milkshake to crazy bitter to citrusy, to you name it. The same goes for Saisons, Mexican Lagers, Stouts, Porters. Do I really have to list all the beers?
Tip #4 – It’s OK to Dump Beer
Ok, yes, blasphemy! It’s taken me years to accept this fact. In our minds, we never waste craft beer. You drink it! All! Remember, your grandma telling you that you have to clear your plate? There are starving children in Africa. While that is a true statement, there are starving people all over the world, you clearing your plate is not going to solve that problem.
Same with craft beer, you not finishing one is not going to cause the world to end. Give yourself permission to dump a sample if you do not like the taste. This is, of course, after you have offered it to your friends. We share craft beer!
Tip #5 – Wander First, Linger Later
A few years back, we attended a beer fest in Salt Lake City, Utah Brewers Guild Collaboration Fest, their first ever! For those of you that don’t know, SLC has some weird beer laws, with one of them, at the time, being they can’t serve beer on tap that is greater than 4% ABV. All of the collaboration beers were limited to this 4% and many of the other beers at the fest were also at 4%. Because of this, I wanted to know if a lower alcohol percentage meant a lower flavor.
So my plan was to taste some darker beers with the 4% limitation and then compare them to the bottle pours of similar beers with higher percentages. Granted, my experiment was quite flawed: different breweries, different types of beer, bottles vs draft. There really wasn’t a control factor; however, in my nonprofessional beer-lover’s opinion (at least at this fest), lower alcohol percentage equaled lower flavor.
I wandered first (with beer in hand, of course) so I didn’t have to wonder where those darker beers were later. Then it was time to linger. And linger I did, at all of the breweries that were offering bottle pours. (Utah laws allow bottles to be higher than the 4% required from taps.) I don’t know; I don’t make the rules.
As you can see, whether you are a first-timer or a 50th-timer beer fest visitor, it helps to have a plan, even a very loose one. You could plan to only try peanut butter beers (I wouldn’t do that, though. You’ll miss out on the jelly beers.), or compare Milkshake IPA’s, or only visit the booths with no lines, or plan ahead and visit your favorite, and then just go with the flow.
At any rate, some type of plan will help with the FOMO, but more importantly, if you share the plan with your friends, it could save your friendship. Nobody wants to lose friends arguing over what booth to visit. Beer is good, but it’s not worth losing friends over…most times!
Tip #6 – Plan Ahead
And speaking of plans, remember the most important one. How are you getting home? Plan ahead for this one. Many beer fests have designated driver tickets, so if you have a friend that wants to come along but doesn’t want to drink, this is the perfect scenario. However, I don’t know about you, but my friends that are coming to a beer fest are also the friends that love beer.
So whether you use Lyft, Uber, or some other sort of transportation, plan ahead. Be aware of the pricing, too, as most beer fests tend to be located in hip areas, and hip areas usually mean mo’ money.
Tip #7 – Arrive On Time or Early
Speaking of planning, you should also plan on arriving on time. Ah, hell, who am I kidding? Get your ass there early. Beer fests aka waiting-in-line-fests, are much more enjoyable if you get there early to wait in line, reducing stress of FOMO. Better yet, purchase a VIP ticket. These usually give you earlier access to the beer and sometimes even free food.
Tip #8 – Food & Water
Most brew fests will have some type of food, but not all of it will be great food. GABF (Great American Beer Festival) is one of the largest beer fests in the world, with so many varieties of fantastic beer, yet most of the food vendors are awful (or at least they were two years ago). You either need to eat before you make your grand entrance into the fest or make time to eat while you’re there. Again with the planning, but make sure you know whether or not food will be available. With food trucks popping up everywhere, you should be covered, but sometimes the event organizers are so focused on the beer, they completely forget about the food.
Drink water! Even more important than eating, drink water. Scope out the area to find the nearest water stations or fountains, and use it! Stay hydrated. Not only could it lessen your headache later, but ironically, it’ll allow you to taste more of those weird, fruited, wild fermented beverages that you really want to like, but just can’t quite adjust your palate to yet. And while you’re scoping out the water, you mine as well make sure you know where the bathrooms are. All that beer and water…
Tip #9 – Talk to the Brewers
When heading up to the table to try that wild fermented beverage, don’t just stick out your glass, get your sample, then walk away. If you do that, you’ve missed out on one of the coolest things about beerfests, talking to the brewers.
Many of the servers are actually the brewers, and brewers love to talk about their beer. So, when you ask for a sample, ask about the hops and the yeast used when creating it. Ask them how they decided upon the recipe and the name. Ask them about their favorite beer. Ask them anything! Craft beer is about passions and connections, and starting a conversation with a brewer is an enlightening topic. Just open your mouth and say hi!
Tip #10 – Enjoy the Beer
Now that you have geeked out with a few brewers and your head is about to explode with all this new information about Milkshake IPA’s or whatever the latest trend is at the time, take a step back, scan the room, take in the moment. Beer fests can be both exhilarating and exhausting. To combat the exhaustion of the excitement, find a spot, sit down, relax, and enjoy the beer.
Let us know how your first beer fest went. Would you add other tips for other newcomers to the beer fest scene? We’d love to hear your advice. Don’t be shy!
Beer Fests Today (Covid)
Covid has changed a lot of the things we love to do in this world, and they are slowly making a comeback. Beer fests are one of those things coming back, but slowly. So, if you’re lucky enough to find a beer fest that has in-person tastings and all the shenanigans that normally come along with these wonderful events, enjoy, but please be patient.
Everyone is still trying to figure things out. Some rules might seem limiting, some will still require masks, some may not. Some may be different than the last time you attended. Some may be exactly the same. But all will still have beer.
When the Great American Beer Fest Returns, we’ve got tips for you for that, too.
Need to live vicariously through us at 2019’s GABF, or just want to know what all the hype is about? Check it out.
Can’t get to a beer fest right now? Create your own with our craft brewery map. Find the breweries. Drink the beer.