In early February, I headed to Boston for BeerAdvocate’s Extreme Beer Fest. In fact, it was the day before the Pats were set to appear in their 23rd Super Bowl in the last 15 years (it’s fine, the math checks out), which added to the normal pre-festival intrigue. The usual questions were there, about crowds, space issues and lines. And now we got to add in: “Would we be able to meet anyone not wearing a number 12 jersey?” [Answer: Yes, but they were everywhere] “Would we actually be able to talk beer?” [Answer: Yes, tons - even with all the talk of Grawnk, Tawm and Edelman (not sure there’s a Boston pronunciation for that one)]
I got to thinking how great it is that an awesome festival can maintain (and grow) its popularity in the dead of a New England winter. So now, with Spring arriving, and tons more festivals joining the fray outdoors as well as in, figured this is as good a time as any to pass along a few general, hopefully even helpful, festival thoughts for your next visit to one.
Possibly the most important piece of info...lines. Once you’re inside, you’ll see that a number of the brewery stations have really long lines. Others really don’t. What’s important to know is that the reasons behind this often varies, and that you often shouldn’t waste your time waiting for the “greatest beer in history” that everyone and their mother is waiting in line for.
First, the lines ebb and flow and if there was a line at one point for one brewery, there’s a good chance folks will have had their fill, and it’ll be a way shorter line at another time.
To use the EBF as an example, I waited behind three people at the most for two of my favorite beers there (Aardwolf’s Neapolitan Rum BA El Mariachie, and Burley Oak’s Mango JREAM).
Some breweries intentionally serve more slowly, or chat up the folks at the front of the line to manufacture a line. Because, to a lot of people, a line means people want this more than anything else, which means it must be good, which means I need to have it now! (But, like, you don’t)
Point is — just walk. You’ll be able to get what you want (and more of it) at different points of the fest while avoiding the lines to get it.
Pay attention to the layout of the festival — this might also help you cut down on any waits, and give you more time to chat with the reps. For example, if the festival is just a big rectangle of breweries, without a flow, then there might be no rhyme or reason for when and where the crowds form. Get there whenever. But if it’s set up as a circle, and there is a flow, get there a bit earlier and head straight for the farther breweries. People often do the sheep thing and follow the herds in a relative order.
Of course, one important note: some breweries will be serving more limited quantities of certain beers, so check beforehand if there’s something you absolutely need to have and which might run out quickly — try to get it early.
VIP packages are offered at most festivals, for more money. Read carefully what they get you. Most offer extra time before the rest of the hordes arrive. Again, there’s a good chance you can get what you want in the allotted time without spending the extra dough, especially since most fests are unlimited samples once you get in. But others might offer rare samples, brew team/owner meet and greets, lectures, etc. And that might be worth it to you. So just be sure to read and plan carefully around that.
Keep your eyes open. Depending on how “major” the festival is, you might get a sighting of some major players in the beer world (pay special attention to who the main sponsors are). And, because they work in the beer world, and are pretty damn happy about that, a lot of them are really generous with their time.
Then the usual stuff. Hydrate. Rinse your glasses if you can. Check out the food options ahead of time to make sure you won’t be drinking all this on an empty stomach. And now that I likely sound like your mother, let’s move on to…
Go to as many beer fests as you can. It’s a great way to sample lots of good beers, and learn about lots of different breweries, and meet good, like-minded people, And, you know, sample lots of good beer.