The Session, or sometimes called Beer Blogging Friday, is a forum held once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to share their own unique perspective on a single beer related topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a "Roundup" listing all of the entries. If you are interested, go to the Brookston Beer Bulletin to learn more.
So, the question has been asked for The Session #96, do beer festivals serve as a geek gatherings or for beer dissemination? The host stated that they were particularly interested in a local perspective. Here's mine.
I have been fortunate enough to have discovered and attended a variety of beer festivals. They have been a lot of fun, plus educational. Here in one place, you have a chance to try new beers being offered by the variety of brewers, some familar and perhaps new discoveries, and maybe try some special offerings such as barrel-aged or firkin mutations. One of the best benefits is meeting the brewers and founders. They can be particularly available during these events to have a conversation about their brewing, favorite beer or events.
I see this as a three-part harmony. And the song is a great one!
Part 1 - The Beer Drinker
If you pay attention to the good-beer scene you'll notice that not only are their new beers being offered by favorite brewer almost weekly, but also new breweries making their way into your favorite beer shop. These can either local brewers or those expanding their distribution. That's good for us.
So how is a determined self-proclaimed beer geek to handle all this new material. A good one is to take in a beer festival. I've found a variety of new releases, speciality casks, and breweries from outside my normal traveling range.
To those not familar with attending a beer festival, I have a few words of warning. You are likely to drink a lot of good beer.
Here are some rules:
1) Eat first. I've found that the food may be good or may not be. Besides, you are going to need something to soak up all that beer. And it may be a good opportunity to take in a great new eating establishment.
2) Drink with Intention. While many festivals provide tickets or tokens you redeem for a limited pour, one festival I attended offered unlimited samples. Immediately an alarm should go off, this could be a very short adventure. The event was laid out over the small town with three venues that could easily be walked. I knew to get to the third venture and still upright would require some focus and discipline. I tasted sparingly along the way, paying attention to the beer highlights. One required stop was the Dogfish Head Randall The Enamel Animal with mango.
3) Scout out the location of the bathrooms. I have found that sometimes that the lines for the food are longer than the line for the beer, and all are shorter than the lines for the bathrooms. And if its an outdoor event, don't be afraid to wonder outside the arena to find relief. Its good to take a potty break and a walk.
4) Ask questions. If you are able to recognize the brewer or founder, let them know you appreciate the rewards of their hard work. I have found these can be relaxed moments where they are free to discuss. On one occasion I was able to discuss aged pumpkin beers with Hugh Sisson, founder of Heavy Seas Brewing in Baltimore.
5) Take notes. I know I'll be having a few beers and may not remember the rye I had earlier in the day and from which brewer. As the event wears on, most likely your ability to remember will too.
6) Allow Recovery Time. You can drink a lot of good beer at these events. If you don't have a designated driver, allow time to get your sea legs back with a stop at the local coffee shop and some relaxation time. I often will park a good walking distance from the event just for such recovery.
Part 2 - The Brewery
If you are a new brewery, one of the best methods of getting attention is by attending a beer festival. Here a self-selected group of good-beer drinkers are heading your way. Let me taste your beer, tell me about your passion, what you are about. Make me a fan!
From the other perspective, I have discovered many great local brewers that have brew pubs. While my wife isn't a beer drinker, she does eat. And when we are on the road and looking for a place to eat, I often have a suggestion based on a beer I've had at a beer festival. Yes, it happens. For good beer and good food, I highly recommend: Evolution (Salisbury), Barley and Hops (Frederick), Realerevival (Cambridge) or The Brewer's Art (Baltimore).
Part 3 - The Promotor
With the increasing interest in the better-beer movement, an increase in the number of beer festivals far and wide is only natural. There is a growing number of local and larger national beer-centric events. In my part of the world, Maryland USA, every year brings another beer festival. So many beers and just not enought weekends.
So who puts on all of these events? Some of the local beer festivals I've attended are organized by brewer associations, local towns interested in bringing in tourism dollars or entrepreneurs interested in making a dollar on the increased interest of the better-beer population.
For any serious beer drinker, two beer festival pilgrimages have to be on the bucket list. Oktoberfest is the 16-day event held in Munich, Germany during the end of September and early October. Its been going on since 1810. I have been to Munich but not for Oktoberfest. Its a beautiful city and one I've promised to get back to. The other is The Great American Beer Festival which calls beer aficionados to Denver, Colorado each fall. The 2015 event will be September 24-26.
According to the Beer Festival Calendar, in 2015 there will be 263 beer festivals held in the USA. And you know that has be underestimated. But I think I will have to find a few if for nothing else but to keep my skills up.