Celebrating at Beer Festivals

Beer lovers love to celebrate beer. Craft beer fests seem to be popping up wherever a small collection of brewpubs or microbreweries exists. Can it be that beer is a good social lubricant? Something to ponder.

Americans have discovered that the true meaning of beer festival goes far beyond the ubiquitous Oktoberfests that take place in practically every two-horse town in the country. You need a little more than grilled bratwurst and oom-pah music to please the beer crowd nowadays. In beer festival parlance, quantity means variety, as in number of brewers and styles — not a high rate of consumption. And you need good beer. Craft-brewed beer.

Beer festivals are becoming somewhat standardized, with the sponsors having learned from early mistakes.

  • Attendees can expect to pay a healthy entrance fee, which is easily justified in order to cover high insurance premiums, rental of the hall or festival grounds, a mess of Porta-Potties, advertising, and festival glassware (the glasses may become collector’s items, especially if they’re dated).

  • If the cost of the beer itself isn’t included in the entrance fee, then serving tickets or tokens may be purchased for a little more than pocket change. Some festivals serve as little as 1 ounce per beer (usually the festivals with all-inclusive entrance fees, of course), while others allow as much as 10- or 12-ounce servings — but this amount is more of an exception than the rule.

Beer festivals aren’t just places to taste-test beer nowadays. Many of these extravaganzas now feature homebrew demonstrations, cooking-with-beer seminars, book signings, and sponsored booths peddling all kinds of beer-related goods and paraphernalia.

At the smaller festivals, one of the treats is to chat with the brewer and get the sense of passion and artistry that’s so much a part of craft brewing. However, as festivals tend to grow (and grow in popularity), meeting with the brewer is, unfortunately, becoming rare. Staff or volunteers do the pouring and talking now.

If you’re really into beer and fun, you can ask to volunteer to be a server or guide at a festival — a good idea whose time has come and whose rewards (guess what) are simple.

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