Sunday, January 20, 2013

How to Get the Most from a Beer Festival

I love attending beer festivals.  They offer a chance to try many different beers without spending a ton of money, and to spend time with friends.  Having attended several now, I've developed some techniques for getting the most out of them.

If all you want from a beer festival is to drink as much beer as you can, then you don’t need a plan.  Walk in and start drinking.  Repeat.

I want more than that.  Specifically, I want to:

  • Taste beers I haven’t tried before (“new” beers)

  • Taste any rare or limited edition beers available

  • Taste as many of these beers as it is reasonable to do

  • Avoid beers that I dislike

  • Remember which beers I liked and disliked

  • Not get unnecessarily tipsy or sick

  • Get home safely afterward
How do I accomplish those goals?

Days before the festival:
  • Filter the beer list:  Most festivals publish a list of beers and breweries planned for the event.  Download this, filter out those you dislike or have tried before.  Sort it in the order you want to try the beers, and/or by brewery.  Print the list for reference at the event (or load it into a tablet or smartphone).

  • Make a pretzel necklace:  Take a bag of your favorite pretzels and a piece of string long enough to wrap around your neck (plus several inches).  Run the string through one of the holes in each pretzel.  Tie the ends of the string together.  (This ensures you have food handy during the event.)

  • Arrange for a designated driver or hotel room:  If you expect to leave the festival "buzzed" or drunk, arrange for a designated driver or take a cab to the nearest hotel.  Don't drive.

The day of the festival:
  • Load up:  Grab your tickets, list, pretzel necklace, a notepad, and a pen

  • Have a nice meal:  You want something in your stomach before you start drinking.

  • Hydrate well:  Drink plenty of (non-alcoholic) fluids beforehand to avoid dehydration.
Inside the festival:
  • Get a map: Most festivals provide a map showing where the breweries can be found. Get one.

  • Strategize:  Use your list of beers to mark the map for the breweries and beers you want to see.

  • Prioritize:  Mark the breweries that offer rare, limited edition, or in-demand beers you really want to try (using a star, for example).

  • After each sample: Make a note in your notebook of the beer and what you thought of it. Consider eating a pretzel to clear your palate.

  • Pace yourself:  It's not a race.  Don't be afraid to sit down, eat a few pretzels, and catch your breath.
When you get a sample, follow this strategy:
  • Dislike the sample?  Pour it out and get the next one.

  • Like the sample?  Sip it as you make your way to the next one.  Pour out what’s left when you get there.

  • Love the sample?  Drink it until you get to your next sample, or until you finish it. Your call.
Why do this?  Imagine you can tolerate 15 full samples before you've had "enough".  If you drink every sample in its entirety, you'll try at most 15 beers all night.  If you disliked five of them, and poured them out, you might be able to try 20.  If you pour out some (but not all) of the ones you liked, you could increase that to perhaps 22 or 23 samples.  This can make the difference between trying everything you wanted to try, or only some of it.

The most important piece of advice I can give you is that if you leave a beer festival feeling "buzzed" or even "slightly drunk", DO NOT drive.  Call a friend or family member.  Take a cab.  Check into a hotel.  Don't risk injuring or killing yourself or someone else.  It's not worth it.  I've heard too many horror stories about beer festival attendees crashing cars afterward.  Don't be one of them.

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