I remember my first brew fest. I went in blindly thinking I would just have some beers, and some fun with my friends. That's it. And that's great. It is a great day to be had no matter what your purpose is, BUT, if you want to get the most out of brew fests, take some advice from me. A pro.
What makes me a pro, you ask? Twenty years of at least three festivals each year, ranging from large national festivals to small farmers' festivals. I've done them all. I've worked at them, I've attended them, and I've even been to them when I was pregnant — sober, of course. I am married to a brewer and together we own two breweries, so I know a little about the inside scoop. Here's my advice to you; I hope you take something out of it and make the day at the brew fest a great one.
You've paid, you are complete with your wristband, glass, and possibly a map or list of attending breweries. Now you are ready to start.
Walk a loop
Take the first 10 minutes of the festival to get a good idea of the space. Walk around, noticing the different breweries and which beers you would like to try. While you're at it, you will also want to know the locations of the restrooms. These are about to have lines — very long lines — so know your limit and don't wait for an emergency.
PRO TIP: There is usually a restroom or two off the beaten path. If you are aware of, it may make your festival day!
Talk to the brewers
Brewers tend to be the ones sitting at the end of the bar after their shift, a little disheveled and hoping no one speaks to them. They have been working all day and, just like you and I, when they are done they are done. Brewers will usually politely answer your questions and raise a pint to you, but that's about it. Until the festival. This is your chance. The brewers are here, they are ready to talk, and they are in their element. This is their world and they are ready to show it to you. Today is the day you can ask about those hops, that special ingredient, how the beer got its name, and how long they have been brewing. Ask the questions and they will be happy to answer them.
PRO TIP: Talk to the brewers early, before they have sampled too many beers.
Have a plan
Start with the light beers. Start with a style. Then try a few of those and work your way up to the stronger, darker beers. For example, fill your 5 ounce glass with a pilsner from a brewery or two. Once you have sampled a couple of pilsners, it's time to sample some golden ales. This process works well with your palette, after all — tasting is what you are attending for, right?
Now move on to some pale ales, or IPAs.
Try something different and out of your normal range. Remember, you are only filling a 5 ounce sample, so if you are feeling adventurous you just may find a new favorite. Take a chance. A coffee beer, black IPA, hefeweizen, or stout. Whatever you would not normally try, you are here to try that. You don't have to commit to the full 5 ounces; you can just try it and dump it if you don't like it. But...
Use your manners
Just because you are at a brew fest, it does not mean manners are out the door. Please and thank you still work best, and for the love of all things beer, DO NOT make an ugly face at the booth if you do not enjoy your beer. Remember, these brewers are like chefs and they work very hard at their unique styles. It isn't nice to stand in front of a chef and criticize — they are not here for that, this is not for judging. Taste it and if you don't enjoy it, move on to the next beer.
PRO TIP: "Wow, that's not bad" is not a compliment. Brewers put their heart and soul into their beer. You are certainly going to find some great styles meant just for you.
Time to hydrate. Have a glass of water. Drinking water is an important part of tasting beer. You will notice all the pros are doing it. The brewers always have their water close by. It is a necessary step to keep you going, and for tasting purposes. Don't be that guy or gal who doesn't drink the water. You will regret that move.
Most brew fests have food, usually stands for hot dogs, pretzels, or possibly a slice of pizza. If you are lucky enough to be at a festival that has a theme, they usually have great food to continue that theme. Whatever the case, your pretzel necklace will only get you so far. It is important and part of the experience to eat. Sometimes it is included in the ticket price, but even if it's not, get in line and grab a bite. You shouldn't skip this step when drinking up.
Breweries bring their merchandise. You can see the list so you can plan ahead on what you would like to purchase. This is a great opportunity to get some cool gear, everything from pint glasses to T-shirts to hats, and even some more unique finds.
PRO TIP: Have a bag to put souvenirs in. You don't want to carry stuff around if you plan on shopping, and only some breweries will have bags. Also, most only accept cash, so have that on hand.
Don't break your glass
First, if you do, everyone makes a really loud, embarrassing "Oooooohhhhhhh!"
Secondly, they don't replace it and it's a great souvenir.
My last and most important piece of advice is to have fun with your friends. Brew fests are a great way to unwind and do something different. So don't take it too seriously. No one really cares what you know or don't know about beer. Celebrate it, enjoy it, and have some fun!
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