Beer Festival Survival Guide
So this weekend is the 10th Annual Avery Strong Ale Festival up in Boulder, CO. This is a wonderful, mid-sized festival, featuring some of the top breweries from around the country. The Strong Ale Fest isn’t for the weak palate. Every beer there is 8.0% ABV or higher, covering a wide variety of styles. Whether you lean towards Russian Imperial Stouts, Double IPA’s, Baltic Porters, Barleywines or anything else in between, there’s always something special to be found.
With a few other nice festivals coming up in the near future, I thought this might be a good opportunity to share some tips and suggestions to make your festival experience one that is both enjoyable and hangover free.
1. Eat a good, solid meal before the festival. My wife and I do our best to take advantage of our night off with no kids by enjoying a nice dinner before the big event. Grab a big ol’ bowl of pasta and sauce or enjoy some fresh sushi. Something that’s going to fill you up to help absorb that alcohol and won’t leave you feeling hungry half-way through the festival. Pretzel necklaces clash with my purdy eyes, but if that’s your thing, go for it. Bling up your pretzel necklace and show your true redneck colors by adding things like string cheese, slim jims and jerky.
2. water, Water, WATER! Hydrate. I drink water constantly, even when I’m not drinking beer, so it’s just kind of natural for me I guess. Water will counter balance the dehydrating effects of alcohol. Here at high altitude, the effects can be even stronger, so drink a whole mess of water, which brings us to…
3. Know where the restrooms are located. Don’t wait until it’s too late and you’re seeing yellow. Scope out the potties so you don’t get into trouble later. And if you’re a guy, some of these festivals can be one big sausage convention. In other words, you might get to experience the joy of standing in a long line waiting for the little boy’s room. Personally, I have a theory that if I don’t “break the seal”, I’ll be good to go deeper into the night, with fewer trips to the bathroom. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but in my mind, it seems to work. Brewtal Tip: The last few Avery festivals have had port-a-potties outside behind the barrel room. Skip the tiny bathroom in the tasting room and head to the back to get the job done. Sorry for all the potty talk. Let’s move on.
4. Make a plan, but pace yourself. Most festivals provide you with a list of beers and basic information about them, while the really big ones also provide a map to help you get around. Come up with some sort of plan, mark your “must try” beers, but don’t feel rushed to run through and pound them all. Most beer festivals are 4-5 hours, so take your time. Brewtal Tip: Skip beers that you have at home or can buy at your local store or brewery. I use festivals as a chance to try beers I can’t easily track down. I want to experience the breweries that don’t distribute to Colorado. At the same time, don’t just skip past your local breweries either. Many of them will make “one-offs” specifically for a beer festival. You never know what you’re going to find. It’s also a great opportunity to thank them for the beers and creations they make.
5. Be respectful. Always show respect towards the brewery and venue that’s putting up with all the beer shenanigans. Don’t act like a fool and help ensure these festivals are able to continue in the years to come. Acting silly will only get you booted out. Manners go a long way too. Say “please” and “thank you” to the people pouring your samples. Many festivals have volunteers on hand to pour beer. The Great American Beer Festival (GABF), uses more than 30,000 volunteer hours each year. Without volunteers, many of these festivals wouldn’t exist. Be nice.
6. Don’t Drive! Yeah, don’t even think about it. Use public transportation, rent a pogo stick, get a designated driver, train a monkey to fly, call a cab, book a stagecoach, get a nearby hotel and walk. Whatever it is, there’s no way you should be getting behind the wheel after a beer festival. Period.
7. Don’t hover. We’ve all seen that person who hovers at the front of the table taking sample after sample while the line continues to grow behind him/her. Take your sample and if you want to get back in line, by all means, have at it. Don’t be the guy that stands in front of the table and ignores everyone else waiting patiently in line behind them.
8. Use the dump bucket. The plastic bucket at the end of the table isn’t there in case someone gets sick. It’s a dump bucket. Don’t be afraid to use it. If you get a beer you don’t care for or just get too big of a pour, there’s nothing wrong with dumping it into the dump bucket. Rinse your glass out from time to time with water and pour the rinse into the bucket. Just don’t take up your buddy’s bet to drink from it. I know it’s beer, but it’s not exactly the latest Firestone Walker blend. Drinking from the dump bucket is a good way to get you sick or kicked out or both.
I hope that’s at least a start down the right path. Avery’s beer festivals are some of the best around. Last year’s Strong Ale Fest had 103 beers from more than 50 U.S. breweries. I heard there ‘s going to be more than 120 beers this time around. It can be a little overwhelming at first, but if you follow the tips above, you’re sure to have a good time and wake up ready to hit the Waffle House in the morning. We’ll be there on Friday, be sure to say “hi” if you see us. Cheers!