Everyone is feeling the pinch in today’s economy. Wait. Let me rephrase that. Everyone I know is feeling the pinch, including yours truly. Lately, I have had to be creative with my cash — eating out less, trips closer to home, hosting a pathetically unsuccessful yard sale, etcetera, etcetera. You get my point. Fortunately for the craft beer industry, business is going pretty well. Whether it’s because more of us are drowning in our sorrows (organization “restructuring”, Bernie Madoff, diminishing retirement funds) or for supporting the local microbreweries, seems as though we see just a few more people hanging out at the pubs on Tuesday afternoons these days.
With that in mind, I decided it was time to get creative with beer and money. I had heard about the Empire State Brewing & Music Festival months in advance, and I knew immediately that I was going to go. After getting on its website and reading every delicious detail of participating brewers, my eyes wandered to a place where they rarely go on a website: “Click here to Volunteer.” I looked at those words like a confused pug who tilts his head in bewilderment, and decided to see what this was all about. It was pretty simple: fill out the form, hit “submit,” and wait for the volunteer people to contact me. At first my intentions were twofold: to work a few hours in exchange for free admission (the entry fee was $50 for a five hour event) and to pour beer, which sounded like fun (not necessarily in that order). I had never really been behind a bar officially (unless you count that time at Delta Chi), and thought it would be a great idea to experience the perfect pour. I write about my love of beer, and I want to experience it in all aspects (note to self: next up is brewing). Plus, saving a few bucks would just make it that much sweeter.
As the weeks grew closer to the event, I got more and more excited with the anticipation. What would it be like? Would I pour beer for a local New York brewer, or pushing the corporate stuff? A few days before the event, I went to the volunteer meeting at the Empire Brewing Company not knowing what to expect. I arrived, was given my volunteer outfit, and drank free beer and ate yummy grub while I waited for the meeting to start. I met some other beer aficionados and knew that I was in the right place, at the right time. The meeting was more of a pep rally, “rah rah rah!” and I loved it.
The day had arrived and I was ready. In the morning, I received my assignment and in a split second, my excitement transformed to utter disappointment. It read: “hand out maps.” What??? I had map duty? No beer pouring? My heart sank. However, I decided to grin and bear it, since I was volunteering, and in that spirit, had to accept my fate gracefully. It was for the greater good, I told myself, to help the lost beer drinker find that perfect hefeweizen. BUT, just as in Montreal, the angels intervened, and at the last moment, I was assigned to a brewery that had made a last minute entry to the festival. The gods were listening! The words “Rooster Fish” had never sounded so divine to me until that moment. A local brewery in Watkins Glen, Rooster Fish is a small operation. I had never heard of them, and was very happy to meet Seth, the brewmaster, and his wife. I poured hefeweizen and pale ale to lines of parched partygoers, got smiles and thank yous. I ran into people I knew from college, from work, from life. I met Ashley, the funky “Alebassador” from Magic Hat. I sampled beers galore from all over the Northeast and Canada, from Buffalo to Brooklyn. It was pure and simple pleasure that attacked all of my senses.
In my quest to save a few pennies (5000 of them), I truly got more than I bargained for. Not only were the sponsors ever so grateful for the volunteers (they fed us and gave us bottomless beers again after the event), I really felt connected to the community (local and beer) and met some amazing people along the way. I look forward to my next volunteering gig, and regardless of today’s economy, that’s priceless.