2010 so far has been a record year for hop festivals for this nomad. Near and far, stateside and Canadian wonderland, it’s been a great seven months. As we enter the midsummer dream and approach the August sun, the days slowly shorten but the temperature is still balmy and beer festivals populate and inebriate as quickly as their arrival is swift.
As I embark on another Canadian festival in Toronto, I feverishly scribble notes and to-dos. I’ve had the pleasure of both working at brewfests and enjoying them on the other side (i.e. I paid for a ticket). I think I’ve been to enough to have some tips for the neophyte, as well as some reminders for the seasoned beer hopper.
Warning: if you’ve never been to a beer festival, your head will spin from all of the selections. Get ready. How do you choose where to sample? Here’s what I do: I try to hit as many breweries as is humanly possible (you will never get to all of them in one day). My game is to try to visit breweries that I have never heard of nor tasted before. I also try to sample the lesser-known beers from familiar breweries. How you choose is up to you.
Dress comfortably. Most men don’t care what they wear since they expect to have some beer spills on their clothing. Women, please don’t wear high heels. Nobody’s looking at your feet. You will most likely be outdoors and you’re probably going to cover a lot of ground walking. You can still look cute (if you care about those things), but be comfortable. I can assure you that beer will be spilled, so if you care about those Manolos, don’t wear them.
Eat, and eat often. It’s imperative to eat something, anything before you arrive. It is so easy to get caught up in the excitement and want to sample and forget to eat (trust me). You really don’t want to drink on an empty stomach — you would be surprised at how much two-ounce samples add up. Those sneaky devils really do sneak up on you.
While you’re there, have something on hand to eat, such as pretzels or nuts. You’ll see pretzel necklaces everywhere, as worn by the seasoned festivalgoers who take their beer sampling and palate cleansing seriously (side note: if you make your own pretzel necklace, don’t use twine like I did. It scratches the neck!) Most festivals have the standard fare: pizza, burgers, etc. Eat!
Hydrate with H20. Water is life, and it’s vital to get you through a four to seven hour event. Nuff said.
Talk with the Brewers/Industry Folk. Yes, it’s fun to go from table to table and just drink, but why not find out a bit more about what you’re drinking? Most of these breweries have interesting histories to match their fine ales. Ask questions and engage in dialogue with the people who are pouring your beer. They are more than happy to discuss with you their love of the craft. Think about it: after pouring for hundreds upon hundreds of thirsty people, it’s refreshing to have a good conversation about brew. They want to talk to you. Trust me.
Getting drunk is usually inevitable at these events, so make sure you aren’t driving and have a phone number for the local cab company or know which train to take back to your final destination. It’s hard to restrain yourself to such debauchery – the brewfests offer everything a beer lover could ever want – BEER! Add to that food, music, and if you’re lucky, some nice weather and scenery, and it’s a recipe for a memorable event. Have fun, meet some cool people, and enjoy the beer. That’s what it’s all about. Cheers!