Beer Festing 101

by Stephen Beaumont

Although it is presently cold and wet and quite miserable outside my office window, with a freezing rain warning in effect for Toronto, the calendar nonetheless tells me that it is mid-April. As such, I think we can confidently declare this most inhospitable weekend to be the unofficial start of beer festival season, with six beer events underway across Canada this weekend and literally dozens more scheduled between now and the equally unofficial end of the season at Cask Days in mid-October.

With this in mind, and as a veteran of many beer events the world over, from seventeen Great American Beer Festivals to fests in almost every province in Canada, Italy, the U.K. and numerous other countries besides, I would like to offer several hints, nay, rules for being a good beer festival patron.

1) Get Your Beer & Get Out of the Way: So the brewer or brewery owner is at their brewery’s booth and you would like to talk to him or her. I get it, that’s part of the fun of beer fests. But have your conversation from the side of the booth, not right in front of it, and let those behind you get their eagerly anticipated samples without delay. And if said brewer or brewery owner is the only one available to pour beer, keep the conversation short, okay?

2) Be Happy, Not Drunk: Inebriation is a result of drinking significant amounts of beer, which one has a tendency to do at a beer festival. But there is a difference between the inebriated a-little-too-happy drinker and the inebriated drunk. The former is mostly fun, possibly a bit too loud, but generally jovial and well-behaved, while the latter is irritating, annoying and sometimes obnoxious or abusive. Be the former; be happy; don’t be the drunk.

3) Ticket Up at the Booth the Furthest from the Entrance: The first thing most people do when they enter a beer festival is head to the nearest booth to buy their tasting tickets, resulting in lengthy line-ups. Which is why experienced festival goers immediately look for the booth as far as possible from the entrance and buy their tickets there, and get plenty of tickets so that return visits aren’t required.

4) Have a Plan: Many is the time I have watched friends and fellow festival patrons make a beeline from the entry gate to the cool brewery with the double IPAs before they even consider that wonderful pilsner or helles or hefeweizen they passed along the way. Which is a shame, because after a double IPA or three, your palate is going to be pretty much shot for tasting anything milder or more nuanced. So grab a beer, a light-bodied beer, and take a tour of the taps before you grab that bourbon barrel Imperial stout or high octane hop monster.  

5) Drink Water: Beer is dehydrating. You know that, but sometimes each of us forgets it, so remind yourself regularly to drink water and combat that hangover before it even gets a chance to start.

6) Above All, Be Respectful: Nobody, not volunteer staff, brewery rep nor paying attendee, goes to a beer fest to make themselves subject to commentary on what they’re wearing or how they look, and neither is anyone there to be harassed, condescended to or ridiculed. So no matter how much you drink, stay respectful of others and join them in having a good time.  

See you at the next fest!