It's The Session, beer blogging on a common topic, and this month it's "beer festivals." See all the links soon here.
I just told someone last week that beer festivals are pretty much work for me anymore. I was at the Mondial in Montreal, and while it was enjoyable, and the weather was great, and there were plenty of good beers -- new beers! -- and brewers -- new brewers, to me, anyway -- and pretty girls and grilled and smoked meat and all dat... I left before the session was over, and I only went back for an hour or so the next day. I would never have done that in the past. What happened? What stole my fun?
I used to enjoy beer festivals, and I'd stay till the last minute. I'd taste everything new that I could safely hold (I used dump buckets, I drank water, I'd eat, anything to try more beers), I'd talk beer, I had a great time. I met John Hansell at a beer festival, which led indirectly to my current position as managing editor for his magazine, Malt Advocate (which in those days was a beer 'magazine,' about 8 pages stapled in the corner). I met any number of brewers, including David Geary, who recently showed me the "business card" I gave him at a Stoudt's festival back in...1994? "I figured you'd be back," he said, "and you were."
It wasn't the working that was the buzzkill, though. I worked fests and still enjoyed them; hell, I even worked taps for brewers on some and had a fun time. I think what killed it for me was the Falling Rock Syndrome. People who go to GABF often enough, serious types (serious about beer, anyway), quickly learn that the Friday and Saturday night sessions are crazy, often given over to drunks. They head out to other, smaller venues, like Denver's beer bar supreme, Falling Rock, or a brewpub, or someone's hotel room.
That's what festivals have become for me: the meeting-up place for the after-party, and it seems like the "after" part gets earlier and earlier. I LIKE going to the after-parties, they're a lot of fun, they're usually people I know or people who know people I know, and it's all very convivial.
And they're not wall-to-wall people, packed in so tight they can't move. Some of the problem is like Yogi Berra said: "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded." Blame the festival promoters: stop selling so many tickets. I'd happily pay $10 more if I could move. Turn down the band's amps; I can't tell you how many times I've yelled to someone at a festival "If I'd wanted to hear blues, I'd go to a blues festival: I'm here to talk to brewers and I can't even hear myself think!" Better programs would be great: give me the brewery names, their websites, their addresses, what beers they have, and a little room for notes. Give me food options, give me some education options, give me no smoking and good ventilation, give me a beer garden to sit for a bit. Give me shuttle-to-lodgings/transit options.
I think beer festivals need to be re-worked. For our benefit, the fest-goers, and for the benefit of the brewers. Some of them are better, but craft beer -- and let's be honest, that's really the only kind that generates festival-going interest -- is hot, and people are interested. Give them a good experience. Maybe I'm just a crotchety old bastard. But if I don't think it's that fun anymore, maybe I'm not the only one.