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Session 96: On beer festivals

The first Friday of each month brings together beer bloggers around a common topic under the banner of The Session. This month Blog Birraire hosts, giving us the topic “Festivals: Geek Gathering or Beer Dissemination?”:


I guess it is pretty much clear, but apart from exposing whether the answer is A, B or C (the latter being “it depends”) I expect participants to give us some insight into their local beer scene to better understand the importance or irrelevance of Festivals in each area. My guess is that it can be quite different depending on the popularity of beer in different countries and cultures.

As a beer producer

Obviously my opinions and perspective has shifted now that I attend festivals on the other side of the table. I still make my rounds, of course (obligatory plug for my favorite thing I’ve written), but as always take what I say as being biased and possibly nefarious.

On the other hand, I have to consider things you might not. For instance: where does the money from the festival go? I have nothing against for-profit festivals1 — I’m in the bourgeoisie too — but in the past some for-profit festivals would ask for free beer in exchange for “exposure”. Don’t work for free for rich people. I’m not coyly naming names or subtweeting (subblogging?) here but the practice was common enough that last year the NYS Brewer’s Association published the Brewer’s Bill of Rights.

Our first beer festival!

Our first beer festival!

I vaguely remember seeing a piece years ago written by a brewery saying that festivals didn’t even give a good return on the “advertising” since people weren’t likely to remember or seek out the beer they had. Google fails me or I’d provide a link, but in any case I don’t agree with the sentiment. I think it actually mirrors my opinion as a beer drinker below in that as you grow you see diminishing returns.

Less than a month after we opened in 2012 we appeared at Beerology. Many (most?) people hadn’t heard of us before, and so the name recognition and ability to provide our (damn good, if I say so) beer to people to them at no cost had a huge effect. People still tell me they first heard of us at Beerology, the Buffalo Brewfest or the Ballpark Brew Bash that year. For Stone, which sends a few cases of Arrogant Bastard and some distribution reps? They won’t get as much out of it. I’m not knocking them: when you’re as big as Stone you can’t do much else. I don’t expect Greg Koch to be present at every festival, but right now every festival we attend gets staffed by an owner or one of the handful of close homebrewing friends who are intimately familiar with our beer. If you ask about our IPA we can tell you more than “it’s an ale.”

As a beer drinker

Everything changed for me in the summer of 2007. In quick succession I got into “good” beer, began homebrewing and attended my first beer festival, the final Buffalo Brewfest at the Central Terminal2. It was nothing short of magical, a fantasy land where beer grew on trees. I hadn’t had much beyond Saranac mixed 12 packs up to that point, so I’d wager 90% of the beer I drank I tried for the first time.

As the years went on, though, I got less and less out of it. I’m not taking a dig at the Brewfest in the slightest: it’s not them, it’s me. After a few years of exploring and trying new things, suddenly not as much excited me. Also, as you can see from footnote 2 I don’t particularly like crowds or noise and had been going by myself. I imagine a group of friends could enjoy an evening at a beer festival without an issue.

Guys walking around dressed like monks certainly gives a festival a  je ne sais quois.

Guys walking around dressed like monks certainly gives a festival a je ne sais quois.

Some festivals offer more than just beer: the aforementioned Beerology, for instance, lets you drink beer next to a triceratops skeleton, which really can’t be understated. They also offer talks and demonstrations dealing with beer and brewing, so even if you’ve already had all the beer there is to offer (which I doubt) you can still learn something.

I stand by my assertion that Belgium Comes to Cooperstown is the beer lover’s Gathering of the Juggalos: a mass of people with a common interest in a semi-remote area for a few days. Less wrestling and assaulting the performers, though.

A festival of (slightly more than) one

If you find yourself burned out on festivals but itching to try new beer, might I humbly suggest you organize a tasting with some friends? Until fate and jobs scattered the group I used to attend monthly “Yeastie Boys” gatherings3: we would decide on a “theme”, chip in $10 each and pick out a variety of beer. We always had more than enough — especially when the theme was “imperial”. hoo boy. — and had a great time. Sometimes there was fondue.

So: Geek Gathering or Beer Dissemination? Both. Neither. It depends on the festival and the person attending it. If you haven’t been to one before I highly recommend it, even if it doesn’t have a triceratops skeleton.

  1. Until we dismantle the imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy, but I’m not holding my breath. 

  2. I later found out Ethan had a table there for his (and later our) blog Beer-O-Vision. Just think: we could have been friends a year earlier if not for my introverted personality! 

  3. I cannot properly express how clever we thought ourselves for having come up with that name, but of course so had tons of other people. Did they make a hefeweizen named “Ill Flocculation” though? Didn’t think so. 

One comment on “Session 96: On beer festivals

  1. Joan Birraire on

    Thanks for your contribution, Dan. I guess every festival attendee passes through a cycle of excitement; I can sympathise with what you expose. Maybe that’s why I also shifted roles and became part of the organisation of Barcelona Beer Festival.

    Anyway, I would have loved to attend one of your Yeastie Boys gatherings, even if the name’s not as original as you thought it was :-). Cheers!

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