You enter the festival and the fragrant aroma of hops and complexly aged beers delightfully fills the air. With oh-so-many varieties to try, you feel just like a kid in a candy store all over again… Beer fest has finally arrived!
In order to survive the thirsty clusters of avid beer lovers and homebrew connoisseurs, not to mention the tantalizing array of mouth-watering liquid treats, there are some key points to take heed to, no matter the size or location of your next beer festival. Things like tasting order, cleansing your palate, small snacking, scoring beers, taking notes, eluding the crowds, and the sheer importance of a designated driver are all things to take into account and plan for. These simple yet essential tips and tricks will have you well on your way to getting the most out of your beer tasting experience.
The Beer Festival Order of Operations
At your average beer festival, there are copious amounts of beers to sample. Start off with the weaker ABV beers and gradually mix in your individual aroma, bitterness and flavor preferences. You should save very hoppy beers for later in the fest, so you don’t ruin your palate too early in the tasting. For example, it is a good idea to progress from lagers and Belgians to doppelbocks, stouts, porters and saisons; taste a barley wine, and then finish with the IPAs. “As a general strategy, go light to dark, less hoppy to more hoppy. Dark/roasted notes and tons of hops will stay on your palate and affect the beers tasted after,” said homebrew aficionado Mike Abboud.
Keep in mind that it is imperative to occasionally rinse out your tasting glass with water when switching beers. Gulping down a mouthful of barley wine after a coffee stout probably won’t appease your palate very much! Sipping on water from time to time will also drastically help you out in the long run.
Snack and Go
Passionate beer drinker Dominique Guiliani states, “The key to marathon drinking in its true form, MIAW: Mix in a Water. It’s the only way to become a marathon drinker and taster.” The next tip to literally put in your back pocket is small snacking. You don’t want to gobble down a massive carb-heavy meal where you are too full to participate in any of the full-bodied beers, but you also want to stay thirsty. Popping salty peanuts or little handfuls of popcorn will keep your palate excited and happy when you take that next glorious sip.
A huge hit at beer festivals across the nation leads us to the ever-popular pretzel necklace. Bought at most fests, or handmade on a string at your humble abode; these life-saving pretzel necklaces come in all shapes and sizes. Not only do they allow you to be hands-free to hold your trusty glass, event program or note pad, but these scrumptious accessories also provide easy access to crucial, event-long crunchy snacking.
Depending on the capacity or location of the event you attend, decent cell phone service could be hard to come by. If this happens, be prepared by bringing along a note pad to score the beers you taste, and of course, to log your personal favorites. This way you can focus on the fun of the situation at hand, and check your desired liquid treasures into Untappd at a later time. Even if you have plentiful service, a quick flick of the pen is faster than searching for the beer, rating it, and checking it in.
A trick to best utilize your time at any beer festival is to avoid the dawdling crowds, which can leave you waiting for one pouring upwards of half an hour (depending on the size of the event). First timers tend to be attracted to the well-known breweries and common commercially advertised brands, and these larger groups of parched beer hunters often flock together. Pave your own path and head toward the more unique beers, where the lines are often much shorter.
Abboud gives ample advice with his personal strategy, “First I go to the hard-to-find beers that you can’t usually find at the local store. I look for breweries who are newer or came from further away. The harder to find beers are often huge barrel-aged stouts or double IPAs, so the first ones I end up seeking are the last ones I should drink… but they’ll probably run out before the end of the fest. Tradeoffs, man.”
By far the most vital tip on your beer conquest is to have a designated driver. Whether it be a cab, a friend or public transportation, plan ahead and know how you are getting home. Avoiding high ABV beers early helps prevent becoming inebriated after only partaking in a few pours (but becoming impaired is all but inevitable). Traveling from afar? Make hotel arrangements prior to the event, and savor every moment of your beer festival to the fullest, where in this case, your toasting chalice should always be half full. Cheers.