After we published our critical review of the 4b Festival (Bacon, BBQ, Beer, and Bourbon) in New Haven, we got a tweet from the CT Beer Trail. They said, “Dan & Kristien, good opportunity to shift focus to the positive & discuss what makes a beer fest a great one.” We thought about it and really took that to heart, so we decided we were up for that challenge, and now here we are on 4/7, National Beer Day!
So, may we present you with a guide to what makes beer fests great, along with examples at the end. If you have any other ideas, examples, or even disagree, please comment below with your thoughts.
Variety, Rarity, and Regionality
Beer festivals will differ on their focus, but the best ones focus around a central theme. Whether it’s extreme beers, local beer, a seasonal celebration, or hard to find specimens, the best events are held together with a focus. First up, being able to try a nice variety of brews is a major selling point of any great event. Look, we’re only human and can only drink so much beer, so being able to sample a helluva lot of styles and breweries is any brewaholics dream. Another mark of a great festival is that they’ll have some rare, hard to find brews… maybe even samples of beer that were made just for that event. And, great beer festivals will feature breweries from the city, state, or nearby region that you might have never had the chance to visit before.
People love to feel like they’re getting a great deal when they go to a beer festival. And, what better way to spend money than a day sampling beers with friends? You’d have to spend hundreds of dollars to try all the brews at a festival, so buying a ticket for a reasonable price really isn’t a big deal for beer enthusiasts. But it’s important to not nickel and dime event goers once they get in. Be clear on what is and isn’t included in the ticket cost, and price the ticket accordingly. Also, added VIP options make brew festivals a thing of beauty because you usually get a shot at rare brews and early entrance before lines begin.
Venue and Organization
Even if you have a great lineup of beer, people won’t be able to enjoy it unless the event is well organized. The best fests we’ve been do this by promoting and describing the events in detail months before it even begins so it’s not complete chaos day of the event. Then, when expectations are set, the organizers can meet them by following through.
In terms of the venue, it should always match up proportionately with the number of tickets being sold. Booths or tables tend to be placed far apart so lines don’t run into each other. Breweries also might be organized by regions or states to make navigation even easier. And, some of our favorite events feature maps so you can plan out where to go…a lso so you can keep tabs on where you still need to go.
Food to Beer Ratio
At brew fests, food doesn’t necessarily have to be free, but food should be available. Basically, organizers need to help people space out their drinking, but on the more practical side, food and beer together is just plain awesome. Food trucks seem to be the best bet for events because they’re experts in working crowds and have everything they need right on the trucks. Of course, like fitting the venue to the number of tickets available, the best festivals will have not only a proportionate amount of food vendors, but also a great variety. It’s a win-win situation for the organizers, the attendees, the breweries, and the food trucks.
Although beer festivals might be popular and have lots of guests, people love to be able to meet the brewers and owners behind the breweries. While this isn’t always possible, fest guests tend to get a better appreciation of the brews when they can talk with people who are knowledgable about how they are made, where they are made, and unique tidbits of information that they can’t get anywhere else.
Here are just some of the great beer fests that we’ve been to and why they kick ass:
Harbor Brewfest (Bridgeport, CT)
This past September marked the second year of the Harbor Brew Fest, Fairfield County’s largest beer festival. HB kicked ass because it featured a great variety of food trucks and, because of that, lines were short. Also, the breweries and samplings were stretched out across The Ballpark at Harbor Yard with an incredibly humongous tent of CT breweries in the outfield. Lines weren’t too long, there was music, and people were having a blast. Plus, the VIP experience was great because you were able to enter an hour early. Also, at the VIP tent, there were some pretty rare brews for sampling, too.
Weekend of Compelling Ales and Whatnot (Dogfish Head, Delaware)
This beer festival is an entire weekend full of Dogfish Head brews. It begins with special vintage and rare brews that are on tap at their Brewpub in Rehoboth Beach. We’re talking about 120 Minute, Palo Santo, Bitches Brew, and other DH favorites that have been aged from 2-3 years up for drinking by the pint or even flights. Along with other events scheduled over the weekend, the culmination is the festival on Saturday right at the brewery in Milton. $20 gets you tastes of Dogfish Head sausage being grilled outside and tastings of food and beer pairings right on the brewery floor. And, we’re not talking about the DH brews that you’re used to… there were special collaborations and beers made just for the event like Namaste brewed with Ancho. Throughout the Weekend of Compelling Ales and Whatnot, people kept saying, “I can’t believe it was only $20… this is awesome!”
Big Brew NY Fest (White Plains, NY)
After the success of the NJ Big Brew Fest, organizers created the first annual Big Brew NY Fest this past February in White Plains. The venue was excellent, allowing vendors and breweries to spread out in the main area, along hallways, and even in backrooms. The variety of brews available was excellent, allowing us the chance to try beers that we have never had before… and in some cases, never heard of before. The VIP experience was also well worth it, giving ticket buyers an hour early start, special tastings including an awesome Schneider Weisse section that featured a variety of vintages, and bites of beer-infused foods from a local chef.
Beer for Beasts (Brooklyn, NY)
Now in its 4th year, Beer for Beasts is an awesome festival put on by Sixpoint Brewery of Brooklyn and BeerAdvocate all to help raise money for The Humane Society of NY. While it was busy when we went the second year, lines were never too long. Each year features an amazing amount of brews that are made just for the event featuring anything from the expected, to quite the unexpected. Yes, we sampled lobster, crimini mushroom, saffron, and other brews that we can proudly say that we’ve tried. Admission included brews, a burlesque show (um, is there anything cooler at a beer fest?), and samples of food from some of NYC’s best food trucks.