An Expert’s Top 7 Beer Fest Survival Tips
Throughout the past two decades of craft beer drinking I've attended countless beer festivals... From the early Beer Advocate Fests in Boston, Beer on the Pier in New York to pub crawls in Ireland, the famed Brussels Beer Festival in Belgium and even Oktoberfest in Munich. I guess you could say I'm a beer festival expert. Over the years I've made plenty of mistakes and learned some valuable lessons along the way. This is a guide to not just surviving, but thoroughly enjoying a good beer fest.
1 Prepare your tolerance
Much like an athlete, the marathon beer drinker must train themselves before the big game. Some people make the terrible mistake of not drinking at all during the week leading up to a beer festival. This is wrong. If anything, you'll want to build up your tolerance, not create a situation where the first beer you drink is going to make your head spin. I make sure to drink a little bit each night leading up to the big festival... maybe even increasing the alcohol content each night. You may also want to do some research into an herb called milk thistle. I'm certainly not a doctor, but have had great results using it. Many people swear by milk thistle's ability to strengthen the liver.
You may think that drinking for 4 hours at a beer festival would give you more than enough hydration, but that's not the case. Alcohol actually dehydrates you. That's why it's important to keep drinking water throughout the festival, and long after you leave. A general rule of thumb is to drink one glass of water for every glass of beer. Staying hydrated will keep your stamina up and also cleanse the palate between beers so you can continue to sample and enjoy each different style.
3 Have a game plan
In the early days of craft beer festivals there were only a dozen or two breweries in attendance with one or two beers to sample from each. This year's TAP-NY festival boasts 78 breweries with hundreds of different beers. It's impossible to try them all, so you'll need to do a little research. Hop on the festival's website and make a mental list of your must-try beers. There's always a handful of breweries I haven't tried or special batches of beer that will be offered in a limited amount. If you keep a list, you'll be able to skip over beers you're already familiar with and make sure to hit the ones you really want to try before they run out.
4 Make a pretzel necklace
Some festivals include food in the price of admission, others offer some great menu items a-la-cart, and then there are the beer fests that serve disgusting dirty water dogs for $25 a pop. Make sure to know the food situation beforehand. Much like staying hydrated, keeping your stomach filled with food will help soak up the alcohol and keep you going throughout the day. Although most festivals don't allow outside food, there is one loophole that you can take advantage of: the pretzel necklace. String an entire package of pretzels around your neck and voila, you've got snacks all day long that no one can confiscate from you.
5 Be picky
You finally get to sample that Watermelon IPA from the new brewery at the festival and are disappointed to find out it tastes like sugary dishwater. Dump and move on. You're sampling beers, not ordering drinks at a bar. If you don't like a beer there's no shame in pouring it out and going on to the next... beer festivals are all about trying new things, not choking down suds you hate.
6 Go when it's least crowded
Unless you want to relive one of those sloppy frat parties from your college days, you'll always have a better time going to the least-attended session of any beer festival. If there's an early and late session, go with the early one to avoid the younger and more inexperienced drinkers in the evening. If you have a choice between Saturday and Sunday, go on a Sunday. Less participants mean shorter lines. This not only gives you more time to sample, but to talk to the individual brewers and learn more about what you're drinking. Some festivals even offer a VIP hour, it's well worth the extra money to get in early and try the beers before the crowds pour in.
7 Remember the golden rule
Whenever I attend a beer festival with friends we always recite the "golden rule" as we enter: "It's a marathon, not a sprint". It's all about pacing. I've never been to a beer festival where I didn't get enough to drink. Relax and enjoy time with your friends. There's no need to rush around or hurry people into finishing their beers so you can move on. At the Superbowl of beer, Munich's Oktoberfest, I drank giant liters of heavy German beer for over 8 hours straight. At the end of the day, as I stepped over the passed out bodies of our German table-mates, I was very happy to have followed that golden rule.
Next time you're at a beer fest, just keep these tips in mind and always remember to use public transportation or a designated driver. You'll not only have the time of your life, but you'll also live to drink another day. Cheers!