During most weekends for the rest of summer and early fall, a beer festival will pop up in a major American city, if not your hometown. There will be dozens of different breweries pouring hundreds of different beers to thousands of attendees—and only three hours of drinking time. What’s a person to do?
Well, you could take some of the face palm-worthy advice the Internet loves to dole out—“Stay hydrated!” “Eat a big meal beforehand!” “Don’t forget to urinate!”—but you already know all that. Instead, as someone who has spent far too many Saturday afternoons drinking tiny glasses of beer in giant fields, I’m going to share some crucial tips you might not know. Here’s your essential beer-fest survival guide:
Create a “batting order.”
Top beer festivals pour tons of amazing beers, and your time is limited. Spend the week before the festival goofing off at work and familiarizing yourself with the festival’s website. Learn the layout of the event space and where the key breweries are going to be stationed. Better yet, figure out the key beers they’re pouring and create a batting order based on both rarity and location within the room. Then, when the organizers finally open the gates to the brew wonderland, you can sprint by all the aimless slobs to the first booth you want to hit, then the second, and so on. (Photo: © Brewers Association)
Don’t hit up “regular” breweries.
Of course, it should go without saying if a brewery already distributes to your state, you probably don’t need to visit its booth. And, if a brewery already distributes to your neck of the woods and it has the gall to come to the festival with nothing more than its lame flagship offerings—“Would ya’ like a taste of our pale ale?”—it might deserve to have its booth set on fire. You only have so much room in your belly and bladder—don’t squander it. (Photo: © Brewers Association)
Wear your most obscure brewery t-shirt.
You’re gonna want the other bloated beer geeks in attendance to know you are their master and not just some drunken frat boy sucking down amber ales. You have ticked off more beers in your lifetime and been to far more top-flight breweries than them, and you’ll display this alpha ale-ness by the clothes you wear. A Stone t-shirt? Pshaw. What beer geek worth his salt hasn’t visited Escondido? A Hill Farmstead hoodie? Fuck that, even my mom has one. Go with your Alpine Brewing long-sleeve. Or a zip-up from Tree House. Or some Prairie Artisan Ale socks might complement your Crocs quite nicely. Hell, by the time you read this, all those may even be passé and worthy of beer geek derision. (Photo: eBay)
Don’t wear a pretzel necklace.
This may be hard to believe for people with well-paying jobs and loved ones, but the de rigeur fashion statement at beer festivals often comes in the form of a pretzel necklace. Akin to those candy necklaces that small children and anorexics wear, a pretzel necklace is a dental floss-thin piece of string laced through dozens of Rold Golds and then tied around a beer guzzler’s beefy neck. Sure, it’s meant to provide an easily-accessible way to sop up all that beer, but it provides an even easier way to ID all the bozos. Check the Google Image Search of “beer festival pretzel necklace” to bring up a rogue’s gallery of pics—do you want that to be you? (Photo: © Brewers Association)
Wait in the longest beer lines.
All these other nerds must know something, right? All the shitty breweries have no one in line for them and you can just walk up, sample their lame brown ale, and be on your merry way. That makes sense. So, conversely, this long line snaking through the entire field? Why, it must have some barrel-aged sour one-off at the end of it. Or maybe some super resinous IPA that just came out of the tanks six hours ago. Or…oh shit, it was just the port-a-potty line. (Photo: This Is Why I’m Drunk)
Don’t take free brewery schwag.
You finally get to the front of a long line and get your chance to sample one ounce of a Florida nanobrewery’s latest Berliner weisse. But what’s this—there’s more!? Free shit you can just take! Stickers and patches and even koozies, all with the brewery’s crappy logo on them! The schwag seems awesome in the moment, but the reality is you shouldn’t take any of that junk. Because you’re a 32-year-old and you don’t need any more bottle opener keychains. (Photo: BrewManiacs)
Don’t bring your girlfriend.
Unless she’s really into beer. Not if she tolerates beer. Not even if she “likes” beer. Only bring her along if she loves beer. Because beer festivals are as nerdy as comic-cons and were she to attend on a whim—with no interest in racing around the convention hall following your stupid “batting order”—she would instantly lose respect for your beloved “hobby” and, ultimately, you. And you don’t want that to occur. On a similar note for the single guys, don’t hit on any women at the festival. Beer fests usually have 25-to-1 male/female ratio, and your advances will surely be just as bumbling and annoying as the last dozen dudes. Walk away and let those geeky ladies drink in peace. (Photo: © Brewers Association)
Don’t ask brewery volunteers dumb questions.
Any person who has worked the taps at a beer festival can tell you that volunteers get pelted with a litany of dumb questions. “What the lightest thing ya’ got?” “Ya’ got anything with hops?” Of course, the granddaddy of all dumb questions—the one asked most frequently by those attendees in pretzel necklaces—is simply, “What’s the most alcoholic beer you’re serving?” Don’t be that guy. Instead, do that research beforehand so that you can still beeline for the highest-ABV beers without exposing your douchiness. (Photo: © Brewers Association)
Don’t let brewers see you dumping their lackluster beer.
Any beer fest is going to have its fair share of duds—it can’t all be beers you bragadociously check into on Untappd (“1.5 ounces of 5 star greatness!”). Still, even if some brewery you’ve never heard of made a beer that sucks, remember: They worked hard to make it. So if you can’t do a better job figuring out what beers are gonna suck and you accidentally drink one that does suck…just suck it down. Don’t brashly dump it in the rinse bucket on that very brewer’s table. Brewers have feeling too and, believe me, even a sucky beer will still get you drunk. (Photo: © Brewers Association)
Don’t get talked into going to “after-hours.”
The beer festival is winding down, breweries are packing up their booths, and you’re still sprinting around the field like a mad man trying to shove a few more free pours down your face. It’s 4 in the afternoon and you’ve already drank way more than you planned to. So, while exiting, when some beer geeks invite you to join them at a bar nearby, you’d be wise to say, “I’ll pass.” But you’re anything but wise. So you’ll go along with them. And drink some more beer. Fuck beer. You’ll switch to glasses of expensive bourbon. Uber a black car ride home. Fish a pretzel necklace out of your schwag bag and gnaw on it even though it’s way stale. And, ultimately, pass out on your couch with your complimentary beer festival tasting glass still in your hand. (Photo: Liz Barclay)
Order a $30 diner delivery the next morning.
The next morning, you’ll wake up at 5am after a good ten hours of sleep. You’ll drink every ounce of non-alcoholic fluid in your entire house and wonder why you listened to my advice and didn’t listen to the practical advice on other beer sites (“Stay hydrated!!!”). Now is the time to cut your losses and order the Lumberjack’s Platter with extra sausage from the diner down the street. Rue the day you ever decided to go to a stupid beer festival.
Summer’s halfway over, but there are still many great beer festivals coming up over the following months. Here are some highlights.
5 Beer Festivals You Don’t Want to Miss
Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Across America (various dates and locations)
The most ambitious beer festival of the summer is scheduled to hit seven beer geek meccas over July and August. Two events (Chico and San Diego) have already occurred; five more (Denver, Chicago, Portland, Philadelphia, and Mills River) are still to come. beercamp.sierranevada.com
Great Taste of the Midwest (August 9; Madison, WI)
Middle America’s premiere beer festival is also the second-longest-running beer festival in America. This year’s event will feature over 150 breweries and 1,000 different brews. mhtg.org/great-taste-of-the-midwest/
Stone 18th Anniversary Celebration (August 15-16; Escondido, CA)
Each year one of America’s finest breweries turns its birthday celebration into a chance to pour rare and exotic beers for Southern Cal’s bearded masses. stonebrewing.com/anniv
Snallygaster (September 13; Washington, DC)
Curated by beer geek par excellence Greg Engert (the James Beard-nominated beer director behind Churchkey and Bluejacket), Snallygaster features obscure ales both domestic and international, many available on cask. snallygasterdc.com
Great American Beer Festival (October 2-4; Denver, CO)
The granddaddy of them all has four sessions scheduled over three days, with more than 2,800 beer served. Piece of cake. Go on Thursday or Friday to avoid Saturday night’s grade-A douche element. greatamericanbeerfestival.com
Aaron Goldfarb (@aarongoldfarb) is the author of How to Fail: The Self-Hurt Guide and Drunk Drinking.