Beer Tasting: Your first beer festival pt.1 – Preparation

beer festival ticketsA beer festival is the ideal oportunity to try a whole range of beers which might not otherwise be available or which you might not normally consider. In this article I will give you some tips on selecting a beer festival and preparing so that you get the maximum from your big day out.

For those that have not attended a beer festival before then it may seen daunting initially, the prospect of a whole day’s drinking and the sheer number of beers might put some people off, it really shouldn’t. In your quest to find your next “best beer” the beer festival offers you a unique oportunity to not only have access to a wide range of beers but also a wide range of people and opinions.

The first step in attending a beer festival is selecting one, it might surprise those that do not attend beer festivals that they occur throughout the year and on most weekends and that there will most likely be one within a sensible travelling distance. Getting to festivals is quite straightforwards, with organises placing them within easy reach of public transport, for good reason.
The beer festivals page of CAMRA’s website is a good place to start, or the events pages in What’s Brewing. Another source is which has a good events page with many local beer festivals.

For more local and smaller “in pub” beer festivals then the local paper, local CAMRA news letter or publication or just asking in the local pubs is a good way to find out about a festival. If a pub is organising a beer festival then they rarely keep it quiet!

Some festivals sell out in advance, for example the Bristol Beer Festival sells it’s tickets on two days in February and if you do not attend then you may find it quite difficult to get a ticket after that day. Many beer festivals will sell tickets from pubs local to the festival or from specified venues. Others sell their tickets online or by post making it usually quite simple to get tickets.

Remember your friends, a beer festival is a social outing, going with a group of tasting buddies will make they day a memorable outing and will give you someone to bounce discussion off. So this is worth bearing in mind when selecting a day and location, I am lucky and have beer tasting friends in various places in the county, beer festivals are an ideal oportunity to see some of those who I see less often – and we get to share an ale or few.

Tip: Beer festivals will often run for multiple days, the larger festivals starting midweek. If you want the full range of beer and the beer to be in the best condition then the earlier sessions are usually better. Evenings are normally busier than afternoon sessions and turning up later in the day you will be less likely to get a place to sit. I prefer to take a day off on the Thursday or Friday for a festival and take a leisurely pace through the afternoon – but it is all personal taste.

Once you have sorted your tickets then the next important thing to plan is your transport, or if you intend to stay overnight, your accomodation. As mentioned earlier, festivals are usually placed within a short walk of the train station or on a regular bus route, however it is a good idea to check the last train times. If the beer festival runs to last orders at 11 or you intend to go out to the local pubs afterwards then be sure to know how late you can leave it without getting stuck.
It is also a good idea to have a map, printing a google map showing the route from the station to the festival will help reduce the chances of you being left scratching your head when you arrive in a potentially unfamiliar town.

Leading up to the event, you may get access to the tasting notes prior to the festival. If this is the case then you may want to print them out and mark off some particularly good ales or ones which sound like those you like to taste. Some of the larger festivals have interactive beer lists on their websites where you can put together your preffered list and print it off to bring with you. The tasting notes or list are usually available at the event, so you don’t have to look at the list before you go, but the option may be there if you would prefer to know in advance – some may deliberatly not look not want to spoil the surprise.

Closer to the day you can take a few steps to make sure that your beer festival (and the day after) goes well. Even with responsible drinking in mind, you are likely to spend a long day tasting ales and this will take it’s toll, my advice would be to stay off the beer for a few days ahead of the festival. I have seen people turn up at a festival hungover before, it seemed a waste – they had spent the evening before drinking the same old beer in their local and then could not sample all the interesting stuff during the festival.
I also advocate drinking plenty of water in the day before the festival, it is of course important to keep hydrated at all times but particular attention the day before a festival will stand you in good stead. Also a good nights sleep and breakfast on the day will put set you up for a happy days beer tasting.

Note: It really must be stressed that no matter how much preparation you do – if you overdo it at the festival then the inevitable effects will occur, always drink responsibly and know when to stop – but being tired, partially hydrated and with an empty stomach is guaranteed to spoil your day

On the day, remember to pack your tickets (festival and travel), some bottled water and take enough money for the day. I also pack a clipboard for if I cannot get a table and I want to make notes on a beer, and I take a camera – not only for the beer but because it is nice to record seeing friends at a festival. If the festival is outside – prepare for the weather, take a hat if it is hot (suncream if it is one of those rare sunny summer days) and a coat if it may be cold or wet. There is little worse than being too hot/cold/wet/burnt to enjoy your festival.

So that is preparation, next article I will continue on beer festivals and give you some tips and guidance on how to make sure the day itself is everything that it can be.

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