Assuming all goes to plan, you will get to and into the beer festival with little problem. The fist thing you are going to need when you get there is a glass. It is quite common that your ticket will entitle you to a glass on entry – if so then make sure you pick your glass up at the door. If not then you may need to buy your glass, the cost of the glass is sometimes refundable if you want to hand yours back in at the end of the day, however as each glass is usually printed with the festival logo and year they make ideal momentos of the festival and lets face it what beer drinker couldn’t use another glass.
Depending on the festival a range of glasses may be available, my primary advice is to go with one that you will want to keep at the end of the day, if you are at a larger festival which is serving continental style beers then it may be worth considering a tulip glass – but the choice is yours.
Tip: Another thing worth noting when selecting your glass – you are most likely going to be drinking thirds or halves at a festival, those serving will often fill just past the line – so if you buy a pint glass you will most likely get a few “large thirds”, as you will spend a day drinking these could soon add up!
Glass in hand the next thing you should consider is a program or tasting notes, again, these are often given to you on your arrival, some larger festivals charge for them others will give them to you with your glass on entry. Whether you intend to tick off the beers you have tried or not, the tasting notes are still useful as they will give you information on the beers available. I have been to a festival where the notes are detailed appraisals of the beers colour, smell and taste and others where the notes focused more on the brewery from where the beer came or even just the name. In future articles I will cover tasting notes in more detail, but for now it is sufficient to round up but saying that these are varied.Next important thing to note is how the festival is dealing with paying for the beer, some festivals you will buy your beer using coins, be friendly and try to pay using the correct change – it will make the bar staff’s day much easier and as they are serving you beer that should be a reason to keep them happy. Other festivals will use beer tokens, bought at the festival and are exchanged at the bar for beer, these can be in tear off form or if on a card may be crossed off by the bar staff. It is sometimes the case that you will get some free beer tokens included included in your ticket price, if so then do not forget to collect them. A final note on beer tokens, how a festival handles un-used tokens varies between festivals, many offer the option to hand them in and the proceeds will go to a local charity – I would encourage people to do this, a few tokens from each attendee could go a long way to a local charity.
Note: If you are a member of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) then you will often get some festival perks, it may be money off of your ticket, a free glass, free program or additional beer tokens. If you are going to attend more than one or two festivals in a year then you will rack up a reasonable amount of freebies with your membership. Just another good reason to become a member!
Glass, program and beer tokens ready it is time to grab a table. Beer festivals do not tend to have enough tables, if you are in early enough then you and your beer drinking buddies can grab a table – if not then the floor will do fine, but tables are usually preferable to people. Now it is time to think about the beer!
First you must select one, I personally check the beer list if possible beforehand and have a short list of the first few beers that I would like to try. Failing that I go to the nearest bar and grab a third of something I know I haven’t tried.
If you are tasting then I would always recommend half or thirds of pints, this means you can get through many more different beers at one festival and also if you get a beer you do not like then you don’t have to drink quite so much. The price of the beer can be displayed in a number of places on pumps, on the kegs/casks or in the program/beer list. Buy your beer and return to seat (or floor). If in doubt of what beer to try, you can always ask a member of bar staff – they will often know about the beer and if the festival has run for a few days already they may have some good tips or have tried the beer themselves.
Off beer: Despite every festival’s best efforts some beer will either not turn up or turn up bad, revisions to the beers available will usually be posted on the bar. If a beer is off or not quite ready then a note will be put on the beer or bar. If attending multiple days of a festival then beers may come on and off, check back later in the day to see if a beer which was not ready has settled.
With my first beer I tend to go through the beer list and see what is available, I tick off any I have had before and star some which I like the sound of – but everyone is different in this respect. Some keep a list, some score beers and others simply enjoy the beer as it comes. After a few festivals you will likely learn what you enjoy most, don’t let others tell you how to enjoy your festival!
I am lucky and when I attend festivals I go with a large extended group of friends – I cannot recommend this enough, you can meet people you would not normally meet and enjoy a chat over the mutual enjoyment of beer. I work on the principle that anyone at a beer festival must like beer, and as I like beer that is at least something we can talk about. If you are with a group then it is quite normal to pass the beer around, this means that everyone gets to try more different beers at the festival and shares the pain of a bad beer. If you are with friends it can help if you pool tokens but make sure that nobody feels hard done by if they are drinking slower than everyone else, it can help as if you are trying to try the maximum number of beers then you can help each other out by all trying different things – it will also mean that if you are not keen on a particular style then you may be able to get someone who does to buy them and still get to try them.
However, beer and company is not the only thing which you can hope to enjoy at the festival, breweriana, entertainment (although sometimes the word is used very loosely) and most importantly food stalls. During the day it is advisable to make sure that you eat, otherwise the inevitable effects of drinking on an empty stomach will catch up with you – luckily beer festivals come with a great selection of food. Pies are the staple but I have seen everything from ostrich burgers to Thai curry, biltong to footlong bratwurst – you will likely be spoilt for choice.
If all goes to plan then you should have a very enjoyable festival and by the time last orders is called (last orders can be called in many different ways – announcement, siren, air horn) you will have tried many new beers and discussed for hours the merits of beers – amongst other things, hopefully made new friends or met old ones and generally had a great day out. The only remaining challenge is the journey home – which I will leave up to you.