How to Survive a Beer Festival
"That double Bastard is some beer" - the last words an old friend muttered to me at a beer festival earlier this year. What I discovered over the coming days would inspire me to write this blog about beer festivals.
Craft beer festivals can be hit or miss. It can be a claustrophobic chamber of plastic glasses full of beers you've seen in your local tescos or they can become more than a venue: they become an intruding synthesis of beautiful ideas and attitudes from near and far. I'll talk more about that in my reflections from Toer De Geuze in Belgium and the whopper white hag festival in the West this summer.
Start with a double IPA. Get it in the hand and get your bearings. What?? That might seem mad. Go in on the big beer as first beer? Kill your tastebuds, what's going to taste better than that after? It's a beer festival. A number of attitudes to drinking beer can be challenged. Cause you're drinking a pile of different beers you need to move things around aggressively in order to experience each area well. If you taste a DIPA later on, you're going to love it cause it's full of flavour. But in your mind you're less able to compare it to other DIPA. It's just like getting a 24oz steak in an average restaurant. You're just splurging.
"Did I leave the convention centre with you last night?"
This was the text message I got the next afternoon from my friend.
"No, you headed off for a sandwich and then to meet your missus."
So with the DIPA in your hand you can now survey the place. What breweries are where, start making a mental plan. Mapping out the must try beers you want in the day. Common mistake is to hit a brewery early on and try all their beers. Yep: good to compare but if you've got over 20 breweries in the place you might want to get to more than 3 places. Who's go specials for the day itself: try and gauge if they're just dumping a beer under a modified label or if they really want to show off something different, something new that they're about to launch. That gives you that beer snobbery: when someone says "look i got the brand new two hundred fathoms!" Yeah, literally tasted it from the brewer's nipples last week at the gnarly underground beer festival...
Then I like to work in strings of three. Do I want three IPAs, Three ambers, three from one brewery (maybe if I've never heard of them before and am impressed with what I've heard). Then break up with something - and my recommendation is sour beer. You get a sour beer in here; it's not going to be 8%abv and with plenty of sour you're just sipping away. This could be a good time to go to an ATM for cash, have a walk, sit down and have a chat with a mate or play some fusball with some edibles you've noticed along your way. If you don't like sours; all the more reason. You need to train your palate and get closer to that break the ceiling sour beer (when you do, please let me know what was it that did it for you. Siren Calypso for one and a Spontan basil for another).
Don't drink a beer if you don't like it, pass it on to someone else if it's just the style you don't like. If you want to have fun with blending read here. And don't be afraid to leave a beer un-drunk, even if it's an award moment in front of the man who brewed it. If you've had 5 stouts and someone lands you up an overly sweet or overly smokey stout for your tastebuds; leave it down. Life is too short. Be honest but be mannerly. If a brewer is insulted then it's probably cause he's not confident in what he did and would rather deny that rather than embrace learning.
If you don't heed this advice, it might be you waking up to 40 missed calls, a hangover and a long week of untangling what the hell happened and why you're better half had to sleep in a hotel down the road when you were passed out in bed after you didn't leave out the key like you were told to when on the phone to her when you were on the bus home alone, the bus that you got on without thinking after walking out of the chipper which you went into on the way to meeting your missus in the bar down the road from the beer festival that she left hours beforehand to get some peace and quiet from the noise of the drunken lads shite on about how they managed to get an extra ten mils of beer in their glass form the guy at the Stone brewing stand. And a dude in the corner mumbles: "you mix a hell of a Caucasian, Jackie."
* Note to the objectors: if you're at a plastic glass festival, sort it out. I'm not being unpatriotic or anything. But plastic glasses really are just pants. If @ABVfest could do it in a former house of God, then so can everyone else.
** If you'd like to get some sours going, maybe they haven't worked for you or they have and you want to extend that journey. Let me know. (firstname.lastname@example.org or all the social outlets). What one's have you tried, from there we can have a little back and forth and I'll give you three to get you closer. Trust me, it's worth the pilgrimage. You will awaken, you will taste, you will be in adoration with the fact that flavour can have such a hold on your emotions.