Top 5 Rules for Attending the Holiday Ale Festival (or Any Other Festival)


2013 Holiday Ale Festival

I did it! I survived a full week at The Portland Holiday Ale Festival! I managed to attend each day as well as the Brunch (which I highly recommend). There were a great deal of amazing and interesting beers to try and I tasted a good many of them. I met a lot of interesting people throughout the week. It was entertaining to note the reaction of other attendees when I told them I had been there each day of the festival. Some seemed envious; others seemed to wonder how it was possible. A few looked at me in such a way that made me believe they were genuinely concerned about me. Well not to worry. My liver is still intact (I think).

I have gone to this and other beer festivals before but never have I gone for so many days in a row. It’s not impossible, but in addition to pacing yourself and drinking water, there are rules to follow if ever you want to attend an entire beer festival like the Portland Holiday Ale Festival. These rules are for those beer lovers who want to go several days in succession and remember all the beers your try. I’ll outline these rules in ascending order of importance. The rules are simple and as follows:

Rule #5 Get the small pour

Most festivals will give the opportunity to buy either a small taste or a full glass. I recommend the smaller taste. If variety is the spice of life then I want to try as wide an assortment of beers as possible and truly spice up my time spent at the festival. If you happen to attend on a particularly busy night when the lines are long, then maybe get a full glass. Just be sure to have friends close by so you can try their beers. I like to taste as many different beers as possible. Getting a full pour minimizes the opportunity to try the wide assortment of beer available. After all, isn’t the point of a beer festival to try different beer?

 Rule #4 Go early

Many beer festivals are only on the weekend, some are just 1 day. In either case, get there early. If you go when the event opens, you will not miss out on the best beers. Often the best beers run out quickly so be sure not to miss out. If the festival spans several days, go on opening day, especially if it’s during the week. I went to the Holiday Ale Festival on opening day right when they began pouring. Not only did I have the pick of every beer with no lines, but I also got to hang out with several different people in the industry. If you want more of a backstage sort of experience, make sure to go early.

 Rule #3 Take Notes

Taking notes is extremely important at a beer festival. It does several things for you. It helps you to get an idea of why you like what you like. If you can describe the traits of the beers you enjoy, you gain a sense of what flavors you like. In beer, (just like any food or beverage), there is a lot of overlap in the various styles. If you know what flavors you appreciate, you can more easily identify other beers you may like but have not tried. It helps to manage indecision encountered at the store or bottle shop when looking to try something new. Taking notes also helps you remember what you liked and why. When there are 40 plus beers to try, by day 2 or 3 the names begin to sound the same and it can be difficult to remember what you tried, let alone whether or not you liked the beer. Take notes to keep track of what you had and what it tasted like. Did you love it? Was it just ok? Or did you have to dump it? Was it fruity or bready? Tart or smooth? All the information you can record will help you discover new breweries or gain a deeper appreciation of your favorite brewers’ artistry.

 Rule #2 Participate

At most beer festivals, there are additional events you can attend. Things like brewer’s dinners, special bottle openings, presentations etc. are often available. These events offer the opportunity to meet the people behind your favorite beverages as well as your peers. You know; the extra nerdy, geeky beer fans like you. At this year’s Portland Holiday Ale Festival, I had the pleasure of attending the Sunday Brunch. There was an array of beers there, none of which were available at the main festival. In fact the best beers I tried all week were there at the brunch. When you see extra events offered at your favorite beer fest, it would behoove you to attend. Yes it may cost you some additional money, but if you are indeed a beer enthusiast, you won’t be disappointed.

And finally,

Rule # 1: Go with friends.

When you go with a group, there is an economy of scale working for you. It becomes much easier to try more beer. When everyone gets different beers, you can try each other’s samples. Each person gets multiple different tastes for the cost their individual sample. In addition, going with a group reduces your time in line. The amount of time it would take to try the same number of beers you can try with a group is significantly reduced.  Going with a group is an advantage to be sure but the main reason to go with a group is it’s just more fun. As the old adage says, “The more the merrier.”  When you go with a group, there is of course comfort found in good company, but additionally, the varying viewpoints  found when discussing the beers can lead to better understanding and perspective. A fun and educational beer experience? Sign me up!

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