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Beer festivals are probably the best way there is to discover new beers and encounter flavours appealing to every palate. I have written this guide to provide handy tips and advice for anyone out there wanting to get the most out of a beer festival. If the beer festival you are going to doesn’t offer or do some of the things I am about to describe, then you are probably not at a good beer festival!
Unless you are going to a beer festival at a Pub, there is usually a fee for entry and a glass. The fee for entry is usually quite reasonable. One option which is frequently offered is the option of paying for a refundable glass. This gives you the option of keeping it as a souvenir or handing it back in at the end and getting your money back. Wherever this option is offered, I would always strongly advise taking it or you will find yourself typically drinking out of a plastic cup.
Programmes are usually offered either with the entry or separately. A good programme can be very useful as it should provide a beer list and tasting notes. Furthermore, some bigger festivals will dedicate a page to explaining beer styles which is incredibly useful to the novice.
Some festivals use tokens. For example, when entering the venue you buy £10 worth of tokens to spend on beer. You can always buy more inside. Many festivals do this to speed up service at the bar. The other good thing about tokens is that they are usually refundable.
Choosing your beer
The most important part. A lot of festivals nowadays provide a beer list online before attending. This can be incredibly useful as prior to attending, you can compose a list of beers you might want to try. If you cannot do this then the programme on the day serves the same purpose. If there is no programme, the best thing you can do is ask someone behind the bar!
Going to the bar – How NOT to do it!
So many people do this part wrong. On numerous occasions I have seen people walk to the bar having read the programme and asked the volunteer behind the bar for the beer they like the sound of. Now if you are at a small festival say in a pub with just one bar this is no problem. But if you are at a festival which has multiple bars and over 100 available beers this becomes a massive problem. Why?
Going to the bar – How to do it!
If it is a big long bar I usually divide it into quarters. I then look behind the volunteers serving towards the casks which are almost always labelled. In my first quarter lets say, I find the beer(s) I liked the sound of in either the programme or online and order it. This way, I get served quickly without causing the volunteer any hassle. If I am going to a massive festival with many bars, I might survey that one bar and pick out a few beers I like the sound of. So my message is this really: You find the beer on the casks you like the sound of and then get the volunteer to serve it to you!
What to ask for
I will never understand why people go to beer festivals and order pints. To my mind, there is so much beer to try that you want to have a smaller measure to appreciate a wider range of beer. Bigger festivals usually offer 1/3 of a pint servings. These are also usually proportionally priced. This is fantastic for trying a wide array of beer. Don’t forget that you can usually sample before you buy (but don’t take the piss!)
Food at beer festivals varies greatly. Big festivals can often offer exotic/artisan fayre whilst smaller festivals might offer more basic food traditionally associated with the pub. Either way, EAT! This is important.
I have got into the habit of always taking a large bottle of water to a festival if I know I am going for the day. Additionally, I might pack some crisps or pork scratchings as an extra snack. Most festivals do not mind you doing these things.
Where to find out about beer festivals
CAMRA remain the best source of information here as they advertise big national festivals on their website and their regional/district websites usually advertise more local ones. http://www.beer-festival-calendar.co.uk/ can also be useful as can your local press and social media.
Now go forth and enjoy good beer!