Heading to a beer festival this summer? We’ve done some research. Yep, it’s a tough job, but someone had to do it right? Now we’ve got some tips for you so you can get the most out of your festival experience.
1. Buy your tickets in advance
Often tickets are cheaper if you purchase them well ahead of time. Look out for early bird discounts, or other promotional offers. Human nature being what it is most of us will wait, and wait, procrastinating. We wonder “what will the weather be like?”, “maybe I’ll have to work that day”. All legitimate considerations of course, but if you can make the commitment you’ll save a few bucks. Bucks that you can put towards beers on the day!
2. Consider pre-loading…
…your tickets that is, not you! If the event uses a cashless, wristband-type system consider investing in advance in a ticket that includes some purchasing power. Sometimes this will give you preferential access through the ‘special ticket holders’ entry line. But even if not, having some funds already loaded allows you to get sampling while others are still waiting in the ‘bank’ queue. If the festival runs on cash, avoid the inevitable post-entry rush at the money machine by filling your wallet with a few dollars before you get there.
3. Eat before you arrive
Yep, sure this sounds like the kind of sensible advice your mother would give you. Of course there will be food at the festival. Yummy food. Lots of food. Of course you’ll want to experiment with some beer and food matching. That might even be the entire focus of the event. But if you arrive with a full (or at least not empty) belly then you can head straight to your favourite brews.
4. Have a plan…
Most festivals produce an advance vendors’ list, beers list, and/or site map so you can do some pre-planning. You won’t be able to try every beer at the festival even if they all sound amazing. (Sorry to be the one to break the news!) Larger festivals can have literally hundreds of beers. You may not even be able to sample one beer from every brewery. So think about having a game plan...
5. Consider having a theme
Overwhelmed by what’s on offer? You could try narrowing things down a bit. Some fun ideas to get you started:
Who’s new? Focus on breweries that you haven’t heard of before. Often new breweries choose to launch at a local festival. Give the new-kid-on-the-block your support, and be one of the first to try their beers. When they are super successful sometime soon down the track you’ll have bragging rights that you were in the know from the very beginning.
Who’s not from around here? Check out to see if there are any out-of-town, or even international breweries featured. Normally event organisers make a big deal of this so it shouldn’t be too hard to find out. Try some beers you usually can’t get your hands on easily.
Compare and contrast. Choose a particular style. It could be your favourite beer (hoppy double IPAs anyone?), or one you haven’t tried before (what’s a Vienna Lager all about?). Then try a few from a number of breweries. Maybe you’ll find a new favourite.
What’s new? Often breweries will make beers especially for an event. These might be limited edition, festival-only brews, or a new beer that is having its debut. Check these out. Whatever you do don’t spend lots of time drinking beers you’ve already tried before, or that are readily available just down the road at your pub or supermarket.
6. Start with a light beer
As a general rule start with lighter brews, then head towards the more flavour-forward samplings as the day goes on. If you jump straight in with that double chocolate milkshake stout it will make it harder for your palette to appreciate the finer notes of a delicately balanced Pilsner.
7. Talk to the pourer
At beer festivals the staff at the tap are usually really knowledgeable about the beer they are pouring. In fact, they might even be the brewer! Stuck on which beer to try next? Ask them for suggestions. Expect questions such as “are you a craft beer super-fan, or is this your first experience?”, “what beers have you already tried and liked (or not)?” as they help you with your choice.
8. Record what you tried
You can use an app such as Untappd for this. Set up an account before you go. Some bigger events may even have their own apps so you can share and compare in real time with other festival goers. Or go old-school and write down all the beers you’ve tasted in a notebook. I know you are laughing a little right now, but this is a true thing - I’ve seen it myself. Or even just scribble on your festival programme so you’ve got a record of what you tried, and what you liked.
9. Be prepared for all types of weather
You know that they say about New Zealand guys – four seasons in one day. For sun protection take a hat and remember to “slip, slop, slap and wrap”. Check out the weather forecast before you leave home and grab something warm if it looks dodgy. Bring a raincoat even. Events may be postponed if there is torrential rain but will generally go ahead if it is just a bit wet.
While we are on the subject of suitable clothing I strongly suggest wearing comfortable shoes. You’ll be on your feet for a few hours and the ground could be uneven. Leave your high heels at home people! This is a day for your runners or Allstars (my personal recommendation).
10. Take a small bag or big pockets
Something to carry your usual essentials plus a festival guide – don’t forget a pen! Make sure your bag/pocket is big enough to collect give-aways from breweries or other sponsors. It could even act as somewhere to stash your empty glass when you are eating, or otherwise taking a break from beer-ing.
Some festivals might even sell you a lanyard type contraption for holding your glass so you can go hands-free. Make sure you get the balance just right – the band goes around the top of the glass, not part way down, and especially not at the bottom. Basic physics will come into play and you risk tipping out your whole glass on the ground, or even worse, on yourself. Trust me, I learnt this the hard way!
11. Pace yourself
Non-alcoholic options and free water should be available. Drink them! Following each glass of beer with a glass of water will help keep you hydrated (especially important if it is very hot), reduce the risk of over-indulging, and might even help you avoid a post-festival headache.
12. Get home safely
Lastly, but very importantly, plan how you’ll get home after the festival. Take the bus, ride the train, taxi, Uber, or agree on a designated driver for your group. Check out if your festival offers special tickets, free non-alcoholic drinks, or other perks for sober drivers.