Tips for tastings

How to survive a beer festival
By JOSH SMITH  |  August 11, 2010


There's a special place where you can sample dozens of different beers with fellow enthusiasts in a single session. Thanks to the growing popularity of craft brews, beer festivals are now a common occurrence from coast to coast.

With festivals in Providence, Portland, Maine, and Portland, Oregon under my belt, I consider myself an intermediate festival attendee. Each of these festivals has been a wonderful opportunity to discover both new brewers and new beers.

Beer festivals are not, however, intended as an occasion to get hammered. Of course, some will and, more importantly, this will happen to you too if you aren't careful. So as not to lose the chance to appreciate these special events, here are several simple tips to surviving a beer festival.

BEFOREHAND, PREPARE BY READING UP ON THE FESTIVAL AND COME IN WITH A GAME PLAN. Understand the rules of the show. Is there a limit to how many samples you can have? How big are the samples? Depending on the size of the festival, it probably won't be possible to try every beer in attendance. Figure out which beers you would be sad to miss out on and prioritize accordingly.

You will also need to figure out a logical order in which to drink these sought-after beers. In much the same way that you would approach a sampler tray, try to start with some of the lighter, low-alcohol beers early on and save the monster beers for later. A little forethought will go a long way toward preserving your palate for the end of the session.

It's worth noting that I always buy tickets in advance for whichever session I think will be less crowded, typically the afternoon. Second sessions tend to draw a more raucous crowd and the lines only grow longer as the event goes on. These events become significantly less fun once you have to fight through a mob to get to your next sample.

EAT AND HYDRATE, EARLY AND OFTEN. Drinking plenty of water and having a sizeable, carb-heavy meal a few hours beforehand is the single most important thing you can do to prepare for the day. I recommend pancakes or French toast. You should also snack on the food available during the festival, but making yourself a pretzel necklace ahead of time is one better. Requiring only some string and a bag of pretzels, these necklaces are a great reminder to keep eating and a whole lot of fun!

And when the show is done you really should switch over to water and eat a solid meal. No matter how full you may feel from drinking all of these different styles, you'll be glad you did.

BRING A NOTEPAD TO SCORE EACH BEER YOU TRY. This is not the time for full, official ratings since your senses will inevitably be somewhat dulled by the final hour. I will focus on the unique characteristic that defines each beer and award an overall score. The next day you'll be pleased to have a ready list of new beers to work into the rotation.

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