Read Please

When people say that they hope a movement doesn’t stop some secretly just hope it will fade out so that they don’t have to do the extra work.

Well, I ain’t gonna help you with that last part.

Go HERE and please read the first of what will be more than one post about how to make festivals better. How you do that requires looking at some crappy behavior towards women.

Here is one question for men to ponder: Have you ever chosen clothes for a festival based on not being sexy? Because of the ramifications?

Festivals are Back

Even the most casual of beer fans has probably noticed that a few beer festivals have started to make their way onto calendars.

That means that I will start posting about the events that look to be worthy of the entrance fee.

It does not mean that I know of their Covid precautions however. If I find any FAQs, I will point then out. I will endeavor to add more information than normal as we transition back to enjoying beer from a taster glass in a park.

Having just recently achieved fully vaccinated status, I am just now dipping my toe into travel plans and if there is a movie I want to see after a year plus hiatus from being inside an auditorium. Which means, I am still hesitant about bring around a beer-load of people, even if outside.

Take care out there.

The Firkin for June 2016

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There are different animal analogies one can use when you see the general admission crowd massing at the gates as the clock counts down to noon of the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival. Pack of hounds being released or Rodeo bulls ready to buck.

To be fair, if I had been waiting in line since 10am, I might have some pent up energy too. But it is hard to see the wisdom of crowds in action when with so many great beers that a Mongol horde will descend upon Three Floyds tent for Dark Lord when the temperature is pushing triple digits. Eventually a line diaspora commences but as the day wears on it becomes clear who the pretty, young breweries are.

The golden nugget that I learned was that a new brewery should put “project” in the name. By far the biggest lines were for the Kiwi based Garage Project and Midwestern Side Project. But getting back in line, I would love to conduct a series of sociological experiments on craft beer drinkers. Nothing invasive, don’t worry. Just a which keg kicks first type of deal.

In the first test, I would set-up three booths. In the middle would be the hip brewery du jour. on either side would be older, venerated breweries like Sierra Nevada pouring beers that are more rare and/or more highly rated. The ratings would be brightly posted on the booths to see if that made people change lines. This would tell me if the ratings were the driver for people to form the desire to must-have the beer.

Test two, the same cool brewery pouring their least rare beers (their blondes and Kolsches) while on either side local breweries pouring their most well regarded beers. Would the rarity force people out of line or would it cause them to get angry. This would let me know if the people were brewery fans or just particular beer fans.

Test three would involve planting a long, slow moving line next to one that moved faster and where people were loudly exclaiming about how great the beer in their line was. Again, wanting to see what it would take to break the connection.

The final test would be to place the desired brewery booth way out of the way and maybe even have it in the wrong place on maps. Would distance force these lines down? How far would people walk when other beers were on the way?

Granted, this would be hard to do. Especially in the age of Yelp when people love to complain but maybe interviewing people while they wait in line with a quick three questions would yield some insight.

The Session # 96 – Beer Festivals

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Here is the writing prompt for beer bloggers for February, courtesy of Birraire.

So, here we are. It was 4 months ago that I wrote Jay and Stan suggesting a topic for a future call. I was reflecting on the role played by Beer Festivals (or “Beer Fairs”, as we locally call the ones with the brewers serving their own beer) here in Barcelona and thought it would be interesting to know other people’s point of view on the matter. Time’s flown since then, and now I find myself happily hosting my first Session. But let’s get to it.

The discussion at hand is “Festivals: Geek Gathering or Beer Dissemination?”. I guess it is pretty much clear, but apart from exposing whether the answer is A, B or C (the latter being “it depends”) I expect participants to give us some insight into their local beer panorama to better understand the importance or irrelevance of Festivals in each area. My guess is that it can be quite different depending on the popularity of beer in different countries and cultures.

Southern California is either blessed or too blessed with sunny days that are ideal for gathering outside and drinking beer. But most events are pretty cookie-cutter. Twenty to thirty breweries pouring and passing out swag from beneath logo’d pop tents.

What elevates a beer festival from the mere cup to tap and back exchange into an actual communal experience starts with the curation by the festival organizers. When thought is put into it from the start, you will draw more curious and passionate fans.

Not to denigrate the other festivals because I firmly believe that they occupy a space on the craft beer food chain that is critical to gaining new fans and creating actual converts but when I think of festivals, the following three are the ones that leap to mind and bring a smile to my face.

The ne plus ultra of festivals out west is the Firestone Walker Invitational. Even when the weather tops triple digits, it is still a dazzling place to be. Yes, there are beer snob lines. But those lines are for once a year in California beers. The concept of the festival is simple Firestone Walker invites the breweries they want there, and then they ask them to bring at least one flagship type beer and one specialty (of course, more than two beers usually show up).

There are multiple other reasons why this is a must go (at least once) event. Food. There is lots of it and it ain’t from Food Trucks and it is really good. I stood next to Moonlight Brewing gobbling beer accented cupcakes and drinking Death and Taxes. Could have done that all day.

The grounds are spacious and they don’t oversell it. Imagine that! They could probably sell more, but they don’t.

Closer to my home. The Los Angeles Beer Week Festival is another that is more a gathering or experience. L.A. Brewers Guild members are the focus with a few others on the side. It is a chance to see everyone together. That makes it the ultimate gas and traffic saver!

And it is not only the brewers that are communal. Bloggers, home brewers and social media types abound and if you are a L.A. beer fan, you will probably run into folks you have seen around town.

Eagle Rock Brewery and their Session Fest is the last festival that is part my of beer trinity. Surprise, it is another limited affair. Usually 10+ taps of wide ranging beers with low alcohol content. IPA’s, Gose, smoke beers and the like presented with drinkability in mind. It is one of the few festivals where you can try all the beers if you wanted and not feel like a drunken fool.

There are other great ones out there. Firkfest in Anaheim has one year under the belt and was really strong with a great location and imaginative beers. Sierra Nevada and their hop festival is on my list to try, one day as are events held during San Diego and San Francisco Beer Weeks.

In the end, whether it is a gathering or simply dissemination, as long as craft beer is the focus, you can’t go too wrong.

Peel the Label – Festival Selections

Festival season is upon us. Here in Los Angeles, it stretches from April through October.

Which means that there are one or more craft beer festivals per weekend. And quite frankly, most are very cookie-cutter. Very few are outright bad. But some just sit there wearing a “m’eh” t-shirt. And it is because the choice of breweries and beers is mediocre either because it isn’t the focus or because of limited supply.  But both problems can be surmounted.

It is not easy to put on a festival.  Sourcing the beer almost becomes part of a list of to-do’s.  Another item to check off the list.  When it should be the main driver behind why a festival is being done in the first place.  Not because you need to drum up business for your beer emporium or draw attention to your town as a tourist destination for beer geeks.  Those benefits arrive stronger and in a more lasting way when people are excited about what beer they will be able to drink or breweries that they will see.

Setting aside those marketing driven events, as craft beer festivals proliferate, the great beer and great ideas get spread thin. The same breweries and same beer are on tap on the Eastside and the West. Like a mirror reflection. Or you run across beer choices more in line with inventory reduction.  I have seen a brewery rep pouring bottles of last years fall and winter ale seasonals. In April. Even though said brewery has multiple fresher beers.  And no, it was not an aged beer festival.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. A festival may be new, middle aged or classic and also be exciting. What it requires is that the limitations on beer be creatively surmounted.

That starts with the beer selections. A new festival may have less access to “wow” beers but can be a “wow festival”.  For those new to the scene or with limited options I can, right off the top of my head, see where a festival salutes the best selling / flagship beers of their local breweries. 24th Street from Strand Brewing next to Solidarity from a Eagle Rock Brewery. And have information explaining the back story of those beers. Or you could add a slide show of the brewery.

You could go style specific and feature Belgian and Belgian style beers, or lagers and pilsners. Take the list of possible beers and find a theme.  Portland has a Fruit Beer Festival that takes advantage of their access to fruit in the region.  The same could be done here.  Or do a single hop festival.  Sierra Nevada has added something similar to great success.  And it ties back into their hop growing program.  True synergy not the made up kind.

If you have been around the beer scene in your community and made some friends, then you can and should kick it up a notch. What style of beer is under represented? Maybe do a blind tasting or a competition type of event. L.A. IPA’s versus their San Diego counterparts. Then crown a people’s champion and a brewery rep champion.  I could literally spout off ten or more ideas as a jumping off point for people.

And the creativity doesn’t need to stop at the craft beer border. Instead of loud DJ music, how about local unsigned bands? Books and beer? Ice cream and beer or grilled cheese and beer? The options are endless. Make a selection. Don’t just paint by the numbers.

But I will probably read about festivals with the usual suspects. And no water stations.  And, I say read, because you will probably not find me at as many this year.

Peel the label is an occasional post behind the beer scenes with no links or photos. Just opinion.

The Firkin for January 2013

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We start off 2013 with a thorny question. The Beer Festival idiots. I was spurred to write about this after reading a blog post on the Heretic Brewing website, which you can read HERE

The above post can’t really be argued with. There are many festivals (including the grand-daddy of them, GABF) that have a major component of people who just want to get hammered. Blotto. Whatever you want to call it. There is one beer fest in the L.A. area that I will not attend again because that percentage is so high and the beer knowledge so low that I fear that people will start keeling over from alcohol poisoning.

Now, I do not know if that is OK from the standpoint of the event organizer or not. But I do know that it is an atmosphere not conducive to learning about beer and it sure as hell doesn’t make it any fun at all for the brewer or brewery staff who man the booth and have to put up with it.

The only way to stop that behavior is to charge more for tickets ($45 at least, $90 for GABF) and to have a cap of 10 beer tickets max. I know that this means that I will pay more and get less but I will gain a lot of elbow room and I will feel safer getting home because the drunkards will be elsewhere. And hopefully, if the cost is higher then some of that extra money can go to reimburse the brewers (who usually don’t get paid) or send more to the charity that usually is part and parcel to a festival. Throw in a couple rare beers or a food ticket and if the breweries are good then the people (who love “tasting” beer) will flood through the doors.

And I think that there will be side benefits as well. Brewers will probably start to return to their place inside the booth and the grumpy beer snob folk who only want their beer served by the person who brewed it and absolutely no one else will be sated. Two sets of people happier right there! Smaller crowds mean less parking and security and bathroom needs as well. It means the lines will be smaller and the decibel volume will be less so you can talk without screaming.

It’s paradoxical but I would go to many more events if I knew that I didn’t have to put up with the louts and asshats who should stay home drinking bathtub gin instead of being out in public.

How much is too much?

As I was surveying the posts on the Beer Advocate website, I came across a link to an event here in Southern California for a night of 100 beers. My first thought was, Dear God! They are going to need taxis and or ambulances for everyone attending (even with 2oz pours). But then I realized that not even the Homer Simpson could drink that much of Duff Light so I re-checked the advertisement and was shocked and or frightened to not see anything about skipping past beers at all.
There is no way I could appreciate the nuances of a beer after 15 samples. After 30, if I wasn’t on the floor sick, I would have a hard time knowing what style it was. If that makes me a lightweight, so be it but I can’t possibly imagine someone having and enjoying all 100 beers.
That is why when I hold tastings, like the upcoming Holiday Beer afternoon, you only get 5 or 6 healthy samples. That’s it. I make it worth the drive (as if free isn’t enough incentive) but I do not overpour. To me, the best tastings are short and sweet. (Unless you are having sour beers)

Rules for Beer Festivals

Summer means outdoor beer festivals. So the following are my rules for getting the most out of the next beer fest you attend.

1. Research – Check out who is pouring and, if available, find out what they are pouring. This way you can plan what beer you MUST have versus what would be good to have. After five or six beers your palate may lose its edge and a really good beer that you taste after nine other beers may not taste as good as if you had drunk it first.

2. Water & Food – Have water after every beer. I cannot stress this enough. It will help keep you hydrated and clear the palate. And have food before you go and during, if possible, to keep you on an even keel.

3. Take Notes – Take a small notepad and write down your initial observations on aroma, color and taste. Trust me, you will forgot what beer was your favorite and what was good about it.

4. Bring someone new to beer – A festival with the small tasters is a great way to introduce someone to beer that they might never have had before and it will provide some great debates as you argue about which beer is the best.

5. Get there early & Wait to leave – You do not want to miss the popular beers and you don’t want to wait in line to get in. So bring a book or the paper and wait for the doors to open. On the flip side, do not leave until you are 200% sure that you are good to drive unless you have a designated driver. The book or paper comes in handy again here.