1. BE PREPARED – This is the homework portion. But it can be fun. Check out the official website for the festival. See which Breweries are participating and what they are pouring. What I do is print out the list of beers and highlight what I have to try in green and what would be interesting to sample in yellow. 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. Also, find out if there are special panel discussions, music or demonstrations that you will want to check out when you get there.
2. STAY HYDRATED – I always bring water with me to a festival. You will know if the organizers know what they are doing by the amount of water they provide. At the recent Craft Beer Festival at the Echoplex, volunteers were constantly filling pitchers of water and placing them all around. If you have a water between tastings, it will make each beer more distinct. I do not recommend having an Imperial Stout from Stone and then drinking a super-hoppy IPA from Firestone-Walker. You need to cleanse the palate.
3. EAT – You should always have a nice hearty breakfast or lunch the day of a beer festival. This is filed under the same concept as eating before you shop at the grocery store. If I see a cool restaurant near the festival, I will pop in either before or after to bring myself back to an even keel. That is also a good time to check out the notes I made and to see which beer was my favorite. (See # 4)
4. TAKE NOTES – Take a small notepad and write down your initial observations on aroma, color and taste. Trust me, you will forget what beer was your favorite and what was good about it. Plus, I find it helpful to have a camera around to take photos. I have found that taking notes and photos slows me down so that I can really enjoy the beer that is in front of me.
5. 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. This is also a great way to break down your own prejudices. Someone new to the beer scene will see things in a different light. You might learn something and try something new.
6. GET THERE EARLY AND WAIT TO LEAVE – You do not want to miss the popular beers and you don’t want to wait in line to get in. These festivals can get crowded but if you are there early you will miss the even larger crowds that grow as the day wears on. So bring a book or the paper and wait for the doors to open. On the flip side, do not leave until you are 100% sure that you are good to drive unless you have a designated driver. The book or paper comes in handy again here.
Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.