Rules For the Beer Festival Organizer

Craft Beer Los Angeles

Photo thanks to Sean Inman

For those with good memories, my first column was about the organic beer festival in Portland. And I have returned to the topic on other occasions because a month doesn’t seem to go by without a nearby beer festival. After the Los Angeles Beer Festival, held at the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City, I scribbled down my notes on the beers and the scene and realized that I never really addressed what the organizers should do to maximize the enjoyment for beer geeks who attend the festivals. I have run across one or more of these issues before but I unfortunately saw them all last weekend.

So here are my ironclad, indisputable rules for the people running the show:

1.H2O – When people sign in for the event and get their wristbands and cups, hand them a bottle of water. Then have people stationed at the exit as people filter out handing out water again and a pack of airplane pretzels. If the festival goers have the water in their hands, they will probably drink it. But if it’s hidden in the middle of the event grounds, then it might be missed.

2. Maps & Legends – My pet peeve are craft beer festivals without brewery maps and lists of what’s on tap. I know you may not have a nailed-down beer list but at least give me an either/or scenario. A map not only allows planning for the obsessively organized but also allows for some anticipation to build. Those attending will be e-mailing routes, texting beers to sample and generally getting excited about your event. Also, there is nothing worse than hearing “Last call” and seeing a small tent with great beer that you didn’t get to taste because it was tucked away out of sight.

3. Dead Kegs – I am going to have to call out this years Los Angeles Beer Festival on this. There were empty booths everywhere. The wells had run dry. When that happens, people start drinking faster because they fear they will miss something. And if they do miss something, they will feel like they did not get their money’s worth. I give allowances to new festivals because estimating quantity is hard. But if you have done it, then you should be better at it. It is not cool to see The Bruery, Karl Strauss and Strand Brewing not pouring.

4. Mobility – There has to be an easy flow for people. Go to Disneyland and see where lines are and where walking paths are and emulate that. You do not want it so crowded that beer is spilled or it takes forever to get from the first booth to the last. Part and parcel with that is having enough seating. Ample seating eases the crush of people milling around and slows down the speed at which people drink.

5. Specials – Another way to build excitement for your beer festival is to have some special beers tossed into the mix. A well-curated list from each brewery should have something for everyone. A festival filled with beer that you can easily pick up on a Friday night at the corner store eliminates part of the potential audience for your event. At the LA Beer Festival there was a shortage of rare beers, Ladyface Ales and Angel City each brought large selections but aside from a few bottles of Ken & Fritz’s Ale from Sierra Nevada, there was little for the beer geek to be geeked about.

Your homework is to go to the Sierra Nevada website and watch the really cool videos that were made for the 30th anniversary series of beers. They are a good lesson on the genesis of collaborative beers. CLICK HERE to see the pioneers of California craft brewing.

There is no beer of the week today. Instead there is a brewery of the week. Ninkasi Brewery is finally being distributed here in Southern California at good BevMo’s. You can get their Believer Double Red Ale or their excellent Oatis. An oatmeal stout that is full of roasty malt and coffee flavors. As always, vote with your pocketbook. The more that sells the more that stores will carry.

Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.


Sean Inman

Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.

Blog Comments

As soon as I saw the title, it reminded me of Jay’s list:

Obviously, he’s talking more about the attendees…

I too thought the preparation for the fest was rather appalling. I spent the better part of the first hour waiting in line with hundreds of other patrons who, given the circumstances, were quite annoyed. I’d really like to see them improve upon this in the future before attending again.

yeah, sounds about right, that’s why I skipped this year too. I think Ninkasi’s best brews are the Tricerahops and Total Domination.

Agree totally with Mark. I’m a little surprised you missed the biggest blunder of the day, Sean.

Nicely said Sean! hopefully we can incorporate some or all of this into this years descanso fest, kinda glad i skipped this fest this year.

I am surprised that you haven’t commented on the absolutely HORRIBLE organization of the registration process, which involved hundreds of people crammed into what used to be the old MGM Building across from Madison who had no idea where to go or what to do. On top of that, people who had already registered had to cross back through the ramshackle lines of people waiting to get to the front. Apparently it was all arranged alphabetically, but the signs demarcating what letters your “line” you were in were hanging down from card tables and weren’t visible until you got to the front. By the end, they stopped checking names altogether and just handed you a taster mug and a wristband. It was truly pathetic– and wasted nearly an hour of time that should have been spent drinking the beer that we paid for. I emailed Drink Eat Play about this and, predictably, haven’t heard back. For shame.

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