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.