Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

May 13, 2008

Beer Issues:

Party’s Over

As the interest in craft beer skyrockets, it’s time for fest organizers to adjust to the crowds.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
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Another month, another craft beer fest debacle.

The latest offending venue was Dark Lord Day, Three Floyd’s once-a-year holiday whereat consumers can get their greasy mitts on the Munster brewer’s Dark Lord, a barrel-aged, coffee-infused imperial stout, rated on BeerAdvocate as the best in America (at least at the time of this writing). I should say right off the bat that I wasn’t there—the parent folk refused to loan me the car for the second year in a row (“Why do you want to go to a thing called ‘Dark Lord,’ anyway? It sounds … evil!”). But if you read the forum and blog posts around the internet, you’ll see that a good time was not had by all. Not by a long shot.

The problem wasn’t the fest itself, or—shut your mouth—the beer. It was the crowds. Not that the crowds were riotous or rude—although the words “frat boys” has been thrown around a lot in the aforementioned posts—it was just that the crowds were immense. As in, five-hour-wait-and-not-get-a-beer immense. A similar occurence—albeit on a much smaller scale—happened at this year’s Bockfest at Capital Brewery, an event that I actually managed to sneak out of the house to attend. The beer didn’t run out, but attendees were allowed only one pour of the Blonde Doppelbock, the very beer we were there to celebrate the release of, and an average wait in line (or “mob” would be a better term) for a beer was between 45 minutes to an hour. But if half the people they had throwing fucking beads off the brewery roof had been pouring beer instead the whole fiasco might have been avoided.

Selling tickets ahead of time to hot beer events might seem like a solution, but you run into the same problems. Even though this year’s Night of the Living Ales—open only to those who purchased tickets ahead of time—wasn’t even close to the madness of Dark Lord Day or even Bockfest, there was a lot of rumblings from attendees about how jammed the lines were and the lack of space to just sit and/or congregate away from the taps. And then there’s the Great Taste of the Midwest, the premier fest in the region, whose tickets went on sale at 11:00 a.m. on May 4th and sold out at about 2:30 p.m. of the same day. Brave souls waited in line for five fucking hours to get them. Yikes.

I’ve always said that beer fests are some of the best-organized events I’ve been to. This shouldn’t be surprising, since brewers—and especially home brewers—tend to be people who have their shit together. But it should now be obvious (painfully, in some cases) to fest organizers that a new threshold has been reached in the interest in craft beer. Eventually the gargantuan crowds will ebb as craft beer’s trendiness fades, but for the time being brew fest planners need to take a hard look at their facilities, supplies, and staff when putting together their events. I offered some vague suggestions after last year’s Great Taste, but I’m not a professional event planner—indeed, if I had a job, I wouldn’t be wasting my time writing about beer night and day.

I’ve always said that beer fests are some of the best-organized events I’ve been to, because brewers—and especially home brewers—tend to be people who have their shit together.
Exacerbating all this are the carpetbaggers, the scum of the earth who swarm over these events to profiteer from craft beer’s increased popularity and—more importantly—media exposure: the fuckers who buy Great Taste of the Midwest tickets with the sole intent of scalping them for a profit or the sonsabitches that horned into the Dark Lord lines to snag brews for reselling on eBay. These people are scumbags who deserve nothing less than to have sanitized, stainless steel homebrewing spoons shoved up their asses and rotated—slowly, mind you—at least five times.

You can help fight this slimy phenomenon by refusing, under ANY circumstances, to buy scalped fest tickets and to NEVER buy beer from an unauthorized reseller (a practice, which, by the way, is totally illegal). I’m not actually urging you to beat these people up if you come across them or performing any spoon insertions (and rotations), but if I were to hear about these occurences I probably wouldn’t be all that upset. In fact, I’d probably have a beer.

Obviously we aren’t going to see the death of brew fests. On the contrary, we’ll probably see more fests crop up as craft beer’s appeal peaks. But as the crowds expand and a higher percentage of said crowds attend for reasons other than trying and talking about great beer, the atmosphere of some of these events could change—maybe for the worse. Some beer dorks might decide it’d be better to stay home and drink some home brew or maybe gather with their fellow dorks to sample their own collection of craft beers. Although this may not break fest organizers’ hearts, I would like them to ask themselves why they’re putting these events together in the first place. Is it about the size of the crowd, or is it about the beer?

At Night of the Living Ales, as my fellow fest-goer and I were trying to shove our way out of the tap area with a fresh sample to try, I commented that it would be a lot easier to get the samples if less people were standing around drinking in the tap area. Some random dumbass overheard and remarked stupidly that anyone who DIDN'T hang around the taps was a lightweight, couldn't hold their beer, and wasn't getting their money's worth. I sort of pitied his cluelessness. But, if people like that stayed home with their 30 packs of Old Style, there'd be more room for the rest of us.
posted by astrochick | May 14, 2008, 3:24 PM
In my opinion, The Great Taste should not be lumped into this discussion, simply for the fact that the Madison Tasters Guild limits ticket sales to 5,000 every year (and haven't raised that total to profit from craft beer's recent popularity). Yep, it's dang hard to get tickets (they actually went on sale at noon on May 4. I was in line at 4:20 am, AFTER having driven down to Madison from the Fox Valley ... got up at 2 am ... but, it's worth it.)

Anyway, it's because of the limited ticket availability that puts this fest in a class by itself. It's still somewhat crowded, and they could use more space, but I know it's not going to get more and more crowded each year.

Your point about scalping is dead on. We who know and love the event will only sell Great Taste tickets for face value, never profiting off them. I'll insert my homebrewing spoon up their arses and start rotating it right along with ya.

Not all brew fests are created equal. I won't attend DLD or Bockfest for the reasons you stated. But, The Great Taste? That's the happiest place on Earth each year. Anyone need a ticket?
posted by Severstad | May 15, 2008, 2:35 PM
My only beef with the Great Taste is that the space could be a little bigger. At the height of the fest it?s a challenge to get from tent to tent.
posted by EddieGlick | May 15, 2008, 9:06 PM
While my beer fest experiences are somewhat limited, I have noticed the same things that you've all pointed out. In most cases, it reminds me of my college days, where a massive herd of people converged on the tappers at the annual UW-Oshkosh beer gardens. While the idea behind beer fests is far different than a college gathering, the problem is the same... to many people, too little space. Add into that the fact that many of the fest-goers have had a fair amount of alcohol over the course of the day and are thus not as cooperative as they may have been if thinking clearly, and it can be a recipe for disaster.

Like anything, limiting ticket sales, having booths regulate the length of time people can linger, etc. can help these problems, but with thousands of people mingling in a tiny space, many problems are hard to avoid. It's too bad that there are so many dipshits who attend these fests with the idea of simply getting drunk, which clearly isn't the point. As astrochick said, they should just stay home with their 30 pack of shit beer and a copy of Beerfest on DVD, and let those of us who appreciate craft beer enjoy a great event.
posted by Nigel | May 16, 2008, 2:24 AM

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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