Ryan Self has attended his share of beer festivals, on both sides of the taps. With Charlotte Oktoberfest quickly approaching, he dropped by to share his “do’s and don’ts” to get the most out of the festival. (This post was written prior to the 2012 festival, but the advice is timeless.)
Once again, Charlotte Oktoberfest is just around the corner. The organizers of this fest have consistently made this event one of the best in the region, but that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily have the great time you should. When faced with a seemingly endless array of craft beer options, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. That’s why I’m here with a beer festival veteran’s do’s and don’ts of a successful Oktoberfest experience.
- Do spring for the VIP tickets. Unfortunately VIP tickets are already sold out this year, but make it a point to spring for them next year. Depending on the festival, these can add significantly to the price, but if you truly want a beer education and not just a healthy buzz, it’s absolutely worth it. During this first hour, crowds are 1/10 of the size, meaning you’ll get your money’s worth spending your time sampling beer instead of standing in line. Even more valuable is the fact that the brewers can relax and talk beer instead of having to rush everyone to serve the backed-up line. If you want to try a beer, find out how it was made and discuss tasting notes with an expert, the VIP ticket suddenly becomes a reasonably priced experience.
- Don’t waste your time at stands that clearly hired a couple of skinny girls to pour. If a brewery doesn’t care enough to proudly present its beer, why should you care enough to drink it? Here’s an insider’s tip: If a festival is important to a brewery, and the team knows they are bringing some brand new and/or rare beers to serve, it will send educated staff to pour and discuss. If a brewery is sending it’s same old core lineup because they felt like they “had to” attend the festival, they’ll let anyone staff the table. You’re going to get served a beer you can get anywhere, by someone who has no interest.Your time is too valuable for that.
- Do take notes on beers you love, or breweries that impress across the board. You might try six breweries from Asheville; don’t you want to remember which ones you loved so next time you’re in town you can head right to those breweries? This will also prove useful next time you’re at the bar. Imagine being at Revolution, seeing a brewery’s new IPA and being able to recall “I loved their pale ale at Oktoberfest, I’ll try this.”
- That being said, don’t be a slave to Untappd (cut to my friends laughing, as I am famous for this). The Untappd app and Web site have made it easier than ever to quickly track what you’ve had and if you liked them. However, the badge and collector aspects of the site make it easy to spend the entire festival with your head buried in your phone. Remember – you probably didn’t come here alone, and there’s a skilled brewery employee right in front of you. Perhaps it would enhance the experience of the day to talk to them once in a while?
- Don’t feel the need to try everything, especially beers you’ve had many times before. Love Brewery X’s pale ale? Sure, have some as a palate cleanser between new brews. But if you know Brewery Y’s oatmeal stout is consistently mediocre, don’t get trapped in the need to have a sample based on the fallacy that you waited in line for 20 minutes and you’re going to have everything they’re offering. However…
- Do get out of your comfort zone. You paid for an all-you-can-drink ticket, so if you’ve never enjoyed sours, now is the time to try them again. One sample costs the same as 10, so don’t be afraid to go back to the well. Worst case scenario ? You take some sips and dump, and you feel that much more secure that certain styles just aren’t for you. No one will be able to say you didn’t give them a fair shake. Best case? You open a whole new world when you discover that one beer that is a gateway to you loving that style.
We’d love to hear even more from beer festival regulars in the comments section!