Monday, October 3, 2011

Beer Fest Revelation – The Little Guy Wins

To most Americans, more is more. “Go big or go home!” might as well be our country’s motto. When it comes to beer festivals, the same typically applies to the interests of beer geeks. We want many brewers pouring many different beers. After all, this is why many beer fans (including myself) go to BeerAdvocate’s ACBF in Boston every June, and other large beer fests around the country.

A big draw at the ACBF is the handful of rare/great beers that I’d otherwise be hard pressed to get my hands on (i.e. beers from Lawson’s, Surly, Duck Rabbit, just to name a few). However, as much fun as the ACBF and other large beer fests can be, I sometimes walk away a little disappointed. It’s nice to have fun with my wife/friends, but I always wish that I was able to taste all of the specific beers I planned to. And I wish I didn’t waste so much time standing in line to get beer samples, to use the restroom, or to get bad, cold, expensive food. I find myself thinking that it was all a little too much. Too many options, too many people, too much money, too much wasted time.

The producers from BeerAdvocate commendably encourage attendees to not overdo it at the ACBF. They preach that one should decide which brewers they want to visit, and not feel that they have to visit every one – which is virtually impossible, anyway. But even after picking a small handful of beers I really want to try, I sometimes can’t get to them. The lines at those booths are insanely long, and the brewers annoyingly don’t have the beer you want on tap at all times. I invariably end up visiting other booths and tasting beers I’ve had before, just so I get SOMETHING for the money I spent on the ticket.
Fast forward – I recently went to a small Oktoberfest that arguably destroyed the ACBF and other big festivals. I may be exaggerating, but hear me out. This Oktoberfest was in a parking lot at the British Beer Company (BBC) in Walpole. It was under a small tent, with maybe twenty brewers. Doesn’t sound impressive, right? After all, I get access to maybe 150 brewers at the ACBF. 

Here’s a side-by-side comparison:

Quality of selection: The ACBF does offer many fantastic beers; so many it’s overwhelming and hard to focus. But there are also beers there I have no interest in.

At the BBC, I was interested in almost all of the beers offered. If they can make a beer geek like myself feel that way, they did something right. I wasn’t overwhelmed with choices, but I saw plenty to excite me. Granted, some of the beers there weren’t new to me, but enough were. And out of the ones I’ve had before, I was at least interested in having a few of them again because I couldn’t remember if I liked them or not.

Sample size:  The sample size at large fests is often 2 ounce pours. At the BBC fest, I got 5 or 6 ounces.

Lines/Crowd: Lines at large fests are often very long. Lines at BBC? None.

Food: The food at the ACBF costs money. It’s of low quality. And you have to wait in line a good while to get it. The food at the BBC is free and delicious. Bratwursts with sauerkraut, cheeses with crackers, fruit, and more. Topping that off, I didn’t have to wait in line to get it.

Pricing structure: The ACBF costs approximately $50 for about a 3-hour session. I like to get my money’s worth in life, so at the ACBF I’m looking to either sample a lot, or sample really special brews. At the BBC, it’s pay-as-you sample. $2 per 6 ounces. Not cheap, but not expensive, and it worked out great for me because I simply wanted to try a few, and leave after an hour. At the ACBF, it’s a 3-hour commitment, get-as-much-as-you-can-for-your-$50 kind of affair that owns most of your day (factor in travel to downtown Boston, parking, etc.)

To me, it’s a clear winner. BBC was arguable far more enjoyable in its own way. Maybe it’s the old-man in me, but I’ll run out of patience for larger beer fests before I grow tired of casually popping into a nice little fest just like the BBC put on. It's easy, manageable, with quality brews and food. I'm sold.

To keep tabs on smaller beer festivals in your area, easily find one – coincidentally – on BeerAdvocate’s calendar page. There are many to choose from in Autumn, because, just as my wife says, “it’s the most wonderful time of the beer.”

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