The sad truth is that most beer festivals have outlived their usefulness. Before craft beer was so widely available, these gatherings offered drinkers a rare chance to try interesting new beers that they couldn't get in their area. This is now a problem that rarely needs solving. Bars with dozens of taplines are proliferating in every city and beer distributors and bottle shops offering hundreds of beers are sprouting up everywhere. Suddenly the idea of plunking down $75 to compete in a four-hour race to drink the same beers we can find in our local pub doesn't hold the same appeal.
Fortunately there are still a few festivals that are still worth our time and money. By focusing on interesting locales, new and rare beers, and an overall great experience you can still have a great time at beer festivals.
Belgium Comes to Cooperstown
Belgium Comes to Cooperstown gets right all the things that other beer festivals miss. The festival is a weekend long affair dedicated to Belgian breweries and American breweries brewing Belgian style beers. The program includes camping (bring your own gear) on the gorgeous grounds of the Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, NY. Official events include an optional multi-course beer pairing dinner on Friday night, and a Saturday afternoon tasting session featuring 75 breweries pouring over 300 beers. Rare and vintage beers proliferate so there's always something new and interesting to drink. Live music, movie screenings, and cooking competitions are interspersed throughout the weekend as well.
The best part of Belgium Comes to Cooperstown is the opportunity for beer drinkers to commune with brewers in a relaxed setting. The brewers serving at the festival camp out along with the festival goers and rare and interesting beers are happily shared deep into the night as each brewery seeks to impress their colleagues with their latest creations. As soon had we set up our tent at the 2013 festival we found Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisan Ales pouring saison out of a jockey-box adjacent to our campsite. We're still not sure who left the bottle of Kelso Flemish Red in our cooler, but we're grateful.
In order to keep the festival collegial, Ommegang limits attendance to 3,000 attendees. The move cuts down on the lines and other indignities that might make camping out with a few thousand strangers a hassle, but it's tough to score tickets. Tickets for this year's festival go on sale on April 1st and are expected to sell out in minutes.
More info: The 2014 festival takes place on August 8th and 9th, ommegang.com