How to Win at Beer Festivals


The Oregon Brewers Festival is one of the oldest, biggest, and most loved beer fests in the country. It kicked off this week and is serving up 112 different craft brews for fest-goers to imbibe and enjoy. That’s a lot of beer to sample in a mere matter of days, and navigating what to drink, when to drink, and how to drink can be overwhelming — but it shouldn’t be. As Chris Crabb, the woman who organizes the nations greatest and most-attended beer festivals (including the Portland Brewers Fest and the North American Organic Brewers Festival) puts it: “You don’t go to a beer fest in a bad mood. If you do, that will change really quick because everyone at a beer fest is happy. What’s happier than celebrating beer?”


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So to make any next beer festival a delightfully tasty success, here's some advice:

1. Check out the festival website and do some recon before attending. “It’s so easy to do a little research beforehand to answer simple questions for yourself about the hours of a festival and rules—like if it’s pet-friendly or not,” Crabb says.

2. Eat a meal before you go. Beer on an empty stomach is never a good idea. “Your objective shouldn’t be to get drunk,” Neil Witte, one of seven Master Cicerones (aka the most respected credential for beer professionals) in the world, says. If you don't eat before you go, plan a time to eat and make sure it's a full meal (snacking on a pretzel or stealing a chicken wing or two from a platter don't count). Don’t stray from this plan. 

3. Bring cash. “We only accept cash at our fests, and oftentimes the ATM machines inside the gates of fests have huge service fees. Do yourself a favor and bring cash with you,” Crabb says.]

4. Seek out the most popular and rare beers right away. “We get a finite number of kegs and popular beers run out earlier,” Crabb says. “If there is something you absolutely want to try, get there early.”  

5. Scope out the bathroom situation first. Find the out-of-the-way port-a-potties and make them yours. Drunken folks tend to go follow the crowds and just look for massive lines when it comes to bathroom situations. 

6. If the festival spans between weekdays and the weekend, go early in the week. “That way you’ll be with a mellower crowd and be dealing with shorter lines, since the tourists and big crowds show up on the weekends,” Crabb says.

7. Get tasters before you buy a full mug. It will save you money (and drunkenness) later.

8. Drink water. Lots of it. “It’s not a bad idea to do ‘the Sinatra,” Witte says. “For every beer, drink a water.”

9. Do compliment a brewer after tasting their beer. It’s nice to get feedback — and the more a brewer knows that the people like a beer, the more they’ll brew. It’s a win-win. But don't chat brewers up like an asshole while a line grows exponentially behind you. “It’s okay to exchange pleasantries and talk a little, but people get anxious waiting for their beer,” Witte says.

10. Do ask the brewer for a recommendation. Don't simply ask a brewer for the strongest or lightest beer they have. “It’s great to ask brewers ‘What’s your most popular?’ or, ‘What do you like?’ to help you make a decision,” Witte says.

11. Don’t feel like you have to finish a mug — or even a taster. “Don’t feel like you have to finish every beer,” Witte says. “If you don’t like it, toss it discretely. It’s about pacing yourself so you don’t act like a fool at the end of the day.”

12. Do chat up other fest goers to see what they’ve tried and liked. “I’ve gotten great input from other peeps at brew fests,” Witte says. “You might get turned onto something really cool.” Also be sure to take notes on brewers, beers, styles, and flavors you like. If not, you’ll forget everything.

13. Try something new. “Fests celebrate the full variety, so you can find what you like and experience new flavors,” Crabb says. Note: Don’t start with double IPAs (unless you have the tolerance of André the Giant). Try beginning with pilsners/pale lagers, followed by dark beers, then hoppy beers, and finally sours.

14. Don't make any plans for the following morning. Truer words have never been spoken.

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