Beer Festival Organizing 101

Photo: Zmak Creative

Photo: Zmak Creative

This week’s topic on “Not My Father’s Beer” was supposed to be small, local beer festivals and the importance of supporting them, but five minutes at the small, local festival planned as the center of the story shot down that idea. And the wooden expression on my husband’s face wasn’t helping.

A couple days earlier, a paid ad had popped up on my Facebook feed for this first-time festival with “Tastings of over 20+ breweries.” In my initial enthusiasm, I hadn’t worried about the lack of information or advertising or that I couldn’t find a website connected with the event. Saturday afternoon, we drove a half hour to the town and address listed on the tickets. We easily spotted a closed off side street lined with canopies and milling crowds, but after parking two blocks away and walking back, instead of a beer festival, we found a farmers’ market.

I ran into a nearby bar—of course they’d know where the beer festival was. The blank look on the server’s face wasn’t encouraging. She studied the tickets and pointed toward a wrought iron fence half a block away.

Skipping over the details and some very mediocre beers, let’s just say the afternoon didn’t get a lot better. At the entrance, we were handed little plastic glasses. At $40 a head, participants should at least get commemorative glasses made of real glass, for crying out loud.

We only found two breweries pouring fresh beer. The rest of the beer was spread between four stations where the servers didn’t seem to know much about the contents of the bottles or cans. Yeah, you read that right. Bottled and canned beer. The kind we could have bought a few blocks from home. Most stations seemed to have a hodgepodge of beers, few from the area, nothing remarkable.

I was excited to see a new brewery from a town 75 miles away pouring fresh beer. Unfortunately, the woman serving didn’t have much to say about the three brews on tap. The two guys behind her wearing brewery shirts didn’t seem interested in talking to customers, which was a good thing considering the quality of the two beers I tried.

Tickets did include a plate of tacos. Initially, we couldn’t find them because that station was unmanned. They were decent, but some other food—rice, beans, pretzels, Goldfish crackers—included or for purchase, would have been nice. More than one Home Depot cooler with water for the whole festival would have been a good idea, too.

They did get points for having plenty of seating, enough bathrooms, and entertainment, even though it was a single band that played louder than a jack hammer crew. The one truly bright spot in the festival was the Firestone Walker booth where the beer was fresh and the server, who appeared to be a FW employee, really knew his brand. Fortunately, we stopped by before the band went on and thoroughly enjoyed the good beer and conversation.

Needless to say, our short visit was short. On the way home, we talked about basic rules for beer festivals that these organizers either didn’t know or ignored. That became the heart of this week’s post. I wrote down our ideas and ran them by Carol Dekkers, who organizers VolunBEERS (volunteers for beer festivals) in Tampa, Florida. She added some spot-on suggestions. Her comments follow the ***.

Beer Festival Organizing 101

  1. Advertise well and truthfully.  *** Focus on what is different about your festival and DELIVER those results. If you can’t deliver, then UNDERpromise.
  2. Make your festival and your parking area easy to find. ** Definitely! Signage PLUS people (parking attendants) are essential.
  3. If you’re charging $40 or more, include a commemorative sampling glass.  *** Absolutely! I can’t believe you wouldn’t get one.
  4. Provide plenty of water, food options, seating, bathrooms, trash receptacles and dump buckets.  *** OMG, especially water (in warm climates!) and port-a-potties. Was recently at a summer fest where the port-a-potty lines were excessive and people found alternative solutions around the backside of the brewery. It was avoidable – and sadly some of the best pics were of the bathroom lines!
  5. Serve fresh beer and highlight your local breweries, especially if it’s a small festival.  *** Local is THE name of the game! If I can’t get something local – why bother? And make sure they are non-AB/InBev!
  6. Make sure servers are knowledgeable about their products and happy to talk with participants about them. Better yet, have brewers and/or employees of the breweries serving their beers.  *** TRAIN your volunteers and make sure that people want to be there! (I specialize in this. See volunbeers.com)
  7. Have enough stations, servers and beers to keep lines moving. *** Planning! AND, make sure that you have made plans to get people in the front gates in a timely manner. Wait times determine immediate success/failure.
  8. Optional: Provide entertainment. If it’s loud music, arrange some quieter area for participants who prefer conversation.  *** Music should always come SECOND to enjoying the beer fest. If people are focused on the music, do a music fest. It’s a BEER fest so focus on the arrays of great beers.
  9. ***If it’s a charity fundraiser, then focus on the charity – but insist that you get good volunteers (and invest in an orientation if they are first timers.). There’s nothing worse than paying good money for a beer fest and encountering a booth person who says “I don’t know what I’m serving, I’m JUST a volunteer.”

Bottom line: Great beer festivals don’t happen without a lot of planning, education and–of course–great beer.

Some photos from 2016 beer events done right

Carol Dekkers with a volunBEEER at the Tampa Harbinger Festival on Oct. 22

Oct. 22: Carol Dekkers with a volunBEEER and plenty of water at Harbinger Festival, Tampa, FL

JBQAV Quality Pro Audio reps with pretzel necklaces at Verve Coffee Roaster beer event in May, Santa Cruz, CA

May: JBQAV Quality Pro Audio reps with pretzel necklaces at Verve Coffee Roaster beer event, Santa Cruz, CA

May: Ticketleap employee Jennifer with complimentary commemorative glass at the Craft Brewers Conference, Philadelphia, PA

May: Ticketleap employee Jennifer handing out complimentary commemorative glasses at the Craft Brewers Conference, Philadelphia, PA

Aug: Kids welcomed at this Denver neighborhood beer festival

Aug: Kids-friendly Denver neighborhood beer festival

June: Enthusiastic Scranton homebrewers at HomebrewCon in Baltimore, MD

June: Scranton homebrew club members setting the enthusiasm bar at HomebrewCon, Baltimore, MD

Major shout-out to Firestone Walker, one of the top breweries on the West Coast

Oct: Major shout-out to the always great Firestone Walker for their class performance at an otherwise lackluster fest

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