Vince Capano is a two time winner of the prestigious Quill and Tankard
writing award for humor from the North American Guild of Beer Writers.  

Vince's column is now  a regular feature of beernexus.com
Check back often for the next installment of

Vince's  Adventures in Beerland
A Tale of Two Festivals                          by Vince Capano        
                                 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  It was the Newtown, PA
brewfest and it was the Kennett Square, PA brewfest.  It was short lines and
free pretzels, it was long, long lines, and well, long lines.  Now don’t get me
wrong, a beer festival by definition is a good thing. After all, they do have
beer. Yet the differences between these two, held just a few miles and two
weeks apart, speak volumes on how to run a festival.  

Now for those who have never attended a beer festival the concept is an easy
one to understand, unlike, for example, figuring out why people say they
drink light beer for its taste.  At a beer festival you pay an upfront fee,
usually around $30, and then you get to drink beer.  A fair and equitable
quid-quo-pro if I ever heard one.  You are usually given a plastic glass, not
good but understandable, and then you travel to multiple pouring stations
for, typically, two ounce samples of different beers.  There is usually no limit
to the number of samples you can drink except a self imposed one.   For
those lacking a sound level of self discipline, most festivals help by having an
abundance of gendarmes and a shortage of port-a-johns.  You’d be surprised
how both can cut down on excessive sampling.

You might think that since beer festivals are based on such a simple premise
putting one on has to be easy too.  That’s like saying since it’s easy to cut
hair every haircut will be a good one.  Obviously, not the case (are you
listening stylist Sam over at Magical Scissors?); a lot can go wrong.  Let’s
start with ticket sales.  As with most venues, beer festival grounds have a
limit as to the number of people that can fit comfortably (Newtown) and the
number of people that can be jammed in no matter how difficult breathing
might become (Kennett Square).  For the record, Newtown sold out long
before the actual festival, Kennett sold out midway during the festival.  Ah,
there’s the rub – sold out.  Just when is a festival sold out?  For the Newtown
organizers it was when the number of tickets sold would mean a 2 or 3
minute wait in a line for a beer; for the Kennett organizers it was when the
average wait in a line was 20 or 30 minutes.  Put another way, the people at
Newtown could actually count, the Kennett folks could count, but only the
revenue.

You would also expect that an event whose purpose is to provide beer would
actually do just that.  If so, you obviously are not on the Board of Directors at
Kennett.  Overselling tickets for Kennett’s 2 PM to 6 PM festival duration
meant a number of brewers ran out of beer by 3:30.  Hey, Kennett people,
how about the poor guy who waited 27 ½ minutes in a line only to see the
person in front of him get the last beer at 3:30?  And no dear editor, I’m not
using the power of BeerNexus to highlight a personal grievance.  Never.  I
wouldn’t consider it.  Not me, even if I was the one – which I’m not- who
suffered that crushing experience. At the Newtown festival every tent kept
pouring until closing time.  The way they should.  Just like my local pub.  
There was even last call, also just like my local pub (not that I’ve ever heard
it of course).  

Each festival provided online maps and directions to find parking.  One map
was easy to read and accurate; one map was so confusing Einstein would
have come up with M=Ec2 if he was the navigator.  Guess which was which?  
Now while you might conclude that not understanding a map was just a
personal deficiency on my part, how then might you explain that after finding
the well camouflaged parking area I fell in behind a group of at least 40
World Atlas editors who wandered around like extras on the set of Night of
the Living Dead for 20 minutes until they stumbled upon the festival grounds?

As the vendor at Yankee Stadium might say, you can’t tell the players, or in
this case the beers, without a program.  To be fair, you could obviously see
what beers each tent at the Kennett festival was pouring if you walked to the
front of the line, albeit that each line was about ¼ mile long.  It was,
however, a just a tad easier to simply check the free program at the Newtown
festival.  Yes, Newtown had an attractive 26 page program that even included
tips from beer writer Lew Bryson on how to enjoy the festival.  The only
program seen at Kennett was the one on the television in the ticket sales
booth.

For some reason organizers of beer festivals feel the need to have music.  
Make that loud, blaring, incoherent music best suited for those of an age that
can’t attend the festival.  Ah, now you might think that since both festivals
had equally bad music Kennett would certainly avoid another badge of
discredit here.  Not so.  The, let’s be generous, musicians at Kennett played
for a total of 185 minutes while the equally bad band at Newtown played for
172 minutes.  Less is more so chalk up another scarlet letter for Kennett.

It’s always a wise move for any beer drinker to temper consumption with
occasional drinks of water as tons of medical research testifies.  The sage
organizers at Newtown had free spring water bottles available throughout the
tasting, you can guess Kennett’s take on the water issue.  Water flowed as
freely the rivers in Death Valley.

Since festivals have an array of different tasting beers it’s important that you
rinse your glass so the next beer you have doesn’t taste like the last one.  For
those not carrying a kitchen sink, the only way to do that is at a water
dispenser. Well planned festivals place those at just about every other tent.  
Next to the water, said well planned festival puts a dump bucket for beers
that you don’t want to finish.  The dispenser/bucket scoreboard:
Kennett 8, Newtown, 39.  So, for the sports betting public out there, if you
took Kennett and 21 buckets, you lost!  

Now, what of Pennsylvania, home to both Kennett and Newtown?  For those
of us in the East, PA is thought of as truly a great beer state.  I know it really
is because my colleague here at BeerNexus, Dan Hodge, wrote about it last
month
(It All Started With Billy Penn).  I also know it’s true because both the
Kennett and Newtown festivals had good beer.  And yes, that is the bottom
line.  So here’s hoping that Kennett takes the time to change a few things and
that Newtown does it the same way next year.   Ultimately, a true beer
person believes that any festival is a welcome one.

It’s just that some are more welcome than others.
A Tale of Two Festivals
by
Vince Capano