It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Hey Bill, - I know you're a fan of beer festivals as am I but did you know that In a recent study
researchers reported an 86 percent growth in the number of festivals over last year and that
year itself was up 59 percent from the year before! Obviously, we're not alone in our affection
for festivals, that's for sure.. One website claims there will be over 1600 festivals held in North
America in 2016. Great for sure but despite such growth, I can't help but wonder if the
abundance of all those newer festivals are harming the intricacy, adventure and
experimentation that is the essence of exploring the craft beer word. Or to put it another way,
are many of the new festivals just bringing together a bunch of well-known "craft" brands (the
"usual suspects") and letting people drink the day away?
Call we a worry-wort (but not to my face, Bill) but I think there's a strong dichotomy between
true craft beer festivals and events sponsored by major (as in giant) craft brands as well as the
"crafty" (fraud) ones. The idea of the 'beer-in-the-box' festival, as those are now called, seems
to be overtaking the smaller, more intimate ones that we are so fond of.
Let me clarify a bit. When a beer festival is not affiliated with a local brewers’ guild, and rather
appears to be an amalgamation of several established and big name craft/crafty breweries, it
has come to be known, colloquially as a "beer-in-a-box" festival.
Admit it Bill, the fact of the matter is that beer-in-a-box festivals, have only one goal—to make
money, Take a close look at who precisely is behind them and you'll find a slew of companies
that were created to simply capitalize on the growth of craft beer. The bottom line is that it's
not overly difficult to get permits for these things, and they’re hugely profitable. Do the math -
at $75 per ticket times several thousand people over a weekend - hey Bill, we're in the wrong
In stark contrast to those beer-in-a-box festivals are the small scale, niche events that curate
barrel-aged gems, seldom seen styles, and provide a chance to talk to more than a few
brewers while not forcing you to wait in long lines behind nouveau drinkers blandishing the
latest in fashionable festival gear- pretzel necklaces.
So how about we look for some seriously beer geeky events to go to this month? You know
what I mean; events that are trying to draw in people by having rare beers or beers that you've
never heard of before or beers that it helps to know about the brewer to even appreciate what
they're pouring. Let the beer-in-a box fests draw the group of people who are about alcohol
consumption. For me, the best festivals are small-scale, independently-run ones that often
times help introduce local residents to breweries that they didn’t know were within driving
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time.
Well one thing you said that I can't disagree with is that we both love beer festivals. To me a
festival's main attraction is that it's probably the best way for people, even experienced craft
drinkers like us, to try new beers and decided if they like or not. And to tell the truth I've never
beer to a festival where I didn't like the majority of beers I tasted. To follow up on that thought,
one thing about most festivals I find the most exciting and enlightening is the opportunity to taste
the wares of small-scale and local breweries along side well-known "macro-craft" breweries like
Stone, Founders, Sierra, etc in a pour-to-pour showdown of quality. And frankly, more often than
not, he little guys do as well, if not better, than their larger, more commercially adept competition.
One thing you didn't mention that I dislike about "beer-in-a-box" festivals is that they typically get
by with volunteers pouring the beers rather than brewery representatives who can explain why
that the beer in question tastes the way it does. That's not to say the volunteers are clueless but
it's just that, well, often the are.
Still, there are some positives to be gained by having a festival incorporating macro-craft
breweries in their lineup. These beers can serve as a gateway for newcomers, many of whom
might be scared off by phrases like dry-hopped or gose or cask conditioned. If the craft
movement is going to continue it's growth it's important that more and more beer drinkers expand
their palates and learn to appreciate the myriad of flavors available in the craft world.
I see a value in festivals that don't appeal just to craft beer geeks like us. That of course
assumes that the bigger (or as you say, usual suspects) bring a specialty brew or two.
Admittedly however the Lagunitas and Sierra Nevada type breweries main goal is to push their
flagship product so that people will go to their local bar and store to ask for their product -
meaning one that they can easily find and purchase. And there's nothing wrong with that, Gina.
As I see it, there are a couple of reasons for the seeming pervasiveness of macro-craft breweries
at many festivals. The first is that, well, it would be strange for them not to be there. Elder
statesmen breweries like New Belgium and Anchor helped push the craft beer scene into the
mainstream. As such, it is fitting for them to participate in craft beer festivals, both large and
small, that celebrate their innovation. The second reason is that there are implicit costs that can
make attending a festival fiscally disadvantageous for smaller breweries. It's often not easy (as
in outside their operating budget) for some of these small breweries to send a couple of kegs
and send a couple of people,
Needless to say, count me in for those "seriously geeky events" you mentioned but maybe we
can hit one of two of the ones too.
Here's looking at you Gina