Our city boasts some 20 breweries and beer bars, offering lots of choice when it’s time to whet your whistle. But when you’re craving a change, look for a beer festival. Whether you’ve got a cupboard full of commemorative glasses, or look forward to your first fest, a plan will help you get the most out of every one.
Craft beer is serious business in this region, which means tickets to the most popular events sell out fast. Buy a ticket and book the weekend off the day sales open.
Most festivals offer more than one session, usually afternoon and evening. Afternoon sessions can feature a better selection of beers, as small-batch ones sometimes run out early in a festival. Many also offer regular and VIP tickets. A VIP ticket generally buys you an extra hour at the start of the festival for a premium price. Some attendees love the exclusivity and smaller crowds, while others (like me) take it as an invitation to tap out early. Know your limits and ticket accordingly.
Download the festival map or at least peruse the list of breweries attending. Make a list of beer you want to try or will only see at festivals. For example, Seaport Beerfest features the Maine Beer Box this year. This 40-foot shipping container features taps galore highlighting 78 beers over the weekend.
Eat beforehand. You want to protect your stomach from the deluge of beer styles you’re about to sample and have something in there to soak up the alcohol. Avoid greasy or bloaty meals, and spicy foods, which can mask the taste of beer later.
Do not “go for one” with your fellow attendees before the festival. Every pint is three to four sample-size beers you won’t have room or tolerance for later.
Make the most of your time
Show up early. Beer starts flowing at the ticketed time, but most venues open the entrance early, so you can line-up, scan tickets, and check coats. The line will only be longer closer to go-time.
Festival sessions range from three to five hours long. That’s a lot of beer, even in one-ounce samples. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Try new styles and breweries. Take your time to taste the beer and think about why you enjoy it.
Drink water and take snack breaks. Most festivals offer snacks for an additional fee. I usually have a granola bar in my bag just in case.
Be a good human
As the session wears on, the room will slowly fill with drunk people. They will bump into you. Someone will spill beer on you. Shrug it off and smile. Remember, we all love beer here.
Thank everyone who pours you a beer. Compliment the beers you enjoy.
Don’t drink beer you don’t like just because it’s in your glass. Instead, find one you love. Dump beer you don’t love discretely, away from the view of those who poured it. (Festivals have dump stations throughout for this purpose). Drink water at every opportunity.
Check in your beers on Untappd, text your friends, and take photos, but move out of the way. Don’t stand in the middle of the thoroughfare or in front of a brewery’s table glued to your phone.
One of the highlights of a festival is the opportunity to meet the people behind your favourite beer. Say hello and ask questions about the style or the process, but don’t monopolize the table. If there’s a line for the table, hit up another sample or two and watch for your window.
Have a plan to get home that doesn’t involve you or someone else drunk behind the wheel. Some festivals offer shuttle services and taxi chits. Most festivals offer designated-driver tickets and free or cheap non-alcoholic beverages for DDs. Offer to buy a ticket for a fun-loving, non-beer loving friend, and drive them to the next wine festival.
Four events for beer lovers
Maine Brewers’ Guild Summer Beer Festival
South Portland, Me.
Maine has one of North America’s best craft-beer scenes and the state’s largest beer festival sells out yearly. This is a mandatory road-trip for beer aficionados. Tickets went on sale in late April, so get on it. This year the festival focuses 100% on the Guild’s 60-some breweries. Not all of Maine’s about seven-dozen breweries are guild members, so plan your road trip to maximize the number you can visit.
Down East Brew Festival
Carleton Street, Fredericton
This outdoor festival pours beer, cider, mead, spirits, and wine with a street party vibe. Feeling guilty about all that beer? Sign-up for the 0.5-km Donut Dash or 6-km Fredericton Beer Run scheduled
before the festival.
Halifax Seaport Cider & BeerFest
Cunard Centre, Halifax
Last year vendors poured 300+ varieties of beer, mead, and cider over two days. One of the best things about this festival is the variety of European and Maine beers that aren’t available locally.
PEI Beer Festival
Last year this festival poured 120+ beers and ciders from 35 breweries and cideries across Eastern Canada and beyond. Live music, snacks, and good vibes will be on tap. Tickets sales generally start in June.