This won’t be an organized collection of thoughts.
I went to the World Beer Festival put on by All About Beer magazine in Raleigh, NC a couple of weeks ago. It took a lot to get me to go – it was a very expensive trip, and the drive (one-way) was twice as long as the festival itself.
I’ll say it was an experience. It wasn’t awesome, but it wasn’t terrible either. Overall, however, I was disappointed that I didn’t get to carry out my mission at a festival of craft beer: talking to brewers and brewery representatives. I spoke to just a few. The big guys weren’t really there – New Belgium was so damn busy they were just slinging beer and moving the line. Same for Mother Earth Brewing, Oskar Blues, and Sierra Nevada. When I finally discovered that Dogfish Head was there (booth 42), the fest was nearly over and they were out of beer. One person was at the table packing it up and didn’t seem like a conversationalist.
Most of the booths were staffed with volunteers. While I don’t mind volunteers (it’s time-consuming and thankless work), it would have been nice to have knowledgeable folks at each booth (preferably from the brewery) to talk to about their beer.
I will say that Sierra Nevada was an exception – they had someone (a fantastic-looking woman) out front to plug their new North Carolina location and how they’re doing it all green and sustainable and tending to the needs of outdoorsy people. Apparently you’ll be able to visit the new location via kayak.
I got to taste a lot of local-ish beers since they had a North Carolina brewer’s tent. I knew I’d find a lot there I hadn’t had before since most of them don’t distribute in Georgia. One memorable brewery was Raleigh Brewing, a downtown production brewery that has an on-site homebrew store. Their head brewer, John Federal, gave a talk about starting a brewery:
I approached him after the talk and told him I loved his House of Clay Rye IPA (one of his own creations). We spoke briefly about starting a brewpub – something my drinking club is mulling over – and he wished me the best of luck. It was by far the best interaction with a brewery that I had at the entire festival. I went back to Raleigh Brewing’s booth and bought that same red shirt you see Mr. Federal wearing above.
I remember it being crowded:
That part I didn’t enjoy. It was so loud and full of people seemingly on a mission to drink as much beer as they can, even if it was two ounces at a time. I found very few people interested in the breweries, quality, ingredients, or the brewers themselves. In short, it was more of a drunk-fest than a quality beer event.
In retrospect, I can’t say I blame anyone for my displeasure except myself. These festivals serve only a couple of intentional purposes, and neither of them have anything to do with Ben on Beer getting one-on-one with breweries:
- Breweries want to get out to the market and get their beer in as many hands as they can.
- All About Beer magazine wants to generate more interest in craft beer and gain an increase in readership.
This is capitalism, and I am not against it. I think it would be wonderful for a brewery to come away from the festival with 300 more customers who know the beer is good, and will remember that when they see it in the store.
The challenge is getting that crowd to remember anything after the event.
I guess a decent thing to do would be to list my thoughts here so maybe someone reading will have some direct language to consider:
It was a drunk-fest. I said it before, and there’s really nothing I can do about it.
The talks were awesome, but if I wanted to attend all of them there would be no time before or after to visit the booths. I guess I wanted more time, or maybe a separate day for beer nerd talk.
The restroom situation couldn’t have been handled any better. Hats off to that one.
I can’t carry everything. No backpacks allowed, but where do I put all my stuff when I have to pee? I went alone this year. I collected as many artifacts from the brewers as I could, and ended up loading myself down almost to the point that I couldn’t move about.
Well, that’s it for now. Maybe if things come back to me I’ll update this post. I most likely won’t go again unless I move much closer to the Raleigh/Durham area.