And bad organization kills good beer fests.

Most serious aleheads and beer geeks who have been to a large beer fest will tell you two things about the experience:

1. Getting to sample a bunch of new beers is a lot of fun, and

2. There are typically a lot of annoyances to balance out all the goodness of a beer fest.

It’s just the nature of the beast. Ultimately, the positives almost always outweight the negatives, because hey, at least there’s beer at the fest, and you can drink it (presumably).

However, that doesn’t mean that good intentions are enough to run a good beer fest, and yes, there are vast gulfs between “good” and “bad”. This past weekend, I attended a beer fest that I would put solidly in the “bad” camp—The Bruegala International Beer Tasting Festival in Bloomington, IL, nearby to my own central Illinois home in Decatur. In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to say it was perhaps the worst fest that I’ve been to, for a variety of reasons that I’ll get to in a moment.* First, however, a note on volunteerism:

*A preview: Maybe you should have the beers at the fest that you’re advertising on the beer list at the door?

I volunteered at Bruegala, and this is basically what I do at any beer fest that I can. I really can’t see why someone wouldn’t volunteer, if they were attending a fest. You get in free, you typically get free beer, you might get a shirt or whatnot out of it, and you get the chance to talk to strangers–interested strangers, a real captive audience–about beer, and suggest tastings that will advance their growing interest in craft beer. Hell, I’d volunteer even if I wasn’t getting in free. So please, consider volunteering at festivals near you. Now, back to the various offenses of Bruegala in 2011.*

First of all, let me say that I am amazed that this festival is currently in its 12th year. Most craft beer fests have not been around nearly that long, so it seems inconceivable that the sort of problems apparent this year would not have been corrected before now. They’re all the sort of things that simply make me ask, “How can I be the first person who’s annoyed by this?” For the ease of reading and digesting these problems, I’m just going to put them into bullets.

*Anybody local, please do not trumpet that because this festival raises money for charity, it somehow means that it’s alright for it to be run badly. We all like charity. Charity is good. Charity being good and the fest organization being bad are mutually exclusive things.

Things Not to Do at Your Beer Festival

— Beer tickets instead of flat-rate admission

Let’s start with the method of distribution–tickets. I’ve never been a fan of the “tickets for samples” method of beer fest brew distribution, for a number of reasons. For one, it makes you decide before you even start drinking what you’re going to have to consume throughout, so you’ll know how many tickets to buy. It slows down the tasting lines as volunteers have to collect exact numbers of tickets (1 to 3 tickets at this fest) for each beer. Half the booths are staffed by people who don’t even know how many tickets to charge, or just ignore the number. People lose their tickets. At Bruegala, this was the first-ever year where actual, raffle-style tickets were replaced by what was essentially a business card that would receive hole-punches. This worked fine—except for all the people handing beer-soaked, disintegrating cards to the volunteers handing out samples, who then proceeded to mangle them at random with hole-punchers.

Most importantly, however, this method of charging people for samples hurts the very purpose of a beer festival in the first place–the fest is supposed to be a place where you are not afraid to TRY NEW BEERS. With the ticket method, people look down at their list and say “Hmmm, well, that beer I’ve never heard of before is charging 3 tickets for a sample, is it really worth that $1.50 if I don’t know I’m going to like it? I could just spend my tickets on that other thing I’ve had before.”

It’s for this reason that all of the best and biggest beer festivals in the country simply charge a flat fee–pay your $25-50, get your sampling glass and try whatever you want, without fear of “maybe I won’t like this.” It’s more efficient in every way–the only excuse I could accept is if Illinois has some sort of law on the books outlawing “unlimited drinking” in any form, which honestly wouldn’t surprise me. The ironic thing with that argument is that tickets ultimately force greater consumption, because you don’t want to leave until you’ve spent every ticket, even when you don’t really want to drink any more. Trust me on that one–many has been the time I’m ready to leave, but I’m standing there with 10 tickets left.

— Not having the beers you advertise having

There is NO excuse, however, for some of the other offenses, chief among them being not having the beers that you claim you have on the beer list you’re distributing to people at the front door. To elaborate, when I walked in and scanned the beer list, here’s what I saw: Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, Bourbon County Coffee, and Bourbon County Vanilla. Immediately, I was incredulous. “Hmmm,” I thought. “Do they really have Bourbon County Coffee here? Because these people do not seem nearly competent enough to have that on hand, as it would take actual organization other than a trip to the local package store here to achieve.”

Sure enough, when I walked over, the guy manning the Goose Island table informed me that no, they didn’t have those beers. It was the same story at plenty of other tables as well, and not even just with with the rare stuff—North Coast had no Le Merle, Stone had no Sublimely Self Righteous, etc. I’m sure there were plenty missing that I didn’t even see. One entire table of homebrewers listed on the program weren’t even in attendance–I presume they were only attending the Saturday session, or perhaps they just heard that the Bourbon County was MIA and decided not to show. Everyone I talked to at the fest about this agreed with me that this is basically the beer equivalent of a bait-and-switch. Why list it if you don’t have it? When were these lists printed up?

— HAVING beers that you DON’T advertise having

Incredibly, other tables had the exact opposite problem at the same time, stocking bunches of beers that didn’t appear anywhere on the program. Sierra Nevada, for instance, had its Ovila Abbey Dubbel and Estate beers on hand without any mention of them in the program. Therefore, all the people scanning the beer list to find which brews were worth their time (which you had to do because of the ticket system) likely would pass that table right by…especially because Sierra Nevada was sharing space with “Twisted Tea”. Honestly, why else would you stop there? No alehead at a beer festival where he/she is paying for tickets is going to use one of those tickets on a sample of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, however much we like it.

Between this and the previous bullet, just how and when were these lists constructed? A month ahead of time, based on “What we would really like to be able to get” for the festival? Is this a wish list?

— A staff that has no clue how much to charge

I will be fair–the organizers explained to us initially exactly how the sampling was supposed to work. With that said, you probably need to make sure people actually do things that way throughout the festival, because people are idiots. Every other table I visited had a different, arcane way of charging for beers. At one table for instance, the math had become completely screwy–they were charging 2 tickets for a full taste, and simultaneously giving out two half-tastes (equaling one full taster glass) for 1 ticket. So essentially, they were giving out twice as much beer, as long as you drank it 2 oz at a time instead of 4 oz. So let that be a lesson to you–buying in bulk doesn’t always pay, at least when someone who can’t multiply is in charge.

— Impractical, time-sink tables

There was one homebrewer’s table in particular that was a good idea, but very poorly executed. It had 11 beers on hand, but due to the low sample price compared to other tables and having only one person serving, it built quite a line. As in, it took about 15 minutes to get a sample–one sample–of the 11 beers. Then, because there were other people behind you who had been waiting 15 minutes of their own, you had to clear off. Better get back in line if you want a sample of a different beer! At 15 minutes per sample and 11 beers, that’s only…3 hours to try them all, at only one table of 35 tables at the fest. EFFICIENCY! For reference, that’s over half the time the festival grounds are open in a day.

And here’s the kicker–the one beer I had from that homebrewer’s table was one of the best things I had at the fest. I wasn’t able to try any more, however, because I didn’t have time to keep waiting in line over and over.

— No water. Not for drinking*, not for glass-washing

This is the first beer fest I’ve ever intended without some kind of water distribution system. Most just have a table of free water for people to stay hydrated. Likewise, there was no way to rinse out your glass between samples—there wasn’t even any way to dispose of a sample you didn’t want to drink! I made the mistake of getting a strong Rogue beer that I didn’t care for whatsoever, and ultimately ended up taking it to the bathroom to dump out in a sink (should have picked the urinal) due to the fact that there was simply nowhere else I could take it. To remind you of something from earlier: This festival has been operating for TWELVE YEARS. How could someone not have suggested “water–for drinking and washing!” at one of the planning sessions in 12 years of festivals? Does that not seem impossible to you? I cannot be the only one thinking of these things.

*They were selling water outside the festival grounds, if you think that’s better.


That’s all, folks. I hope this has been helpful to anyone out there planning their very own beer fest. I feel quite certain that this will all be taken the wrong way, most likely as Kid Carboy Jr. picking on some poor, defenseless festival that was just trying to raise a little money for a good cause. “Hey man, shut up and drink the beer, and if you don’t like it, you can GIT OUT!”, the commenters will surely say, refreshing their browsers to their Sarah Palin homepage in disgust.

But why shouldn’t these things aspire to be better? Simple guidelines like “don’t tell people you have beer you don’t have” or “give drunk people some water” are not that difficult to follow. Are you really going to argue that either of those things are bad ideas? If so, I welcome your contrary, possibly deranged, perspective on this matter.

EDIT: I should have mentioned that this is not meant to be some kind of claim on “worst beer festival” or anything of that nature. I know that there are many that are much, much worse. Consider this simply a listing of the typical pitfalls that you run into at these events—you’ve probably seen some yourself. What offenses have you seen at your own local beer fests?

54 thoughts on “HOW NOT TO RUN A BEER FEST

  1. I’m afraid I don’t agree with most of these points! Yes in theory some of the things you suggest could be easier to sort out but in practice rarely so.

    Beers for example. Beers often change at the last minute and programs are printed up in advance, this would account for the fact that a) some beers weren’t there and b) tehre were some unlisted beers. Never trust the program for what’s on its just a guide

    Tokens are much bette rthan cash at a festival. All festivals in the UK charge per drink as in many other countries. Different drinks cost different amounts and charging up front penalises those who don’t drink as much. Tokens are better than cash because it stops cash thefts.

    staff not being able to add up…you said it yourself, they’re all volunteers and its not possible to train people if they turn up when the festival is already on/about to start.

    Water is a tricky one, perhaps the logistics of getting water into the venue is a problem. People should bring their own water anyway. What’s wrong qwith rinsing out your glass in the sink?

  2. Have any Aleheads ever been to a Uk beer festival? I’ve never seen water of any kind on display over here – regular swill trips to the toilet are par for the course. Rinsing your undrinkably hazy 3% golden ale next to someone draining theirs in a different manner isn’t exactly fun.

    Generally here you pay a small fee at the door, again to get a deposit on a glass, and then you buy your beer at the bars – either halves or pints (or thirds if you’re a ticker). This way you get the best level of control over what you want to drink verses how much you can actually put away.

    And queueing for 15mins to sample homebrew? The Atlantic seems like a very wide ocean…

  3. It seems to be that in this case there may be a cultural difference between UK and US beer fests. To Steve’s notion of using tokens instead of cash, that wasn’t really what Kid Carboy (Gosh, it’s weird calling you that) was talking about. The norm in the US is that you buy your tickets for a flat rate in advance- so for the beer festival I went to two weekends ago, it was $35 USD for 5 hours of unlimited samples. We didn’t need to bring a lot of cash with us, because the beer was all paid for in advance.

    I also agree with the comment on the sunk cost aspect of having tickets– you bought them, and so you feel like you have to use them. Hooray, cognitive psychology! For us, on the other hand, we ended up leaving half an hour early because we had enough to drink and were ready to go home.

    On the case of water, most US beerfests don’t allow you to bring in outside beverages. I got around that at our beerfest (which also sold water) by bringing in my nalgene empty, and filling it up at the one indoor place inside the grounds. Many places don’t have an opportunity to fill up water bottles like that, so is moot. Depending on the beerfest, the bathrooms may be port-a-pottys, in which case the water in the sinks is not fit for consumption. It’s highly dependent on the venue. I think the water issue (in terms of consumption) is a health and safety issue, and thus should never be a charged aspect. Rinse water is just common courtesy (we did have that).

    I think you did a good write up on issues (that should mostly be non issues) with beerfests. The one in State College didn’t have a printed list of beers, but of breweries. Not even all of the breweries were there (Like Southern Tier, which I found disappointing). But then some breweries, like Brooklyn, brought out great beer (Locals 1 and 2) in addition to their normal stuff, and were loved by all.

  4. Having been involved with some organizers of beer fests its tough to list the beers because, like Steve mentioned, things change last minute. That said it sounds like someone dropped the ball if that many beers were absent.

    You want a bad beer fest, last year I worked the Brew at the Zoo in Pittsburgh and it was a disaster. No drink tickets (i’m all for the flat fees) but an outdoor event had no tents and of course it rained for 5 hours. The staff was more about getting loaded than helping out and they would herd the attendees around the zoo in sections so 1000 people were being moved like cattle. We sat around for 1.5 hours before our first customer and no one knew why. When they did show up my line was 25 people deep. I know a lot of people aren’t going back this year and ticket prices went up to $60.

    If you want a well organized beer fest check out The Big tap In (Boardman, OH) or Steel City Big Pour (Pittsburgh). Well if you can get tickets in time. There’s a reason they sell 3000 in 10 minutes.

  5. Thanks, Paige.

    I was indeed advocating an ulimited drinking system, and not cash-based payment, which as Steve points out, would be even worse. The whole point is that you shouldn’t have to carry cash or tickets around, just be wearing a wristband. With unlimited tasting, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find any beer geek worth that title who doesn’t feel like he/she gets the most for his money.

    But as for rinsing things out in the sink? Do you really expect people to go back and forth between the tasting floor and the bathroom each time they have a 2-4 oz sample of beer? Imagine if everyone was trying to do that. Explain to me again why that would be simpler than having a bucket on each table to dump out a beer into?

    As for “beers changing at the last minute,” that doesn’t apply in this case. These guys never even had a shot at getting some of this rare stuff. Like, if they had given me the list of beers they WANTED to get a few months ago, I could probably have picked all the ones that wouldn’t actually be there. Bourbon County Coffee? Please. The list ends up looking like either hubris or extremely wishful thinking.

    I also should have mentioned that I’m not trying to call this specific festival “worst in the world” or some kind of title like that. There are ones way, way worse, which do things like not even printing up a beer list. If anything, these are just common pitfalls, as I see them.

  6. And Spoon proves my point–that sounds like an awful festival. I like that, in honor of it being so bad, they raised ticket prices.

  7. Kid, I think all of your points are 100% valid. Beer festivals shouldn’t be stressful events that force you to make frustrating decisions. They should be about wandering around, freely sampling beers, learning about breweries, and meeting like-minded people.

    Contrast your experience with the Magic City Brewfest here in Birmingham. It’s a flat fee (in my opinion, the ONLY way to run a beer festival). 99% of the beer on-site is properly listed in the program (as Spoon said, perfect accuracy with those lists is an impossibility, but the Magic City organizers do about as well as you can in that vein). There’s water at EVERY station, both for drinking and for rinsing your glass (a handy bucket underneath each water dispenser handles the dregs). And the volunteers, for the most part, are engaged.

    There are ALWAYS problems at festivals. Magic City is held at an outdoor venue early in the Birmingham summer which means heat and humidity are ever-present. And in years past, bathrooms were in short supply (completely fixed this year with a battalion of Port-a-Johns). There was also a minor complaint this year that some of the most sought-after beers were served from a “Special” tent at specific times which created an insane line. But, in response to your post, it seems like the Magic City Brewfest organizers (the good folks at Free the Hops) try to get better every year. Compare that to your experience where it seems like there are systemic problems that go all the way up to the organizers. I would certainly skip the festival next year. You can always donate $20 to the charity it supports and avoid the headache altogether.

  8. What bugs me is that the beer festivals here in Springfield only have what’s already available in stores. The craft beer scene in central Illinois is something of a wasteland thanks to the distributors, who seem to think craft beer just takes up space on their trucks.

    I want to go to a festival where I can try stuff not already available here. The distributors could do it as some kind of focus group, seeing what poured well and what didn’t and adding those that did do well.

    But this is Illinois, where pay-to-play reigns.

  9. To be most honest, there is little to like about festivals. You have to stand in line with other sweaties for a sip of beer, repeat 100x. It’s generally crowded, full of people I don’t care to know and is not a pleasant way to taste beer. Is better spend your $60 pooling bombers with your lieutenants and watching Svetlana do yoga and discipline Karl on the closed circuit television. There is small argument to be made for the difficult to find beers but how often are you *really* impressed by the DFH Pedophile Ale you found at festival X over the thousand excellent beers that still sit at bottle shop ready to be purchased for money.

  10. watch This is Spinal Tap and then work a festival. you’ll find out they’re very similar 🙂

    I wish more festivals would bring in homebrewers. I was at Beer on the Bay in Erie a couple of months ago and the homebrewers were hands down the best of show. That’s another fest that went downhill because the local chamber took it over and didnt have the experience of doing a beer event before. Instead of a horseshoe around the bay they crammed 1000 people and 35 brewers into a tent in 95F weather. the view was gone and it was just miserable.

  11. I think we can all agree that festivals just aren’t the best place to drink beer, as Czar Vladibeer says. We cover the Scottish Real Ale Festival ever year, and the temperature inside the most recent was seriously problematic for the cask ale. These things happen – although I like the idea of being able to look at lions and soforth while I’m drinking.

    Water should be a pre-requisite for beer festivals, in practice I usually end up rinsing in the toilet every 4/5 drinks. It’s just too much of pain in the backside to rinse every time – plus we all know what beer festival toilets are like.

    Never having attended a flat-fee festival, that sounds like one hell of an afternoon. I’d take $35 for 5hrs of samples over £4 + £3 + £1.50 x 15 anytime. Actually, the only token festival I’ve been to concluded with me being violently ill inside a portaloo at 5am. I’m guessing co-incidentally.

  12. Rich: I hope you’re not actually rinsing IN the toilet.

    Flavius: That’s exactly what I’m talking about here. Sure, they have a bunch of beers, but they’re all the same stuff that’s available in the local package store. That’s what makes it stick out when the few rare beers that AREN’T available down the street at a Friar Tucks Beverage are all conspicuously absent. As in, the beers that actually would take hard work to acquire.

    Spoon: The homebrewers were far and away the best part of the festival. I was able to try all the beers from one of the three homebrewing tables that was supposed to be in attendance. The others, I wish I could have had, but one had those long lines, and the other was missing entirely.

  13. My point is that beer festivals aren’t just there to cater for beer geeks flat rate fees discriminate against people that want to find out more about good beer.

    The water point, yes water at beer festivals would be lovely, but as someone pointed out earlier if they have portaloos how are they going to have running water for rinsing glasses? Slops buckets are easier to organise but then you need extra volunteers to come round and empty them and you already mentioned many stalls were understaffed as it was. I think they could have made a lot of money for charity if they sold bottled water though! UK festivals don’t generally have glass washes (again logistics of getting fresh water piped in/ topped up) but most do allow you to swap your glass for a fresh one.

    I think the points although annoying for you are actually relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. There are much worse things they could be doing, charging for toilet usage for example. I hope that you feedback your thoughts to the organisers rather just posting online for fellow beer geeks to read. Better still why not offer to help organise next year’s event and rectify these perceived issues. I know I would be if there were a beer festival near me.

  14. Steve: I believe that the tickets themselves discriminate against newbies more than a flat fee does. Having tickets instead of being able to try any beer makes people who are new to beer less likely to try NEW THINGS that they’ve never had before. If they have, say, three tickets left, and are confronted with a choice of an expensive, weird-sounding beer they don’t know and a few cheaper, safe choices they’ve had before, they could be tempted to simply play it safe.

    This is against the entire spirit of why the fest is supposed to exist. In a flat rate system, they can try whatever they want without fear of having “wasted a ticket.” It also makes it more likely that they’ll continue trying new beers if they try one they don’t like, because they won’t feel like they wasted money on it.

    Most of the stalls weren’t understaffed, just that homebrewers’ one with the long line. They could easily have offered water at the stalls or dealt with a bucket of rejected beer. Hell, I actually ran my booth by myself for a half hour at a time or more while the person I was paired up with went out and smoked and such. (I didn’t mind, I was in my element at that point)

    I genuinely hope that there are no fests out there charging for toilet usage, but it’s not fair to say “at least they didn’t do *UNLIKELY THING HERE*” You might as well say “Well, you shouldn’t criticize the fest, because at least they didn’t pick random people from the crowd and crucify them on the front lawn.”

  15. Its not something I’ve come across but I’m sure it happens. Public toilets are often charged for. I didn’t say you shouldn’t criticize them but that you should also get their perspective of it. A point I see you have neglected to reply to.

    Where would the buckets be emptied if the drains can’t cope? Who will carry the buckets if they get too heavy?

    I think yes, once people have paid for a ticket they will be able to try a number of beers without a fear of wasting money. But people would be put off from paying out such a large amount of money up front. Tokens allow you to buy as many or as few beers as you want and usually leftovers can be refunded in any case; so wouldn’t lead to people drinking more than they otherwise would. If I’d paid a flat-rate I’d be inclined to drink more, each extra beer brings down the price per beer making it better value for money. A lot of people at beer festivals will have never tried anything outside of the major brands before, which wouldn’t be available at the beer festival in the first place. Every beer tried is a new beer for them.

  16. Steve: The questions you pose make assumptions that don’t make sense. Why would “drains not be able to cope” with pouring excess beer into them? These aren’t kegs of brew, just rejected samples. There is no logistical undertaking here.

    Likewise, why would they be using buckets that can’t be physically lifted once they get beer in them? Who in the world would do that?

    And if leftover tickets/tokens can be refunded in your neck of the woods, that’s a nice feature. I’ve never been to a beer fest with tickets that could be refunded. That would be way too much work for the ticket vendors, and there’s no way they’re going to part with the cash they’ve already collected. That system would also mean that tickets = cash, so you could have people stealing rolls of tickets and trying to “refund” them throughout.

  17. sounds like you get some dodgy types at the beer festivals you go to! Beer tokens are generally kept behind a desk, i guess the festival type you talk of is different groups of people organising different things rather than one group doing everything. Here tickets are sold in advance for entry and include refundable glass deposit then you buy tokens on the day.

    I meant not all venues have suitable water systems and that’s why they’d be hiring external toilets e.g., tented venues. If there’s no running water how can you rinse a glass? Maybe it was just an oversight on their part though. Have you been in previous years?

  18. I have yet to go to a beer fest where the 5 gal buckets even come close to being full over 6 hours and if they would there are usually volunteers who would take care of it. Odds have it if you’re at a fest in a field that pour bucket becomes the ground. I have gone to a few fests that didn’t have a rinse station and most people didn’t care.

    In PA technically you’re not supposed to pour more than 3oz for a sample. If you get lucky and have one filled your glass is only 5-6oz to start with.

    Tokens would be a horrible idea at any fest I’ve been to but then again there isn’t a 15 minute wait for a beer and I can’t imagine standing in line that long for any beer when a fest is only a couple of hours. That could be a case for tokens/tickets but it’ll never happen here because the earning potential of a flat fee is too lucrative. The system in Pittsburgh seems to work out since 95% of fests here sell out and have very few problems.

    Now if I paid more than $20 for a fest using tickets there better be some damn good food and water available. Heck I don’t even think our DD tickets are less than $25.

  19. Steve, the festival I was describing earlier had water for drinking/rinsing at every station and did NOT have easily accessible running water. Rather, each station was equipped with a 5-gallon water cooler which probably had to be refilled only once or twice during the entire event. A very easy and very cheap solution.

    Not having water at a beer festival indicates very lazy and/or very cheap organizers. Either way, it’s not a festival I’d like to attend. Eh…who am I kidding? I’d attend a UK Beer Festival regardless of how poorly it was organized just so I could be surrounded by more beer engines than I’ve ever seen in my life.

    Czar, I agree that beer festivals really aren’t the ideal location for trying new beers, but they ARE a great place to meet fellow beer enthusiasts and local brewers. I know meeting people isn’t a priority in the Czar’s world, but they’re great places for Svetlana to show off her new polar bear fur coat and blood diamond necklace. You need to let her OUT once in awhile! You’re smothering her!

  20. a lot of cask beer festivals serve on gravity so you may be disappointed unless you choose wisely! There’s no silly bans on people bringing their own food and drink with them and most festivals have food and soft drinks for sale too so its not really an issue. Festivals here are really like a very large pub and all volunteers are either serving or doing other essential jobs; so there wouldn’t be someone free to do emptying duties in many cases. I think our experiences of beer festivals either side of the Atlantic are too dissimilar though to understand fully their individual nuances.

  21. I too was at this beer fest and had a great time. It was obviously not perfect, but I think calling it the worst beer fest might be a little too harsh. (Side note, I have been reading this blog for a while, I knew you were in Illinois, had no idea you were just 45min south on 51. Small world). Here is my opinion of your grievances;

    1) Tickets vs Flat Fee:
    While you make some valid points, I think you are looking at it (obviously) from a prospective of an “Alehead” aka beer lover. If the admission price was, as suggest $35-50 w/ unlimited samples, you, as an Alehead, would be able to get your money’s worth. But Aleheads are an elite few. Most people are casual beer fans. For example, my wife and I went together. Admission was $15 each which I assumed went for the venue, the glass and the bands. We then purchased the $20 sample card (25 punches, I think). I used the majority of them, while my wife only used a few (mostly raspberry wheats.) We still had 1 punch left so our total cost was $50. If it was $35 flat fee it would have been $70 total and my wife and other casual beer drinkers/ friends being dragged there, would not have gotten there money’s worth

    2) Having/not having beers being advertised:
    No idea, someone mentioned possible last minute additions and subtractions. I duuno

    3) A staff that had no clue how much to charge:
    As you mentioned, the organizers explained how it was to work the good-doer volunteers messed it up. Not sure what else they could have done. The only example of this I saw when the Founder’s KBS I sampled was supposed to be 3 punches and they only punched by car 1 time. I’m not complaining.

    4) Water:
    I understand your point. There were some water fountains just outside the ball room and water bottles outside with the stage. I’m guessing it was logistics of have to refill coolers and empty nasty buckets.

    5) Time-sink tables.
    I know of the one which you speak (Lil-beaver). Really good beer and a long line. I am guessing you were there the 1st night, b/c the 2nd night when I was there were 3 people working the table. Not sure what else they could have done.

    Your complaints seem relatively nitpicky in my opinion. Could things be better? Always. Worst ever? I don’t think so.

  22. C: I think you misread it when I said “this is not meant to be some kind of claim on ‘worst beer festival'” as “this is the worst beer festival.”

    …I think you will agree that this is the opposite of what I wrote.

    As for the rest though, you’re not wrong. I was indeed there the first night, and I wish I could have had more of the beer from those homebrewers. I didn’t mention them by name because I didn’t want people to think I was ragging on them—the one IPA I had, after all, was really excellent. I wish I could have had stuff like the KBS, but that was only on Saturday, and there was no way to know it would be there before coming, seeing as they didn’t list that stuff on the site beforehand. <— should have added this stuff to my list.

    I'm simply of the opinion that if things can improve, we should work on making those improvements. I don't see why we can't objectively judge things–some stuff is "good," and some stuff is considerably less good.

    Unfortunately, it's typically difficult to list things that are "wrong" without people jumping on you for being at all negative. Folks act like there's no shades of gray, as if by pointing out a problem with a beer fest you're against the entire concept of them. Clearly, this is not the case. I just want things to be the best they can possibly be.

    Thank you though, C, for delivering your points so cordially. I really do appreciate it.

  23. “I wish I could have had stuff like the KBS, but that was only on Saturday, and there was no way to know it would be there before coming, seeing as they didn’t list that stuff on the site beforehand. <— should have added this stuff to my list." 🙂

    I'm sorry I misread your post, you said the worst you've been too, not the worst ever. Obviously a big difference. Hope it didn't sound like I was jumping on you. I enjoy the blog.

    PS sorry for my many typos and grammar errors, problem with typing on an iPhone.

  24. HAH, see, I stopped reading as soon as I reached “wine makers,” figuring there wouldn’t be anything more of value on the list! Looks like the alehead hatred of vineheads got the best of me.

    Anyway, thanks for pointing it out. Where do you usually go for beer in Bloomington? Fat Jacks and Medici? Are there other places I should know? Besides Destihl that is.

  25. Medici and Destihl. That’s pretty much it, sadly. Pathetic for a town of moderate size with a wealthy population and lots of college students. What’s good in Decatur?

  26. You will find this hard to believe, but Decatur is actually worse for beer than Bloomington. In fact, a year ago there wasn’t anyplace with any real craft beer on tap here. Today there are a few choices; McGorray’s Golf and Grille, which has a good selection, most of it in bottles, and Donnie’s Homespun Pizza, which also has mostly bottles and good food.

    Other than that it’s a wasteland. No Friar Tuck here and no brewpubs. I’m thankful for the places that have actually opened, but I still typically go to Champaign for most beer-related things.

  27. Springfield isn’t much better. Package-wise, there’s Friar Tuck and Famous Wine and Spirits, which doesn’t have quite the selection of Friar Tuck but beats them on price for some labels. Schnucks has a pretty good selection as grocery stores go, plus their $8.69 Two Hearted Ale six-pack can’t be beat!

    Brewhaus is the major beer bar in town, with eight or 10 taps and 100-plus bottles, but that number is way down from its heyday. The tavern/pub type places are hit or miss per beer selection.

  28. Indeed. I’ve been to Brewhaus a handful of times, and Floyd’s as well, which has a better name than it does beer list. Decatur might have a slight edge in the bars—McGorray’s is pretty quality and Donnies Homespun is no slouch—but we suffer greatly by not having a Friar Tuck here. The Famous Wine and Spirits does not cut it.

  29. The point is you focused entirely on negative points in this post, rather than trying to balance it with what they did well. You also made no mention of whetehr or not you fed back to organisers. Moaning about it on a beer blog isn’t going to improve things because 9 times out of 10 beer festival organisers aren’t going to be going online looking for comment pieces after the festival has finished.

    I think C summed it up well “Your complaints seem relatively nitpicky in my opinion.” Yes it might possibly have been better if there had been the things you mentioned, but your opinions were influenced by your preformed concept of a beer festival, which not be the same as everyone elses.

  30. I’ve been to many beer fests, some where it was a fixed price and others with tickets. I believe both can be successful with the proper organization.
    It seems that the beer fest you describe had poor organization from the beginning. It’s very tough to have any successful event without organization.
    One thing they should have done is to offer an updated list of beers as attendees arrived on the day of the event.

  31. I brought up each of these point to the organizers after originally meeting them. They were essentially handwaved—“why should we have the rare beers that are on the list?” They didn’t seem to think that not having the most interesting beers would be something that people would mind. Actually—that’s not quite right. I couldn’t actually find any one of the organizers who knew why they didn’t have those brews, on account of nobody there knew anything about what was going on. Most, when I mentioned “You don’t have ____ or ____,” replied with “We don’t?”

    Likewise, when I told them about the tables seemingly fabricating their own methods for serving out of the whole cloth, they looked at me with surprise and alarm. “Which table?” they asked, and I laughed a hearty laugh at their use of the singular. “How about every table?”

  32. Yeah I heard Umbutu was trying to refill the glass washing station…

    Does sound like the organisers were a bit disorganised, are you going to offer to help next year?

  33. Adam, I imagine that, given your comment, you must have immediately stepped aboard a plane for the Ivory Coast after posting, on your way to go work for the benefit the family of poor Umbutu. Surely you wouldn’t make such a comment and then continue on NOT rededicating the rest of your life to improving lives through the Friends of Umbutu relief fund. As soon as you get it up and running, I’d like to be the first to donate, severely chastened as I am in my shame that I spend my time pointing out ways that a local beer fest might improve itself. In short, I am a monster, and I must hang for my crimes.

  34. I have been hitting the homebrew very heavily in the past week to free up bottles for more homebrew. I’m in that buffer zone where I need like, 12 more bottles to put the next batch in, so I’m drinking like crazy to avoid having to buy more because I only have a few open times that I can bottle over the weekend.

    I think I’m going to succeed and then be too drunk/hungover to successfully bottle the beer.

  35. Sounds familiar…I could have sworn some kid in raggedy clothing came to my door a while back and lisped something about pennies for “Unicef,” but I didn’t quite catch all of it when I slammed it in his face and went back to the boiling brew kettle.

  36. KC,

    Good news- MY pedantic beef is just about usage! When you say, “Charity being good and the fest organization being bad are mutually exclusive things.” I think you’re either missing a “not”, hate charity, or else I do not think that means what you think it means.

    Unlike the rest of the Internet, I have nothing to say about why you should be more appreciative of poor organization at a drinking event.

  37. I had to look up what you meant, but I see where the confusion comes from if you’re using the mathematical-style definition that says two events that can’t occur at once. That definition was news to me. I always understood “mutually exclusive” to mean something closer to its common-use definition,

    “A statistical term used to describe a situation where the occurrence of one event is not influenced or caused by another event,”

    on account of being a word person with an intense hatred of math. So in a sense, I was just trying to say “the fact that charity is good and the fest organization is bad are two things that have no link or connection, so please don’t tell me that by criticizing festival logistics I am opposing the concept of charitable giving. I am not.”

    Are you a statistician or an actuary or something, Jaydles?

  38. Just because he’s a leprechaun, that doesn’t mean he can’t be an actuary.

    I would go on to say that the two are mutually exclusive, but it’s entirely possible that I would have no clue of what I was talking about.

  39. KC(J),

    It’s unclear why I’m doing this; debating grammar is really only useful in convincing people that you’re probably better at Dungeons and Dragons than sex. That said:

    I think you’re still off – it looks like the source you’re quoting may be, and they’re essentially mistaken. At the risk of sounding like the beginniin of a mediocre essay, Merriam Webster defines the term as, “being related such that each excludes or precludes the other ; also : incompatible “.

    Which is the *opposite* of events that are unrelated, which is the investopedia definition you reference. I’m guessing, but I think their error is that they’re accidentally actually defining the more used term, which is, “not mutually exclusive”.

    I think the correct usage would be, “Barley and Slouch can both be partially correct, as being a jackass and a leprechaun are *not* mutually exclusive. (See me, or the Warwick Davis movie entitled, “Leprechan”. I’m not aware of any film in which Mr. Davis protrays a Leprechaun actuary, but I”m still working my way through his body of work.)

    Similarly, liking charity, and disliking how a charity mishandles an event are NOT mutually exclusive. If they were, you couldn’t like the former and dislike the latter. Your point is that you can, and do.

    My point, sadly, appears to be that I am better at Dungeons and Dragons than sex.

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