Top tips for enjoying a beer festival

Beer festivals are fantastic for discovering new beers and breweries. I’ve put together the following advice based on experience of attending festivals.

  1. Develop a plan of attack: Festivals can vary in their size and approach, some may be banks of taps manned by enthusiastic volunteers or others may be stands with the brewers themselves, either way there could be 100s of different beers that could be sampled. Have a look at the festival guide and get a sense of the breweries present and the types of beers on offer and target breweries that you want to try or particular styles that you may like.
  2. Don’t ask, don’t learn: Confused about beer, don’t know what a IPA is or what hops do? Ask. Beer festivals aren’t just for beer nerds like me (don’t worry there’ll be plenty of us at the festival) and don’t feel intimidated by other people asking fairly intense questions. Brewers are more than happy to talk to you because they want to win you over and gain new customers. Feel free to tell them what styles you like and let them suggest beers to try. You might like them and when the festival returns, you might be the one asking those tricky questions
  3. Leave the darker, heavier beers to last: A simple Belgian rule is starting with the lighter beers first and move in ascending order of alcohol strength before moving gradually darker. It’s basically about intensity of flavour, try a hoppy beer before a lager for example and you may not be able to detect little else but carbonated water. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule – lambics, anyone?
  4. Sample before you buy: Festivals are a time to discover something new as well as reacquainting yourself with old friends. It’s not in the breweries interest if the only beer you try from them is not for you (they may have plenty of other that do) so don’t be afraid to ask before you buy. It’s also a great way of getting to learn about different styles and tick off a number of the beers at a festival.
  5. Take notes: This can be as simple as noting down the beers you like, you can quickly forget otherwise. I’ll leave it up to you how best to record what you tried, some guides have notes sections under the beers or others can be simply recorded on the back of beer mats etc (I use my iPhone for instance). However, I must warn you that this can quickly become addictive and and you could be in danger of becoming a “beer ticker” like the rest of us.
  6. Talk to the brewers: Get to know their story, their inspiration and where the beer comes from, it can give you an added appreciation of the beer in your glass. Who says that wine can be the only one with terroir!
  7. Visit breweries making their festival debut: New breweries are popping all over the place. Festivals are often the first time outside select venues or localities that the general public get to sample them. Stop by and see them and give them some encouragement. It’s a good feeling when you see a start-up brewery that you first met at a festival starts becoming available over the months in off licences and bars. It gives you a sense of belonging to a movement.
  8. Take to social media: Festivals can feature limited runs or rotating taps of beers that you might want to try. Also, some beers may be even more popular than expected and run out early. Twitter can be a great way of finding up to the minute information on latest developments, so get learning the hashtag for the festival. If you like a beer or brewery, take a photo and tell the world. Following a brewery that you like is a great way of finding out if they’re coming to an outlet near you.
  9. Food: Beer and food matching is a real thing. Check out if they’re food stands and use it as an opportunity to try first hand what styles of beers go with particular foods. Who knows you might be doing the food vendor a favour!
  10. Look for water stations: This is my version of the “Surgeon General’s Warning”, you can easily pass more than a couple of hours at a beer festival, so hydration will be an issue (especially as the venue heats up) as it is with drinking in general but it also helps cleanse the palate and will assist you moving from beer to beer and appreciating each one on their merits.
  11. Go to more festivals: It’s like when your holiday’s over, the advice is to start planning for the next one. It’s the same with beer festivals and there’s plenty of them out there and can be a great idea for planning a weekend break away or getting a gang of friends to come to the next one. They’re in the large part fairly chilled affairs and enjoyable experiences, you’ll be hooked. Check out sites like www.beoir.org for a list of festivals upcoming in Ireland (the next one is never that far away).

 

Festival goers taking advantage of the weather at the Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival


Beer festivals are a great place to try beers from exciting places, in this case Revolution IPA from Spain’s Molta Birra brewery

 

Great British Beer Festival – One of the largest out there


Smithwicks strikes back

While the independent or craft segment may still be relatively small beer (0.8% in Ireland, 6.3% in the US), macro-breweries are increasingly looking to shore up their market share through the introduction of new products. It is the rate of growth in the “craft” sector that has raised their eyebrows. We’re seeing new lines of beers being introduced alongside their core brands. We just have to look to the introduction of Smithwicks Pale Ale and Calendonian Smooth into the Irish market within the past twelve months. There may be a lot of merit in the “consumer is favouring choice” argument as there seems to be a move away from manufacturing innovation to product innovation. Take for instance the range of Guinness products targeted primarily at the US market – Black Lager, Generous Ale and Red Harvest Stout. Perhaps in the Irish case it is also a response to the threat of Molson Coors ramping up their standing in the Irish market.

Smithwicks recently launched a new offering in the form of Winter Spirit, a 4.5% abv ale. It has a rich, ruby body that is still in keeping with the traditional Smithwicks red. It has a slight blackcurrant aroma, which is even more reminiscent of a bag of wine gums or jelly.  The taste is initially sweet on but becomes toastier as you progress.  It is fairly dry.  It almost lacks something in the body and has not the complexity nor weight you’d expect in a winter seasonal. It is slightly cloying and sweet fruits definitely dominate. On the bottle, they say biscuit flavours so I suppose the closest would be Jam Dodgers. Of course with any good Irish red, there are hints of dry roasted peanuts and toffee nut towards the end. While it’s not a winter ale, it is nevertheless an interesting variation on the standard Smithwicks and not simply a slightly more alcoholic version.

BrewsInternational is Alive!

After much procrastination, I finally got around to putting together my beer blog and website (thanks to Mick Rourke’s wizardry). It is an attempt to capture the emerging trends, features and profiles of beers & breweries of the world. It will cover the world of craft and micro-brews to the stuff you made in the bath as a student that made you blind for 3 days.

Due to being Irish and the exciting things happening in brewing in Ireland, who better than to launch the website than Ronan Brennan, co-founder of Galway Hooker. Thankfully he was more than obliging.