Today one’s beery Twitter feed is more likely than not dominated by Americans celebrating National Beer Day. This has caused confusion amongst non-Americans that today is also their day of celebration and libation. It isn’t. Apparently, International Beer Day is the first Friday in August, which in the case of 2016 it falls on 5th August. This is not to be confused with IPA day, marked during the preceding 24 hours (4th August).
All of these occasions have their roots in the US. Americans have a long tradition of honouring events, people or products by declaring a specific date in their honour. In more recent years, this has spread globally to pretty much everything imaginable. Three such days coming up are: International Safety Pin Day (10th April); Barbershop Quartet Day (11th April); & Look up at the Sky Day (14th April). So why should beer be any different?
Social media and the Internet have played a big role in the proliferation of these “days”. National Beer Day was first “marked” or “observed” via a Facebook page set up by Justin Smith only 7 years ago. The date chosen was to commemorate the day when beer became legal once more after the repeal of prohibition, on that date some 63 years earlier. Except it quite wasn’t. Ratification of the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution occurred 8 months later on 5 December 1933 – also a day marked on the beer social media calendar!
Ireland doesn’t have a “beer” day of its own. Does it matter? Well in the grand scheme of things, not at all. However, for craft brewers who rely on word of mouth rather than paid advertising, any excuse for publicity should be seized upon. Did you know the last Wednesday in May is National Fish & Chips Day? Maybe not, but pay attention to the media I and around that day to see the increased coverage chippers get.
We should have something similar for beer. It should be away from existing festivals so as not to eat into their PR. The press would love it. It’s an excuse to take to social media, whether we need one or not. Imagine a hashtag like #irishbeerday trending. It’s free coverage after all both locally & nationally. It can be used to share positive stories about breweries and their products. Let’s not forget that a certain day in September is no longer marked with a big bang. There’s a gap in the calendar that should be filled. I’ll drink to that.
Beer festivals are fantastic for discovering new beers and breweries. I’ve put together the following advice based on experience of attending festivals.
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).