Beer festivals. I've been to some great ones. I've been to some lousy ones. Now, in my mid-thirties, I've figured out two essential ingredients to knowing what will make a beer festival enjoyable for me.
1) There have to be beers at the festival that I would have difficulty sampling otherwise because of geography, cost or limited availability.
2) There either has to be an early session of the festival or the doors have to open early in the afternoon. If you go early, you tend to miss the drunken louts who show up after dark simply to get loaded.
Thus, my best beer festival experiences have been ones that I have travelled out of state to attend. Lots of new beer to sample in those cases and the festival format allows you to sample much in a limited amount of time.
But my favorite festival that I attended was one in Maine while I was living in that state. It was the Southwest Harbor Oktoberfest and the last one I attended was probably in 2003.
Maine had a lot of craft breweries per capita (at one point it was more per capita than any state in the union but that may have changed since) but some were draft only, brewpubs or a very limited availability. Some breweries literally serviced only a 45 mile radius from the brewery. So even if a brewery was in-state, you might not be able to find the beer. So this was a great chance to sample beers from all over the state and even meet many of the brewers.
I got to meet Rob Tod of Allagash Brewing. It was my first chance to try beers from Sheepscot Valley Brewing and from the Narrow Gauge Brewpub (Narrow Gauge is gone now but had a great cream ale). The Liberal Cup, Gritty McDuff's and The Bear brewpubs were all there too.
It was outside at a campground and the weather was great. There was the beer tent and another tent with live music and still another for crafts and artists. You could bring the whole family if you wanted to.
If you find yourself near Mt. Desert Island in Maine this fall, you can check it out for yourself.
And if you remember those two rules, you'll probably find any beer festival that meets them worthwhile.
For more entries for this month's The Session, head over to Geistbear Brewing Blog where it's being hosted.