Sunday, September 1, 2013


Shove the can in the can for tender breasts

So Carton goes and puts Boat Beer in cans. This is a wonderful thing and an important moment in New Jersey craft beer history. This is the first New Jersey craft beer to be canned. Fanfare, hoorahs, huzzahs and all that celebratory stuff. Okay, done now? Two questions now arise: 1) can you shotgun it and 2) will it make for good beer can chicken.

Augie Carton brews Boat because he loves it. It's his favorite beer, period. Just ask him. The hop profile sings to him and he sings back in a voice for everyone to hear. Every pint of the cloudy, hoppy goodness is testament to that blend of humulus lupulus that gives Boat its distinctly wonderful flavor. But in cans there is an intensification in the delivery of those hops to your tongue. Augie describes it as having the outriggers of a trireme of hops riding along the sides of your tongue as well as the usual assault on the bulk of your lingua. Yes, he used a boat analogy to describe Boat...go figure. But, he claimed, shotgunning a can of Boat is like having Cascade hops shot directly into your mouth and down your throat. Well, this I HAD to try! 

As usual, he's right. On all accounts. Drinking Boat from the can does intensify the hops along the sides of the tongue and shotgunning it does make it seem as if fresh hops were injected straight down your gullet. So that's settled and we're all better for it. On to the chicken. 

Almost all beer can chicken recipes agree that you use a 4-pound bird liberally dusted with spice rub. You then open a can of beer, drink about half of it and then insert the open end into the bird's cavity. Place the bird on the grill using the can and the two legs to form a tripod and place it away from the heat. Cook it, rotating every 15 minutes or so, for an hour or more, until you reach the correct temperature. That's about 180 in the thickest part of the thigh for those, like me, who constantly forget. Yes, it's this easy.

So I made a rub of salt, black pepper, paprika, garlic powder, chipolte and cumin...a pretty standard concoction in my kitchen. I wanted something pretty aggressive thinking that the strong hop presence in Boat would inundate the breast meat with hoppy goodness and I wanted to give the flavoring on the skin the chance to stand up to it. So I skewed the percentage of black pepper and chipotle upwards and then rubbed the bird inside and out with the blend. I gladly drank half a can of Boat Beer and shoved the can up the chicken's can. The coals were ready so the chicken got placed on the grates, away from the coals, just under the chimney vent.

After 20 minutes I gave the bird a quarter turn and you could already smell the hop aroma coursing through the interior of the grill. I wondered if I had enough spice rub on it. Another turn and then another and then the thighs were facing the fire. After fifteen more minutes I checked the temperature and got a 176 degree reading. Knowing that meat will thermally "cruise" five degrees or so while resting, I removed the bird, carefully extracting the can. I pondered drinking the contents, but thought better of it. That could be all kinds of nasty and none of my bad influences were around to coerce me.

After a 10 minute rest I started to butcher the bird. Well, "butcher" is not the correct word. That implies that some force was used. This bird came apart with little effort and the knife was mostly to cut through the skin as each joint came apart with the slightest of coaxing. This is typical of beer can chicken as the steaming beer inside the can keeps everything nice and succulent. The inside of my mouth was moist with anticipation. It was time to eat.

I knew that the breast meat would carry most of the flavor that the beer imparted, so I tried that first. Bummer. It only barely held any hop flavor, leading to some degree of disappointment on my part. That also meant that the rub I made was too aggressive, but that was okay. So this leaves me wondering if I did something wrong or there's something in the chemistry that does not allow the meat to absorb flavors from the beer. Some may suggest that the hop flavors do not carry into the steam rising from the beer, but if you could smell those wonderful, hoppy aromas you'd know otherwise.

Overall, the meal was a success despite not getting a lot of hop flavor into the meat. The bird was exceptionally tender and quite delicious, but I see no point in wasting a good can of Boat next time. With what little I was able to derive from it, you could use a can of a lesser beer and get the same result. I'll save the can of Boat to drink with the meal. It would be wonderful drank out of a teku, I presume.

ADDENDUM: I had come up with a few theories as to why this did not seem to work involving the art of brining, osmosis and the penchant that salt has for allowing liquids and the inherent flavors to enter into meat. Since none of that is present in beer can chicken, what you expected to work just didn't. So I did a bit of research and found this study.

It thoroughly tests if beer can chicken works or not and conclusively reaches the opinion that it does not. Is that a busted myth? I don't know. So many people swear by it, but the scientific method shows that shoving a can half full of beer up a chicken's keister really makes no difference, which is what I experienced.

So the next round is going to be brining a chicken in Boat Beer and seeing how that works. I'm thinking one 16 ounce can of Boat, 1/4 cup of salt and 2 tablespoons of sugar dissolved in water. Soak the chicken in this mixture for at least an hour, no more than two and then roast as you normally would. I've got good money on this method working a lot better for imparting the flavor of the beer into the bird. We'll see; it's starting to get cool enough to roast again.

SECOND ADDENDUM: Would that be an addendumdum? I brined the bird to the exact specifications listed above and cooked it on the grill using the beer can method, but with water in the can since it's been established that the liquid doesn't matter. In fact, having any liquid in the can doesn't particularly matter, but the vertical posture of the chicken does seem to deliver a very evenly cooked bird with amazingly crispy skin.

This time all portions of the bird were infused with the flavor of the beer. The wings seemed to have the highest saturation, followed by the breast meat. The thighs had the least, but it was still evident. This attempt was a resounding success and I urge anyone to use any hoppy beer as the brining liquid. You won't be disappointed. This is exactly what I was looking for when I embarked on this experiment. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013


The Doom that didn't come to Sarnath

The Senpai will understand this
I went ballistic after making a few unsuccessful attempts to purchase a bottle of Founder's Doom. One time I even saw the bottle in the clerk's hand, but was told it wasn't in the system yet, come back at 3:00. I did; they were all gone. After quelling my need for revenge and destroying all evidence of my plans to make the bastards suffer...blueprints make pretty confetti when run through a shredder, by the way...I settled down and realized that's the way it is now. Why get upset? Founder's isn't in this state and we're lucky to get any of it at all, right? And then I went online and saw how many people in the state did get their hands on it and it dawned on me that most of us don't stand much of a chance at the limited releases that come to our local liquor stores for many reasons. 

Big-ass birds with bad attitudes
People who work for the distributors and the liquor stores will naturally get first crack. The scrupulous ones will limit what their employees can purchase. Scruples, like these beers, are not always easily come by. I do understand this and those who work hard to bring us these beers deserve that opportunity. But then there are those establishments whose employees hold these bottles for their friends, with no limits involved. I've stopped shopping at one place that I am certain engages in this practice. They've disappointed me far too many times and my shredder has yet to feast on the plans meant for them. Anyone know where I can get a rabid cassowary? 

I do know many stores that will hold the special releases in back, waiting for someone to ask for them. This eliminates those people who come in and grab a bottle not even knowing what it is. But the main reason for this is that they don't want the shelf emptied by one person who will use anything he doesn't drink as trade bait or for his own profit. These places usually limit one bottle per person. This is perhaps the most fair way to distribute those offerings that have been thinly meted out. 

A quick aside here: it appears that eBay thought it best to obey the law and the gray market for beer looks to be out of business. I'd congratulate them for it if they hadn't let it go on as long as they did. 

The Beer Hunter
Beer hunting has changed since the days of Michael Jackson. When he was on the prowl for new and exciting beer it was because it was the only way to find it. The beer world has changed considerably since he earned his most famous nomicker. At the peak of his hunting activities in the United States (the mid-eighties to the early nineties),  the American craft beer scene was considered "fledgling". Since then we've added over 2,000 breweries! Each year, craft beer grabs a larger share of beer sales and more and more breweries open. We're starting to get what we dreamed of, but be careful for what you wish. 

The demand for craft beer has risen to the point that many breweries can't keep up and either need to expand their capacity or limit their distribution by pulling out of a few states. Those that want to expand their capacity can't always afford to do so and wind up being absorbed by a larger company, which draws the ire of craft beer purists. I know some who refuse to drink Goose Island since their purchase by InBev. The quality has not suffered, but two things drive this boycott: 1) the beer is no longer as exclusive as it once was and 2) the profits go to Big Beer. I understand and accept the latter; the former is just snobbishness at work. For me, I'll still drink BCBS and do so gladly. 

Is it snobbish to want to try Pliny the Younger, Kate the Great, Dark Lord, Sexual Chocolate and other beers in this exclusive and elusive grouping? Maybe, if it's just to say you've had them. But for many, curiosity comes into play. How good are they? Do they stand up to their reputations? Will they bring me to orgasm? But it's not just these singular beers that we look for. There are amazing breweries we don't get in New Jersey, like Three Floyds, Surly, Russian River, New Glarus, Jester King, the Alchemist, Hill Farmstead and Bells, to name just a few. So the beer geeks will travel, trade or attempt to purchase online. 

When I travel, I always look for the local beers and anything I can't get back home. I research ahead of time to find the best places to purchase beer near my destination. I try not to take away too much time from the family vacations in doing so and, as I've mentioned previously, brewpubs are almost always family friendly and typically have good food. So I always plan at least one meal on any trip at a brewpub. But that's the annual vacation. I've begun to cut back on how much I will travel from home just to find beer. I say this as I plan a one day, whirlwind tour of 6 breweries in the Hudson Valley in August. Believe me though, I have cut back due to lack of time and funds. 

I also used to trade quite a bit, but I've cut back on that as well. Shipping costs can kill you and the stress of packing the box to ensure the bottles arrive unscathed can send one's OCD into overdrive. And then there's amassing special beers to have for trade. You want one for yourself and you need to have one to cellar in some cases. So you may need to buy three of a special release for the sake of trading. I also worry that I haven't given back as good as I got. So I tend to err on the side of caution and have, at times, been a little too generous. Beer trading can get expensive and is one reason I'm a huge fan of leftovers for lunch. 

Purchasing beer online can be tricky. Not everyone will ship beer to New Jersey due to a law forbidding it. I don't know which law this is or the details, but I know that beer clubs never have any qualms in doing this.  It may not even be a New Jersey law. It is a Federal offense to ship alcohol via the mail, but I don't know if that changed when the Post Office privatized. It's all so hard to comprehend that I rarely even try this avenue of securing rare beer. 

So am I just settling back and enjoying the year 'rounds? Have I settled on a set selection of beers that rotate with the seasons? Oh hell no! I've turned to the local breweries to quell my fix for new and exciting brews. 

Let's face it, unless you're single, have no children and have a trust fund that allows you to be exceptionally well off without having to work, there's no way you're going to be able to explore all the beer that is currently out there. Even Michael Jackson probably wouldn't know where to begin, but he'd smile knowing that there are now so many options. 

We, the beer geeks, are getting what we want. Craft beer is exploding across the country. It's impossible to keep up with the new breweries, much less the new releases. It gives me a
Gratuitous attractive female
headache even thinking about trying, so to relieve any cranial pressure I've begun to concentrate on what the locals have to offer. "Drink Locally" is becoming quite a mantra and I fully understand why. The success of the local breweries relies on the support and loyalty of the local drinking population. A successful local brewery is good for the economy and, more importantly for beer geeks, makes for better and easier to find trade bait. Once the rest of the country hears all the hype surrounding Carton Decoy, Kane Overhead or Bolero Snort Blackhorn demand will be created and the trade is afoot!

Just a sampling
Does this mean that I won't rush to my local beer store when I know KBS has hit the store? No. Does it mean that I'll stop getting pissed off when they tell me they sold out at 10:05AM? Absolutely! Probably. Maybe. Eh, we'll see. Hopefully instead, I'll just grab my growler and go to the Coverleaf, Poor Henry's, Copper Mine, the Taphouse in Wayne or Three Wise Monks and fill up on Carton, Kane, Bolero Snort or whatever new local brewery the future has in store for us. With breweries opening at the current rate, it should prove to be quite rewarding. 

Friday, March 29, 2013


Great food, awesome beer and most excellent company

Before I left to go to the Carton Beer Dinner at Poor Henry’s in Montville, I changed my Facebook status to  reflect where I was going, what I was doing and with whom I was doing it. And I used the phrase, “Good food, great beer and even better company.” I was mostly correct in that pre-assessment. Since I had never eaten at Poor Henry’s, the quality of the food was an unknown factor so I went with “good”, a descriptor that’s pretty vanilla and non-committal. I can now safely commit and restate that phrase as “Great food, awesome beer and most excellent company.” I've been to a few beer dinners and some have been successful to varying degrees and others have fallen short in a detail or two, but this one hit all marks with the precision of the lead triangle player in the original Toad the Wet Sprocket before the elbow removal. Let's see who gets that reference. 

The Control, the Geisha and I arrived to find Meathead waiting for us at the bar. Oh yeah, we get to introduce another cast member to our merry band of miscreants. Why Meathead? If you met him, you’d understand. Let’s just say that he once wore a full-on penguin costume to a company picnic in 100-degree weather and leave it at that. He can drink a pint of Guinness faster than anyone I've ever seen, even leaving me in the dust. It's quite an impressive sight. He recently started to report to me at work (the fact that he agreed to do so is also proof of his Meatheadiness) and asked me if I could help him find any good beer to drink since he was tired of all the awful beer that’s out there. I gave him one opportunity to retract the question for his own good and, after he dismissed that warning, launched him into a world vaster than he ever imagined. He’s learning quickly and having a lot of fun with it. We’re currently working on turning him into a hophead. We're making progress. 

Check out those elbow pads!
The five-course affair was held downstairs and tables were lined up in the middle of the room to create a more congenial gathering, but there were still tables to the side for those who preferred to stick to their own entourage. The traffic cone orange Carton paraphernalia was all laid out and we saw Jesse (the brewer) and Doug (the sales dude), who arrived just before us. Augie Carton (the brewery's owner), replete in a blazer with orange elbow patches (see picture, left) with matching silk liner, came in just as the first course was being served and immediately commandeered a glass of Boat Beer from a place setting being held for someone’s tardy friend. Now if you've never been to the brewery or to a Carton Brewing event you need to know that it’s not just about the beer, the location and the food…there’s also entertainment, if you can keep up. No offense to Jesse or Doug, who are both a ton of fun in their own right, but the party doesn't really start until Augie arrives. From him, you will get story after story, many of which will embarrass at least one member of his staff. “Why would you tell that story!?” seems to be a common protest. The rest of the stories are drawn from his experiences in the movie business and the world of foodies, having been a food blogger at one point. If you pay too close attention you might wind up learning something (like the secret behind the perfect French omelet) and come away with sore sides from laughing too much.

As the first round of beer started to hit the table, we all grabbed our seats. The first course was a lobster salad which was constructed of perfectly cooked pieces of lobster tail, delicately laid on avocado slices with a watercress salad, a grapefruit segment with a light drizzle of citrus vinaigrette. I had never had a salad made up entirely of watercress before and found myself wanting another green to mix it up a little. The bitterness inherent in the water cress and the citrus elements of the salad complimented the hop profile of the Boat Beer in a way that drew out the pinier notes of the beer. I wonder what other flavor surprises we would have had if arugula had been incorporated into the salad. I may have to try that at home.

The second course was pork belly that had been cooked until the edges were crisped but the center was still rich and tender. This was served with fiery red peppers and non-fiery red cabbage. Bibb lettuce leaves were supplied and we were given an underwhelming amount of sriracha on the side which disappeared within seconds. The amount was probably fine for normal people, but there were a few capsaicin junkies at the table.  One quick request and the bowls of srirachi were refilled to their brims and I was quite pleased with what was perhaps my favorite lettuce wrap ever. Marc Arbeit, the chef, did a great job in presenting different textures and flavor elements. The heat of the peppers and sriracha cut into the richness of the pork and the cabbage provided extra crunch. The Carton Canyon added even more for your palate to work with as the pork belly helped accentuate the subtle smokiness of the agave.

A glass of Carton of Milk
When I first read the menu, I was most excited about the next course, since I hadn't had venison in quite a while. It came in the form of a chop, cooked rare, rarer than you usually see game cooked, but it was very well-executed. We learned that the venison came from a local exotic meat purveyor called Fossil Farms, which is literally down the street from Poor Henry’s. I've seen their trucks around and tried some of their offerings at tastings. Based on the quality of that venison I plan to order from them sometime soon. Also on the plate were something I usually hate: Brussels Sprouts. I've always suspected that I’d like them if they were cooked properly and I was right. I actually found myself wishing there were more of them. There was a delicious black currant demi on the venison which was rendered irrelevant once we started to drizzle sriracha all over the meat. I feel the need to apologize to Marc, but it's hard not to use srirachi when it's available. The beer pairing, which was Carton of Milk (which may or may not be a milk stout) is a classic pairing with red meat even if your portion of meat is less than the one given to the girl with the immaculate eyebrows who knows where to find the best pork buns in New York City.

Many meat lovers would have been disappointed in the serving size of the NY strip. It was four slices of very rare steak, but they were prepared flawlessly and the perfect portion for a five-course meal. There were two cherry tomatoes on a pile of what I took to be cheesy, herbed mashed potatoes which I felt were too grainy. Then, after a couple of forkfuls, it dawned on me that it was polenta. Duh! As mashed potatoes they were atrocious, as polenta it was wonderful. The beer served with this was Red Rye Returning, which I kept calling Red Rye Rising at the previous Carton event at Copper Mine. Augie joked that he’d make a Red Rye Rising, to which his brewer, Jesse replied, “We can use baker’s yeast.” They still have to figure out if they’ll use Fleischmann’s or Red Star. I checked to see how well their hoppy, rye ale paired with this course and it complimented the beef very well. At this point Augie looked at his glass, which was about a quarter full, and frowned. Scanning the table he saw that there was one which was nearly full and he did the old switcheroo. The girl with the immaculate eyebrows who knows where the find the best pork buns in New York City never noticed.

Quick side note: if New Jersey law ever allows breweries to prepare and serve food in the tasting rooms, we need to make sure there’s a Crispy Crème opened in Atlantic Highlands. Just saying. If you’re curious as to why, go to the brewery and ask Augie or Jesse.

The Geisha was most excited about the last course, not because it was dessert, but because it featured Carton G.O.R.P. Knowing this beer, I was intrigued by the dish they chose to pair it with. When it’s time for dessert you just know everyone’s thinking celery. No? Not you? Yeah, I guess it’s not that high on my list of dessert items either but in its candied form, it took its rightful place on the plate right on top of the peanut butter mousse, which was exquisite! Served with grape jelly Malasada doughnuts, it became a deconstructed “frogs on a log”. Many diners didn't really know what to make of the candied celery, but once you put it in your mouth with some of the mousse and drank some of the G.O.R.P. you understood why it was there. That was my favorite flavor pairing of the night.

Confession: I'm not going to pretend that I recognized the "Munchkins" on my plate as Malasada doughnuts; I learned that from the chef's posting. Then I had to look them up and, if you're interested, they originated on the Madeira Islands and became very prevalent in Hawaii, due to the large Portuguese settlements there. Think of them as Portuguese beignets, which is apropos since Hawaiians actually refer to Mardi Gras as Malasada Day. Here endeth  the lesson. 

Augie, Jesse and Brian Casse from
Warning: Carton events never go quietly into that goodnight. The event may be done, but the Boat Beer continues to flow and all are welcome, even if you’re put in time out. So next time you see an event with Carton Brewing, rush to get tickets. You won’t regret it and if it’s up in Northern Jersey you’ll probably see us there. Make it a point to stop into Poor Henry’s in Montville, have a pint and say "Hi!" to Jesse Garrity (but don’t give him a peanut). As a matter of fact, they've got another five course dinner coming up with Founders Brewery...and it's on my birthday! Hope to see you there!

Monday, February 18, 2013


Lessons for Beer Event Organizers

The Senpai and I just attended a beer festival that held so much promise, but wound up alienating a large proportion of its ticket holders. The organizers had arranged for an impressive array of breweries to be represented and had done a really nice job supplying different options for food. They even managed to score a very popular cover band to supply the entertainment, but they fell short on some of basic necessities of a beer festival.

Beer festival sample glasses
I'm not going to call out the organizer of the event mentioned above, but those who follow me on Facebook know which event it is and many of you were there. It received so much bad press that other organizers were quick to make sure everyone knew that they had nothing to do with it. I want to avoid pointing the finger since I don't want to dissuade anyone from attending next year. Lessons will be learned and, hopefully, those lessons will be applied. 

The lessons, humbly offered here, will be drawn from many different events I've attended. Some of these were very well done and a few were just awfully organized.

To run a successful beer festival (from the attendees perspective) there are many items that must be considered. These I place into three different categories:
1) NECESSITIES: These are not noticed if they are present, but become a huge negative if lacking in any way. Do them right and no one will say a thing; do them wrong and they will tell everyone, their mothers and, more importantly, everyone they know on social media how bad an event it was.
2) YARDSTICKS: These are items that make up the core of the event and how good these are will determine how the festival stacks up against others. You can't have a beer festival without these things, but there are different levels of success form event to event.
3) BONUSES: Some festivals will have items that make them stand out that you don't see, or even expect, at a beer festival.

We'll start off with the NECESSITIES. If you don't get these correct then you're going to have people demanding their money back and your turnout the next year will plummet, if you're allowed to hold it all.

You DON'T want to see the length of the line behind me
Entry Line Management: If you cannot get people into the venue quickly and efficiently then you're going to have unhappy people when they finally do get in. Waiting over an hour to get inside for an event that only lasts three hours makes one believe that your event is a "rip off" and you will have people demanding their money back.
- Make sure that there are people dedicated to checking IDs and others dedicated to ticket taking and yet others dedicated to handing out sample glasses and any other at-the-door hand-outs.
- Avoid using a small entryway as this will become a bottleneck and no matter how fast your door people are working, the line will come to a crawl. In some venues this is unavoidable. 
- Clear signage as to what to do and where to go helps, even though many people ignore these, those who do read them will help others out.

Event Access: If people can't get to the event then you're going to have issues.
- For an event in a city, make sure your ticket holders know the bus stops and subway stations that are nearby. These are the easy ones to manage. In some cases, the transportation may need to be arranged especially if water taxis are involved.
- But having one out in the suburbs is not so easy, as parking becomes an issue. Many people will take taxis or even party buses, but a large percentage of your ticket holders will drive and if parking becomes scarce they may get creative. This will generate complaints from the neighbors and you may not be able to utilize that venue in the future.

Bathroom Facilities: When people drink, people pee...a lot. Everyone knows that once you "break the seal" that you're going to be heading back to the can every half hour. If the wait for the bathrooms is long, then the event becomes a matter of biological processing each and every beer. Go pee, go get beer, get back on line to pee, repeat. Not my idea of a fun beer festival.
- Consider port-a-potties if possible. Men are not particular about where they pee. If the line is too long, they'll be outside urinating where they shouldn't and you're back to having a problem with your neighbors.
- Many women are more particular, but if their bladder is about to burst they'll use a port-a-potty, but they won't be happy about it. And if they get really drunk, then they'll emulate the guys and pee in public. So try to avoid those embarrassing Facebook photo uploads that will give your event a sordid reputation, but entertain the hell out of the rest of us.

Temperature Control: When alcohol is consumed, the blood distributes more to the surface of the body, making people seem warmer than they are. Add a lot of people to the mix and your crowd will raise the temperature of the venue and the stench of human sweat will overwhelm the senses.
Crowded, but well-ventilated and comfortable
- The size of the place will determine how much body heat will be atmospherically absorbed. If it's cavernous, you don't have too many worries. If it's an intimate setting, be ready to have someone controlling the thermostat. Overheated, drunk people tend to throw up more easily, which will add to the reek. 
- The time of year will also determine what you need to do. A beer festival in the Northeast in February will be a lot different in its thermal needs than one held in Texas in August.

Capacity: None of us naive enough to believe that people organize these events out of the goodness of their hearts. It's a business and they are designed to make everyone money. It's the American way and no one begrudges that. But when the perception is that the profit for the organizer supersedes the experience of the ticket holder, you're going to have problems.

Packed in tightly with lengthy waits for everything
- Overselling an event leads to massive crowds, long lines at the pouring tables and breweries running out of the more popular beers. It also increases the lines at food stands and bathrooms. Oversell your first beer festival and you won't have to worry about it for the next one. People will avoid it and not just those who attended the first one, but everyone that heard them complain about it. Social media is great for advertising your event, but that double-edged sword has a great potential for ruining the next one. 
- Limiting the number of tickets sold goes a long way to developing your reputation. I didn't want to single anyone out, but I feel it necessary to point out that Starfish Productions seems to have the magic formula down for optimal beer festival experience. I have yet to attend one of their events that was overly crowded.

On to the YARDSTICKS. Without these, it's not really a beer festival so everyone assumes these will be there. It all depends on how well you execute these points as to how your event will be received.

Breweries: The amount, quality and assortment of beer purveyors is crucial to a successful beer event.
- Quantity: You need to have enough stations to allow for the maximum number of breweries that the venue can hold and still allow for free space for moving and mingling. If you have a lot of brewery tables, that will equate to shorter lines.
Quality = Unibroue at a fall beer festival
- Quality: Go ahead and only invite macrobeer labels and see what kind of festival-goers you attract. I try not to stereotype but let's face it, you don't see empty craft beer bottles and cans littering the sides of our roads. Craft beer drinkers are more thoughtful and environmentally conscious and less likely to start a brawl. No, I don't have any well-researched statistics to support these, just personal, historical observations. I doubt many reading this will argue the point.
-Assortment: Take into account where the event is occurring and do what you can to invite local breweries, especially those that self-distribute. You're not going to have any issue getting breweries that are represented by big distributors. Invite meaderies and cider labels to get something different in the door. Make sure you've got a good representation from across the country and get some international brands in as well. I know that last one may be difficult, but that's where some of the "big beer" distributors can come in handy. Of course, state laws play a huge role here, but do what you can. 

Food: When people drink they pee, we've established that, but they also eat. Beer pairing has become pretty trendy at some levels and, at others, well-practiced, but it's just a basic need to eat when you drink.
- Quantity: I was once at a beer festival that had over 10,000 attendees and only two booths for food. The line to get something to eat was over an hour. That is unconscionable! Have enough food vendors that no one has to wait on line for more than 5-10 minutes.
- Quality: Make sure your food vendors are reputable. Having local restaurants and caterers present works well for all parties. You can easily research their quality level, they get exposure and the patrons are happy to see food they can trust won't make them ill.
- Assortment: Yes, hot dogs and hamburgers go well with fizzy, yellow beer, but not so well with many of the craft brews. Barbecue is a great partner with craft beer. Have someone selling cheese. Pretzels and hot wings are classic and cheese steaks are always popular. I always like to see a stand selling jerky and I've always been amazed at how many beer geeks are also fans of hot sauces.

Non-Food Vendors: Believe it or not, when people come through the door it's not a beer orgy and then we leave. We need other things to spend our money on and you'll have plenty of vendors willing to buy up tables.
- Don't go so overboard in this category that you lose too much space for beer. People are coming to a beer festival, not a flea market. Make sure your ratio is good and that the non-beer tables don't dominate.
- Your ticket holders are beer people, the vendors should sell only beer-related items or food. I once saw a table selling hunting knives. It's never a good idea to put a buck knife with a 4" blade in the hands of a drunk person in a crowded venue. At another one I saw a table advertising energy-efficient roofing. Use some common sense and KNOW what your vendors are selling. And the most amazing table I ever saw offered face painting. Sure, I wanted to get mine done like Spiderman, but then I remembered that I'm not 8 anymore. 
Some of my glassware collection
- Beer geeks are loyal and like to advertise for their favorite breweries so having items with brewery logos on them works well. Clothing with cute, funny, beer-related sayings are always a hit. And the glassware tables are always crowded, since most beer geeks collect logo glassware.
- Local beer-related organizations, groups, publications, etc. are important to sprinkle about the floor, but if you have too many of them people won't even bother visiting one of them. This category should not represent a large percentage of tables.
- Beer tourism is growing fast and if you can get a local, established beer tourism company on board you will probably see some real interest. And it doesn't have to be global tours; it could simply be a company that offers bus tours of the local breweries.
- Cigars and beer are a marriage made in heaven, albeit a smoky, lung cancer-riddled heaven. The best events I've been at have always had a cigar vendor there.

Swag: Beer geeks love to adorn everything (including themselves) with beer stuff. And it doesn't have to be elaborate or expensive. Look at the people walking around any beer festival and you'll see many with stickers all over their shirts. Luckily the breweries themselves take care of much of this, but see what you can do to put together a goody bag on the way in. Just the bag alone will be appreciated, so that you have something to put all your stickers, pins and pamphlets into.

Layout: It's important to allow for a good flow of traffic and a natural pattern for visiting the tables. If not, you'll get bottlenecks and visitors creating too much counter-traffic. People drinking beer, running into each other or trying to push past each other leads to spillage and possible bad feelings.

Seating: Believe it or not, many events don't think to have places to plop your fat ass and rest your barking dogs. Folding chairs can be problematic, but a bench here and there will keep people from sitting on the beer-soaked floor or on the stage or on the steps outside or on the neighbors' property. 


Many events really do understand what it takes to make their guests happy and go that extra mile. They also understand the craft beer industry and the wants and desires of their hordes of fans. These organizers go that extra mile and deliver on the BONUSES.

Entertainment: Walking around drinking beer is nice, but doing it with good music playing is awesome. Having a live band, especially a fun, lively one can really get things moving. Plus, you get the added entertainment value of watching people who think they can dance when they're drunk. Win-win! And there's nothing wrong (even if it is a tad cliche) to have an oompah band playing at an Oktoberfest. It adds to the ambiance.

VIP Access: People like to feel special and, in some cases, superior to others. In most cases, people are just willing to pay more money for extras.
- Early access to the festival. This is typically one hour before anyone else can get in. 
- Special beer offerings. At one event, they had breweries in the VIP lounge that weren't on the floor. At another, they had special bottles to share that were supplied by the attending breweries. 
- Free food. 'Nuff said!
- Separate food lines. Separate bathrooms. Separate seating area. Not having to wait for basic amenities makes the price well worth it, especially the bathrooms. 

Guest Celebrities: No, I'm not saying that having George Clooney or Megan Fox show up adds any value to a beer festival. Okay, it just might, but that's still borderline ridiculous. I'm talking celebrities of the beer world.
Garrett Oliver, but not with me...his loss
- If you can get the head brewers to man their own tables, that's the shit! That's why Savor is so popular, other than being exceptionally well-run. The only downside is that the line at the Brooklyn Brewery table tends to come to crawl as everyone tries to get a picture with Garrett Oliver.
- Listening to Sam Calagione talk about how he concocted his latest Ancient Ale offering or William Sysak discuss beer pairings or Vinnie Cilurzo bemoan the evils of selling beer on eBay is something special. If you can get beer luminaries to talk at your event, you've scored. 
- Many of today's brewmasters have written books on the subject and then you have home brewing experts who write instructional guides. Having a book signing would not be unwelcome.

Learning: Beer geeks love to learn...we're geeks! Teach us something and we'll walk away fulfilled.
- Home brewing classes are always popular, but be aware that your guests will represent a wide array of skill levels. Make sure that if you only have one class that it's clear if it's for beginners or advanced home brewers. If you think you can run more than one, then vary the skill level.
- Food pairing with beer has become very popular and seminars on how to successfully pull this off will be equally popular. And you don't even need fully cooked meals! Cheese pairings are quite common in this regard.
- And it doesn't have to end there. How to turn your home brewing hobby into a business. What glassware to use with which style. What health benefits beer gives. The classic beers of Germany. The history of the IPA. The effects of Prohibition on brewing methods in the US. And so many other topics. You'll find someone interested.

Charity: I'm not talking about collecting money once people are at the event. Sure, you'll get some donations, but people don't like being badgered to give. However, giving a portion of the ticket price to a charity certainly helps everyone feel better about drinking all day long. It's for a cause. 

Have I ever been to an event that has nailed every one of these elements? Hell no and I never expect to as it's probably impossible. But you can always tell when an organizer has made an effort and when they're just trying to make as much money as possible. 

I have never organized a beer festival, nor would I want that level of responsibility or the stress. Processing the financial end of it is entirely out of my scope and the legwork to get the breweries on board, find a venue and get the marketing done is something I'm just interested in attempting. This overly wordy document is written from the perspective of a festival goer, someone who knows what makes a beer event successful and what can make it miserable.