Festival Funk

Wilson and Pauly not hating the festival life

The hecticness of life is only now allowing me to share this link, which I offer for your fat-chewing, pipe-smoking and spare time-pondering.

It comes from Brewmaster George de Piro’s Beer Nut column in the Albany Times Union and is teasingly titled: “I Hate Beer Festivals.” 

With a little experience in working festivals both as a brewer and a volunteer, as well as having attended a few as a regular, old patron, I have to say that I, for one, don’t hate beer festivals. Working a festival is a lot of work–heavy lifting, long hours and occasionally dealing with an obnoxious jerk or two. These negatives, however, can be found in many walks of life, and I always just took it in stride, knowing that the fact remained that I was being paid to pour and talk beer all day. It’s also acceptable to drink (with restraint) on the job, and I simply couldn’t complain about that. The jerks and college pounders are an annoying presence, to be sure, but setting criteria as a beer ambassador can help.

With regard to those working to “get their money’s worth,” we always made it a point to declare that “we don’t have a beer called that,” when told to pour “whatever” or “I don’t care.”

“I do care” was our response. “So tell me what you like and I’ll help you pick one out. Do you like coffee? Do you like grapefruit? Do you like red wine?”

Ron (Jolly Pumpkin) and Ryan (Duck-Rabbit) chit chat before the session begins. The fellowship among brewers is reason alone to enjoy a festival.

We would almost always pull off walking someone through a choice, and they were often pleased that they’d found something they liked and that we’d taken the time to help them. As a person with the “teacher gene,” I enjoyed these exchanges. But not every brewer has the temperament to put up with this part of the job.

The drunkies usually hit at the end of the session, and moreso during an evening session. They’re inevitable, asking for free merch, demanding to be topped off, trying to steal glassware, being obnoxious. Don’t worry about hurting their feelings. It’s that simple. Don’t let them hurt yours. It’s that simple.

These bozos are part of the deal. You just gotta put up with it.

From my experience, two or three workers pouring are enough, so bringing four to six staff is a good strategy. Brewers can take a break to rest or sip comrades’s wares (in moderation) to take the edge off a long day on the feet. A VIP tent can be a much-appreciated haven from the throngs of beer drinkers. Often, brewers are setting up at 8 a.m. and tearing down near midnight. Building rest into the day is essential to not hating the festival life.

De Piro has a few good points in his narrative, but I’m sorry; it’s beer and it’s people and the lion’s share of the event–even for those working–is a good time waiting to happen.

4 Responses to Festival Funk

  1. Adam says:

    Having been an attendee but more often a server at beer fests, I agree with your assessment. I do not like fairs, amusement parks, standing in line and crowds in general, but I like beer fests. You might say it’s ironic that I do like a crowded event where you have to pay to get in AND stand in line to get a 1oz (usually more) serving of a liquid. Why would I be okay with that?! Well to piggy-back on some of Brewvana’s statements, craft beer enthusiasts are an interesting and easy to get along crowd. (I guess the nature of there being social lubrication present doesn’t hurt either). Yes, I’ve had to deliberately avoid the jerk but overwhelmingly, I enjoy talking about beer/homebrewing and don’t mind a 5 minute wait to get my next sample. I can’t say that about waiting in line at the grocery store. So the next time you are at beer fest and grumbling about something just think you could be waiting in the dentist’s office to get that next root canal.

  2. Brandon says:

    Well said. I have been fortunate enough to both work, and enjoy many beerfests over the years. It made me realize just how much I prefer to “enjoy” it more than work it.
    However, I do have a different perspective after pouring hundreds of samples to blitherig drunk idiots. So I do my best to never be one of them. All it takes is 1 bad apple.

    But be sure to take along a camera next time. It makes is so worth it!

  3. George says:

    You get/got PAID to work beer festivals? By who? I’ve never even been compensated for the beer we serve much less my time.

    Try working for free after donating your wares to a for-profit enterprise; you might not like it, either.

  4. Wilson says:

    Not by the festival planners–I was paid by the brewery for whom I worked.

    However, Great Taste of the Midwest is an example of a festival that, at least, purchases all the beer served at the fest.

    I totally understand the grumpiness–I’ve worked at a few fests and benefits that were poorly planned and where I’ve felt very taken for granted. There’s a difference between advertising and marketing, and working festivals is a good marketing opportunity for small breweries. The payoff is in increased sales, ideally.

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