It’s been awhile since I’ve written this type of post so I figured it was high time to write up an event “survival guide” with tips, hints, and advice I’ve gleaned over the years I’ve attended the Oregon Brewers Festival.
- The best times to go are Thursday and Friday early—right when the Brewfest opens.
“Best” is of course a subjective term but for beer geeks (like myself) these will be the times with the least amount of people and the best chance of trying nearly any of the beers before they sell out—and beers will sell out. (Last year, Maui Brewing’s CoCoNuT Porter sold out by 12:30 on Thursday. Really.) And less people means shorter lines and available seating.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
You can bring bottled water to the Brewfest (and you can purchase it from the food vendors), but there are free water stations placed at regular intervals near the beer lines—these are the rinsing stations, and are a perfect, convenient source of free water that can help keep you hydrated throughout the day. And believe me, you need to stay hydrated: it’s hot, you’re doing a lot of walking, and you’re drinking a lot of beer. So do what I do: every time I rinse my mug I fill it a little extra and drink that rinse water instead of pouring it out. It’s perfectly clean water—otherwise it wouldn’t be used for rinsing mugs in the first place, so take advantage of it!
- Avoid driving to the Brewfest.
If you can help it, don’t drive to the Fest: not just for potential (and very bad) driving-under-the-influence dangers, but to avoid the inevitable traffic and parking issues as well. Portland is a very commuter-friendly town with plenty of easy, alternate means of transportation to get to the Brewfest: Buses, MAX trains, and bicycles being prominent examples. Every time I go I hop a bus or the MAX to get to and from the Fest, and in other cases have had friends give me a ride (though I’ve walked across Hawthorne Bridge to the other side of the river to do so). It’s easier, less stressful, and will save you money. And never, ever drive after you’ve been sampling beers all day.
- Plan your drinking attack.
This can be subdivided into two component tips:
- Make a list of your must-try beers. I just published my own list yesterday; with 84 beers on tap you should look over the OBF site’s beer list and figure out what beers you absolutely have to try, and which ones you can do without. Keep this list with you.
- Figure out where those beers are being poured. In my early visits to the Brewfest I had no such strategy, and thus would wander among the tents randomly, noting where beers were located, and backtracking a lot. The problem with this is that the Fest is spread out over a lot of ground, and further subdivided into Northern and Southern halves (with a big open space in between)—so you’ll end up doing more walking that drinking! If you know where the beers will be located, you can sample much more efficiently.
To that end there three options to mapping out these locations: iPhone and Android apps that list the beers and what tent, trailer and tap they are pouring at; printed programs that come with the packages that you purchase that list the same information; and the OBF site itself, which should show those location on the beer list page (which you can access if you have a web-enabled phone). Use these resources!
(Incidentally, trailers 1 through 5 with taps 1 through 42 are located in the Southern tent, and trailers 6 through 10 with taps 43 to 84 are in the Northern tent.)
- The Buzz and Sour Tents are awesome.
When you’re not hitting up your must-try beers, check the Buzz and Sour Tents as often as you can. The Buzz Tent was first introduced in 2009, and it consists of specialty beers from participating brewers: rarities, one-offs, experimental beers, new creations, and so on. Because these are very limited, they will only pour samples and each sample costs 2 tokens. The Sour Tent is new this year and I imagine it’s just like the Buzz Tent, only featuring soured specialty beers (and I think it will be a big hit).
There’s no set list for the Buzz and Sour Tents, however, until the beers go on tap, so you have two ways of finding out what’s available: walk by and check out what’s currently listed on the chalkboard; and follow @OBFBuzzTent and @OBFSourTent on Twitter.
- Be patient with people.
There will be a lot of people at the Brewfest and yes, it will get crowded and yes, there will be the inevitable idiot/douchebag/jerk who will piss people off and who shouldn’t be there. However, most people attending—particularly the ones there early like you should be—are perfectly nice and friendly and are there to have a good time just like you, and are having to deal with the big crowds just like you. Start up friendly conversations in line, say “excuse me” if you bump into anyone (you will), share your table, and do your very very best to not be the idiot/douchebag/jerk yourself who really shouldn’t be there.
On a related note: be really nice to the volunteers pouring the beer, they are doing you a big favor by doing so! And remember as volunteers they don’t represent the brewery or the beer they are assigned to pour and they just as likely won’t know much about it or about the other beers pouring. (That’s what the Buzz Tent and Sour Tents are for—brewers and brewery reps will be on hand there if you want to talk shop.)
- Go back for full mug pours of beers you like.
I’ve made the mistake before of being “stingy” with tokens in an effort to sample as many beers as possible; but I found that if you find a beer that you really like, don’t be shy about going back for a full pour—it will only cost you 4 tokens and as the Fest gets busier, the lines will only get longer (especially for the popular beers). As you spend more and more time waiting in lines, the full mug is a better value on the waiting vs. drinking scale. Plus if and when the beer sells out, you’ll at least have had a full pour rather than just a sample and wishing for more.
- Things to bring or remember:
- Cash: Everything is cash-only, no cards. (Except for the souvenir booth, which takes credit cards, and there are ATMs on site.)
- ID: You have to get show your ID to get in, no exceptions.
- Notebook and pen/pencil. Alternatively, your 33 Beers journal.
- Sunscreen. Also consider hat and sunglasses.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
- Comfortable walking shoes.
- Snacks. (While there is food on site, you can bring in your own food as well.)
And above all, have a lot of fun!