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Beer Festival Tasting Strategies

Beer Festival Tasting Strategies

Old Apr 4, 18, 2:22 pm
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Beer Festival Tasting Strategies

I will be attending Des Moines On Tap in 10 days - my middle son lives in Des Moines and we are returning for the beer-fest for the first time in a couple years. It features 150 brews from 60 producers. I will be there 3 hours, less the time it takes to get in and last pour is 10 minutes prior to closing - so maybe 150 minutes of tasting time. Hey! That's a beer a minute!

Okay, seriously. I'm not capable of drinking 150 three ounce beers. Not even over a long weekend.

I've looked at the list of participants. Maybe 20-25 are breweries I'm familiar with. Some I'd skip anyway (some like Rogue make product I like, but no need to down a Blue Moon). I'm looking for new experiences. About half are local or from other nearby Midwest states. I think I'll have a chance to taste some of that outside the fest. We'll be there a total of 4 days and one local drinking establishment has 222 taps. I made a list of the breweries from out of the area that I have never seen before. That's my A list. After that I will be looking for local/Midwestern porters, sours and hazy IPA's - what I would normally try here.

What would be your strategy?
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Old Apr 4, 18, 2:47 pm
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My best tip: Dump anything you don't love. I no longer do a ton of beer festivals, but after a few too many bad hangovers, I now make use of the discard buckets you're almost certain to see at every booth. Also, nothing wrong with telling the server you only want a half pour or less.

Other tips:
1. Put down a base layer.
2. There's a reason that pretzel necklaces are popular.
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Old Apr 4, 18, 6:20 pm
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Originally Posted by chgoeditor View Post
My best tip: Dump anything you don't love. I no longer do a ton of beer festivals, but after a few too many bad hangovers, I now make use of the discard buckets you're almost certain to see at every booth. Also, nothing wrong with telling the server you only want a half pour or less.

Other tips:
1. Put down a base layer.
2. There's a reason that pretzel necklaces are popular.
I haven't been to a beer festival in years (they're generally too crowded and we don't see a lot of new stuff), but this is good advice.
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Old Apr 5, 18, 11:48 am
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I had a Russian friend who taught me that protein intake is very helpful, so have a nice high-protein meal before you start with the beer. I will also check scores on BeerAdvocate before trying many new beers; the scores there tend to be more conservative than RateBeer.com. Occasionally I will make an exception, but there are a lot of mediocre beers out there, so this helps to separate some of the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. You can search by brewery and quickly find the highest scoring beers from a particular brewery, allowing you to avoid wasting time and beer.

Your palate can only savor so much, so start with the light and crisp stuff, and work your way up to the fuller-flavored stuff at the end. Anything hoppy or sour is probably best saved for last. With any luck you can stumble upon something memorable you will like.
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Old Apr 5, 18, 12:38 pm
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Excellent suggestions. I passed on the VIP tickets. An extra $20 apiece would have got us in the door 2 hours earlier. But I didn't think I'd want to drink that much more beer and the later 2:00 PM start gives us a chance to eat a hearty lunch. Unfortunately, BV Jr. #3's girlfriend is a vegan and will likely choose the restaurant. Can I get a protein rich meal at a vegan restaurant? I'd be wanting a 1/2 pound hamburger, ideally.

RateBeer will be my guide. Thanks for that. I already have the brewery list but will not know the specific brews until I get there. I can at least make a list of the 3-5 highest rated beers for each brewery in advance and hope one or two show up. I don't think there will be many seasonals, if history is an indicator. Two years ago, this event was strictly pouring from bottles.

At this point, I only have one must-try if I can find it. BV Jr. #1 recommended the cucumber sour from 10 Barrel. He says it's a year round so I can hope.
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Old Apr 5, 18, 1:51 pm
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Originally Posted by BamaVol View Post
Excellent suggestions. I passed on the VIP tickets. An extra $20 apiece would have got us in the door 2 hours earlier. But I didn't think I'd want to drink that much more beer and the later 2:00 PM start gives us a chance to eat a hearty lunch. Unfortunately, BV Jr. #3's girlfriend is a vegan and will likely choose the restaurant. Can I get a protein rich meal at a vegan restaurant? I'd be wanting a 1/2 pound hamburger, ideally.

RateBeer will be my guide. Thanks for that. I already have the brewery list but will not know the specific brews until I get there. I can at least make a list of the 3-5 highest rated beers for each brewery in advance and hope one or two show up. I don't think there will be many seasonals, if history is an indicator. Two years ago, this event was strictly pouring from bottles.

At this point, I only have one must-try if I can find it. BV Jr. #1 recommended the cucumber sour from 10 Barrel. He says it's a year round so I can hope.
Suggest that she eat a salad at a non-vegan restaurant.
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Old Apr 6, 18, 3:04 pm
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My wife and I do a wine tasting here in Seattle that is similar...230 Wineries for 3 1/2 hours. Our strategy was to only visit wineries we didn't know and ask them to only pour their favorite wine and (as mentioned above) make good use of the dump bucket. Despite our best efforts we were still pretty blotto afterwards but based on the appearance of the rest of the crowd we did pretty well.
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Old Apr 7, 18, 5:21 pm
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If you're just there to taste, spit everything. I'm sure they have buckets for it.
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Old Apr 8, 18, 10:38 am
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So this one is all- you- can- drink? If so, yeah, taste and dump unless it's a favorite.
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Old Apr 9, 18, 10:57 am
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Originally Posted by exerda View Post
So this one is all- you- can- drink? If so, yeah, taste and dump unless it's a favorite.
Yes, basic admission was $30, and I bought tickets on Black Friday for $21 each. You try all the beers you like for that price. For $21, my goal is to taste as many unfamiliar beers as I can. My palate will be weary long before I've exhausted that list though since I am from Florida and many of the featured breweries don't distribute too far beyond Iowa/the Midwest. I will be spitting and washing my mouth with water, hoping to achieve 30 or so and really appreciate them. Out of 150 beers offered, I may have tried 20 and don't have any interest in another 30. I will be choosing from the 100, looking for certain styles. I will have a big lunch pre-fest and don't expect to get beyond the slightly tipsy stage. If I do, I have a hotel room just around the corner.

You are given an official 3 ounce plastic glass and cheap backpack as you are admitted. Maybe I'll pack a large cup to spit more efficiently and pour it out every time I pass a bucket. I'll also be looking for any logo swag available. 3 years ago, that was mostly cozies, stickers, coasters and bottle openers.
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Old Apr 9, 18, 6:37 pm
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Originally Posted by BamaVol View Post
You are given an official 3 ounce plastic glass and cheap backpack as you are admitted. Maybe I'll pack a large cup to spit more efficiently and pour it out every time I pass a bucket. I'll also be looking for any logo swag available. 3 years ago, that was mostly cozies, stickers, coasters and bottle openers.
I'd be surprised if most breweries don't have a dump bucket at their stands/tables. It's pretty common for the indoor beer fests I've attended.
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Old Apr 11, 18, 11:17 am
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Dump bucket is the only way to avoid a hangover. Depending on the beer fest, lines can be pretty annoying. My strategy is to get a beer at a booth with no line, and drink it while I'm in line for a beer that I really want. If I go with friends, we try to diversify what we get at each booth, so we can taste everything.
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Old Apr 12, 18, 9:55 am
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I am a frequent attendee of beer fests in the northeast, i think your strategy depends on what you know and what you're looking to get out of it. Are you familiar with the breweries attending, do you follow the beer 'scene', do you have specific styles? My go-to strategy is: identify 5-7 breweries (or specific beers if the list is announced ahead of time), and target those first. Ideally, target smaller breweries outside of your local distribution (checking the ratings before hand if you are not familiar is a good call). Once you've drank what you came for, it's easy to find other stuff with small lines. If you have VIP, definitely have a plan. you'll be able to try everything you want before the mad rush and everything sells out.
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Old Apr 15, 18, 8:36 am
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It’s the day after and I’m feeling pretty good all things considered. Dump buckets were sufficiently distributed that I was able to unload anything I didn’t want to swallow. I focused on hazy IPA’s, sours and darker beers. I couldn’t really recall much however and the website is already closed down. My favorite drink of the afternoon was a hard ginger beer. Very refreshing and the last thing I drank.

I had a huge plate of pineapple rice with pork at a Thai restaurant about an hour before the doors opened. And a big plate of rigatoni with sausage afterwards. Along with a pint of New England style IPA.

Organization of this event was somewhat disappointing. I was hoping for a paper list of breweries and beers for an opportunity to take notes. I was hoping for a little free swag. My only souvenir is the 3 ounce glass I was given at the door. And a large dark concrete hall in the events center was an inferior venue to the minor league ball park where it was held 3 years ago. Crowded, but not too, it did suffer from “tap leeches” hovering by certain tables. A return visit? Probably. It’s a pleasant occasion to share with a son that I only get to see once every year or two.

Bonus: Hyatt Place is attached to the skywalk system that allowed us to transit 7 blocks between room and event without going outside.


Last edited by BamaVol; Apr 15, 18 at 8:43 am
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Old Apr 16, 18, 11:25 am
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Originally Posted by BamaVol View Post
Organization of this event was somewhat disappointing. I was hoping for a paper list of breweries and beers for an opportunity to take notes. I was hoping for a little free swag. My only souvenir is the 3 ounce glass I was given at the door.
In my experience, paper lists are highly unusual, particularly given that breweries may bring several varieties that only get opened as the initial assortment runs out. I rarely see more swag than stickers and buttons, though sometimes the less craft/more corporate breweries have bottle openers.
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