Back to the Beer Festival, Part II

Most of you reading this have visited a beer festival, though it might have been a few years. You  remember the stands, the breweries, the other visitors and the many beers you had. And that one person you had a fascinating conversation with sitting next to you on a wooden bench.

The last article was about my visit to a festival. The second day of that festival, the start of the Dutch beer week, I was on the other side of the table working for Oudaen tapping beers instead of drinking them. I thought it would be interesting for those who never worked at a festival to explain what it is like from the other side.

The stages of a festival

Stage 1

The stage before the festival opens. At the brewery you pack your taps and the kegs of beer you want to pour. You get all the marketing stuff you can get. Signs, flags, coasters, leaflets, T-shirts, bottles etc. Anything that stands out. Then you get in the car or van and leave for the festival. If you are unlucky this can be on the other side of the country.

When you arrive you put up your stand, connect the taps, decorate the stand and talk to the organizers, who undoubtedly have some things to say about how things will work and who you have to talk to if there are problems or questions. If you are early you have some time to kill to talk to the other brewers there. If you were smart enough to bring a trolley other brewers will ask you if they can borrow it. They can, you’re at the festival with likeminded spirits, not competitors.

Stage 2

The festival opens. Guests trickle in. The first hour or so hardly anyone visits your stand. Not good for business but it does give you time to talk to the guests about your beer or a brewpub if you have it. The beer they get at your stand is likely their first, so they often start with a lighter one. A special group that often visits are the collectors. They ask you if you have beer labels, bottle caps or coasters for them. A tote bag hangs over their shoulder filled with anything collectable they have hoarded in the first thirty minutes. At their often advanced age this is their highlight of the festival. They seem dorky at times, but they perform a function as guardians of beer culture and history. Treat them accordingly.

Stage 3

Most people are now at the festival. Peak hours. Chances are you are constantly pouring and with any luck there is a line forming in front of your stand. No time to explain things about the beer, hopefully people have made a decision before ordering. Hard work but the most satisfying part of the day. The atmosphere is changing too. A mix of beer festival veterans and newbies. The true festival goers know how to restrain themselves while still trying new beers. The newbies might come back to your stand because they like one beer in particular.

This is usually around dinnertime. Good festivals have a separate part of the terrain or venue for food. If things are really busy you can often trade a few beers with food from one of the food stands. But a separate room is the best. You have time to eat and to calm down. And oh, in these times of changing attitudes towards food festivals should always offer a vegetarian option. In Den Haag you had to stand in line with the other guests which took ages, only to find out your coupon didn’t provide for a vegetarian meal.

Stage 4

The last part of the day. That time when the beers people get at your stand are definitely not the first. There is more crowd noise. Some men for no reason start shouting and for a minute you think you are at a football game. You hear the sound of breaking glass more often, usually followed by a load roar from anyone who heard. A roar that then gets picked up by everyone and rolls over the terrain or through the venue as a wave.

This is the time drunkenness start and when it at times can get annoying. The line is held up by drunken indecisiveness or a minute long repetition of what beers they liked. If that beer is one of yours doesn’t really matter. They day is over. The organizers come by and tell you at what time exactly the taps close and not a minute later to not getting into any permit trouble. When you close the taps and can’t serve anymore there are always some who complain, but it is over.  

Stage 5

Cleanup and the long road home. Or if you decide to stay over an after party until the early hours of the next day. If you do go home you clean. You get rid of all the excess water, wipe down the table and taps. You also clean the taps and lines, the sooner the better to limit the risk of infections.

A long day is over. But there is always a new festival soon.