Festival Survival Guide

Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.

Learn from my bad judgement. What follows is a compilation of the lessons I've learned from going to literally dozens of large festivals. Trust me, there are things you need to know to a) get the most out of it and b) minimize the damage if you plan to function the next day.

These events are like Candyland for beer lovers. You need to be prepared for the adventure. The most important thing to remember is this... this is a 'tasting'... there is no other venue out there where you can taste so many different beers than at a festival. The strategies below will all come back to this basic principle... taste lots of different beers while you can.

Pace Yourself

There is plenty of time, and more than plenty of beer. Most festivals have hundreds, if not thousands of samples to choose from. It is easy to lose track of how much you've had to drink even if you only drink an ounce at a time. Take it easy.

Assume the sample size is one ounce (and often they overpour), then keep in mind... 12 samples = 1 12oz beer. You can easily drink 30 samples per hour. That's one every 2 minutes. It is VERY easy to drink faster than that. If the festival is 3 hours long, that's 180 minutes, and 90 samples, which is almost 8 beers... and some of the beers there are high alcohol. Factor all that in. Any way you look at it, 8 beers in 3 hours is a lot.

Pace yourself. Every large festival I've been to I see the same thing happen... there be folks who have overdone it and have to leave way too early (some via invitation). That is not the way to do it. There are lots of fun folks to talk to, lots of great beers to try, and you don’t want to miss a single thing.

The slower you progress, the more samples you'll be able to try in the long run. I emphasize that this should be your goal, to sample as many different beers as you can.

If you feel you just have to get every penny's worth, then set your alarm to go off a half hour before quitting time (smart phone etc). If you want to get aggressive that is the time to do it. The alarm is also helpful to remind you to check your target list (see below). If there is a beer you really want to make sure and try, you'll have one more chance to find it. When they shut these things down it is usually immediate and final. No amount of whinning will get you another pour.

Bottom line, you cannot try them all. Don’t try. Pace yourself and you'll get to try more. .

Pay Attention to the Order

Don’t wreck your palate early. If you start with high-alcohol hop bombs right out of the chute, you may not be able to taste the subtleties of the malty beers afterward. Start with low alcohol thirst quenchers, lagers, wheats etc. – especially if the weather is warm. The hop bombs can wait.

In cool weather, I would recommend to graduate the lighter beers more quickly, but still not toward hop bombs. I like rich malty beers when the weather is chilly, so I get right to them. Make your way from low, to regular, to higher alcohol as you progress. Again, the higher the alcohol, the fewer you get to try. You don't want to get plowed early and miss out.

Finally, then you can finish out with some IPA’s and high alcohol versions of the same. They really pop when you've been drinking the maltier beers beforehand. .


When you go to a festival, try to get a roster of the beers ahead of time. Make a list of what you want to try. This will help you make sure you don't miss out. Don't limit yourself to the list, be spontaneous, but do have a list. This is a rare opportunity to try lots of different kinds of beers without having to invest in a whole beer (like at a bar) or even a whole sixer (like in a store).

Mix in a few homebrews if they are available. It's like home cooking. You can taste the love. Some festivals I drink more homebrew samples than anything else. There are people who get really good at this, and you can do things in small batches that you can't afford to do at the commercial level.

Plan your samples. Your taste buds will thank me. (And I will say 'you're welcome'.)


Take pad and paper with you, or at least prepare to make use of the notepad or camera on your smartphone. Record the beers you really like. Trust me, trying to remember them the next day is quite problematic. Again I emphasize, this is a great opportunity to sample beers you might not otherwise spend money on. Make the most of it. The easiest thing to do is to just take a picture of every beer you really like. You can make a list later and delete the pics if necessary.

Document what you like. You’ll be glad you did. This is about research, not just boundless joy... right? You won't have a better chance to plan what you want to shop for later. Festivals are taste testing heaven. Shopping afterward is like buying a great musician's greatest hits album.

Hydrate Hydrate Hydrate!

Drink plenty of water all day the day of the festival. After every few beers take time to drink some water. You need water, it hydrates the body and keeps the palate cleansed. Also, it helps you to go the distance.

Along with that, keep your eyes on the restroom lines and pace your bladder accordingly. Drink lots of water then plan on when and where it will go when you're done with it.


The more good food you eat, the more you can drink. If your goal is like mine, you want to try lots of different beers. Eating will help you do that. The healthier the food the better, so a nutritious late lunch will give you a great head start. Avoid sweets all day, particularly at the event.

Multivitamins, B-Complex, Lecithin, probiotics and Vitamin E are reputed to help. I am not a doctor nor am I a nutritionist. I didn't even stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. I'm just passing along what I heard.

Veteran festival goers often make a necklace out of pretzels. The food makes a great palate refresher while at the same time keeps the digestive track active. Put plenty of pretzels on it, because you'll want to share with those with less foresight. It is a great way to meet people... it will start many a conversation.

Another tip endorsed by folks who have to drink for a living (yes there is such a thing) is to eat yeast as you drink. The tests on the same are a bit inconclusive, but there is some evidence that it helps slightly, especially when taken with water. With sugar present it doesn't seem to work at all, as the yeast focuses on the sugar instead of the alcohol in the tummy. Capsules might be the best bet, as one doesn't want to have any competing flavors in the mouth at a tasting.

Small Pours = More Variety

Volunteers at these events are notorious for pouring over the sample line. Discourage them from doing so. Those who over pour are not doing you any favors. You can only drink so much, and the idea is to taste as many different beers as you can, not to waste your liver on just a few. It is better to taste more small pours than fewer large pours. It is the same amount of beer either way. You can only hold so much. Think variety.

At the super large national events I often ask the pourer for a half sample, in other words, pouring well below the sample line on the glass. Another tip, if someone over-pours, share that sample with a friend. Don't over sample any single beer, because every time you do, you just marked another beer off the list... because you can only drink so many

Pour Out Some Beers

Don't fear. There's plenty of beer. I know, this is getting to be a common theme. The strategy is to keep trying something new. It’s better that way.

Don't be afraid to pour a beer out if you don’t like it. You are not going to like them all. Every sip of a beer you drink that you don’t care for is a sip you won’t have room for when the right beer comes along. The people who pour the beer probably are volunteers, you won't hurt their feelings. In the homebrew section, slip off and do it. They might be sensitive. That said, if you are expert enough to know what went wrong with the brewing process, then it is appropriate to take advantage of a teaching moment... be gentle.

Post Festival Damage Control

Turn out the lights, the party is over... and sure enough, you took on a little too much alcohol. There are a few tips to minimize the damage i.e. how bad you are going to feel in the morning.

The first thing to remember is that it is best to taper off alcohol as opposed to quitting suddenly. You will experience a surge in intoxication if you go from full-drinking to not-drinking too quickly. The reason is, the liver is always one step behind. There aren't enough carbs in beer to fuel the digestion of the alcohol. So the next beer you drink helps you digest the last beer you drank. Once you stop and that carb supply shuts off, the liver can't keep up, resulting in a surge of alcohol in the bloodstream. Taper off your drinking at the end of the session. If you’ve had a bit too much to drink at the end of the festival, having another small portion when you get home will help the body transition from intoxication to detoxification.

Before bed, take whatever medication you would if you already had a headache, like Aspirin, Advil or Alieve. Aviod Tylenol . Like alcohol it is taxing on the liver, so I avoid that one.

I find that vitamins and supplements also seem to help. I like Vitamin B Complex, Lecithin and probiotics. They are best taken at bedtime, but are also effective once you already feel like crap. Again, I'm not expert here, but this is what I do.

Anything with white sugar in it should be avoided at all cost....before, during and after. Sweet cocktails are the worst, but sweet desserts are a close second. A big dose of sugar while drinking almost always portends a bad funk the morning after.

And finally, the same rule still applies from earlier, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

Travel Tips

You won't be able to drive afterwards, so don't even think about it. Plan your transportation, and when I say plan your transportation I mean like way ahead of time. You don't want to be plowed and THEN try to figure out how to get home.

Have a designated driver, or better yet, have someone to drop you off and pick you up, or you can even take a cab. Whatever it takes to get you home safe and sound, without being a danger to yourself or others. Again… anytime you attend a beer festival… DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT DRIVING. Not even just a few blocks. Not any. Ever. Just thinking about driving afterward should be illegal.

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