The Rhythm, Wine and Brews Experience is coming up on Saturday, March 3. It seems to grow each year; the 2018 edition will feature the addition of the Stone Temple Pilots and a tiki bar.
I’ll take “How to Get People Very Drunk” for $200, Alex.
Now seems like a good time to share with you some tips and etiquette for beer festivals in general—especially how to get through them without making an absolute mess of yourself.
Before I get to specific survival tips, I want to take you on a trip back in time—20 years ago, to be exact. I was a young lad taking his first overseas trip. I had been studying both the German language and German beer, and wanted to immerse myself in both.
I got a job with a family just south of Munich helping them out with household and horse-stable chores. I ended up staying two months and learned much in that time. I learned how to drive a crazy Citroen 2CV with a gear shift that came out of the dashboard. I learned how to argue a point during an Uno card game in German. Most importantly, though, I learned how to drink. When I first got there, I went to a neighborhood event called a Stadlfest where they cleared out a barn and threw an extremely stereotypical German party, with kegs of delicious local beer, dimpled liter mugs, and people standing on benches, swaying back and forth to polka and drinking songs. I couldn’t believe this actually existed.
While drinking my first liter there, I noticed a group farther down my table eyeing me and commenting. I asked, in my best German, what was wrong. They said I was drinking too fast. I let them know (as if my accent didn’t already give me away) that I was American, and that my pace was normal in the U.S. They then laid on me the single best piece of alcohol advice I have ever received: Start slow, and slowly ramp up over the course of the night—and by the end, you can be gulping. (The wonderful word for this in their language is “schlucken.”) By the end of my stay, I had found those same people again—and was able to last much longer, with far lighter consequences.
I tell you all that for the obvious corollary with beer festivals: Start slow, and by the end, you can enjoy much more, all while being upright and at much less of a risk of making a fool of yourself. I’ve seen far too many people get excited at the beginning of a festival, going wild trying every strong beer they can—and ending up puking or passed out somewhere halfway through. DON’T BE THAT PERSON.
Armed with this advice, you already have an advantage. But there is definitely more you can do. Some of these tips may seem obvious, but one never knows …
Eat before and during the festival. It’s a fact that alcohol absorption can be slowed with food in your gut. Something as simple as yogurt with granola, salmon, chicken or spaghetti can do that for you. This does NOT mean you can drink the same amount without getting as drunk as you would with an empty stomach. Food just delays the buzz; your liver will have to process all that alcohol regardless. Most festivals have a food component which makes it easy to take a little break, refuel and …
Drink some water. This is the one tip that is the most obvious, but the easiest to forget while in the middle of your festival fun. Every festival I have ever attended has a drinking-water station. Alcohol dehydrates you. I don’t care how many times you have to pee; you will be a lot better off after the dust has settled if you regularly drink water. If you can carry around a bottle, do that. Water also has the nice bonus of serving as a palate cleanser between beers.
Dump that beer. Well, drink a little first … but if it’s no good, dump it. This is easy at outdoor festivals like the above-mentioned RWB. If you’re indoors, there will be places for you to pour out what you don’t want—often with water for you to rinse your glass. Even if you enjoyed a certain beer, but maybe got a little too much of it, dump it. (If the brewer is staring at you, you might want to wait it out and dump it elsewhere furtively.)
Be friendly and meet people. This can be hard for some people who are more introverted (it sure is for me sometimes), but at these festivals, you can meet brewing-industry people, knowledgeable drinkers and people who are downright nice and interesting, from many walks of life. It is one thing that makes craft beer beautiful—the people you meet while drinking. Beer also helps greatly to lubricate social situations.
This also has a flip side: Don’t be a dick. Do your best to watch your glass and prevent spillage; apologize to people you bump into (while trying your level best to avoid doing so); and freely share your experience with the beers you’ve tried so far. By doing so, other people will talk about beers you might want to try—while giving you a break when you can eat or hydrate.
Plan ahead: Festivals will post a list of the breweries attending—and sometimes even the beers being served. Make a road map of the things you must try that might go quickly, and follow that as closely as possible. Try not to make this your bible, though: I have often planned out the first hour of a festival only to be blissfully waylaid by friends or other interesting beers. Festivals are about having fun, after all.
I don’t think I need to add that you should arrange for someone sober to drive you to and from the festival … do I? I guess I just did. See the advice above about not being a dick.
Go forth to that beer festival confidently, and make my German friends and drinking mentors proud! Prost!
Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He currently works at the Coachella Valley Brewing Co. taproom in Thousand Palms. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.