Brewfest Survival Guide

It’s  peak Brewfest season, maybe you’ve already checked out a list of local events and purchased your ticket, maybe you haven’t decided on a festival but you plan on going to one. Either way there are some things you should know which is why I’m writing this, a Brewfest survival guide with a healthy dose of Brewfest Etiquette mixed in. I’ve been attending festivals since I turned 21, I can honestly say I’ve been nearly every type of brewfest attendee including the bad kind which I’m not proud of but I’m looking back now (and taking other peoples word for it because I still don’t remember) and considering the good and bad as life lessons specifically for this post.

  1. Plan of Attack:  If you’re new to brewfests or maybe even a veteran attendee you’ll print the brewery list and map if available weeks ahead of time, you’ll know what beer you’re drinking first and have a checklist. While this is a fun way to get pumped up for the festival it’s rarely the way things will really go down, I know that in my experience I’ve scrapped my plan and just winged it within 15 minutes, but hold onto your map and list, it still has a use, mark off what you’ve had so you can update Untappd later and the map is just a good reference.
  2. Eat Before You Go: This is a must, don’t fool yourself into thinking the coffee and half a bagel you had for breakfast is going to do anything for you. Have a solid breakfast and if time allows have lunch, your best bet is to grab a sandwich and have it while you’re standing in line.
  3. Hydrate: Ok, one of my worst Festival experiences started downhill right here. This means drink WATER! I just heard the party guy reading this “nah bro, lets pregame this shit”, more likely than not you will regret that decision, trust me, I did.
  4. Consider the Weather: The brewfest you are attending might be inside in the middle of winter but you’ll be standing outside at some point, how heavy the clothing you wear will matter when you’re outside in the cold and inside walking through the crowd, not every festival has a coat check so keep in mind you might be carrying your stuff around. Outdoor festivals are great but carry their own set of challenges, I’ve stood in line through lightning storms and spent hours in the rain at festivals, ponchos and rain suits are your friend. Hopefully your outdoor festival will be warm and sunny but beware, the sun is not always your friend and can be overwhelming, refer to sections “Hydrate” and “Know Your Surroundings” because the heat will take you down.

    2007 Vermont Brewers Festival

  5. Dress for Success:  You can leave the power tie at home, this is directly related to “Consider the Weather”, remember if you are inside for the fest it will be hot and crowded so you don’t want to overdress but you may be standing outside in line in a snow storm, light layers will be your friend, Some festivals allow backpacks so you can adjust your attire accordingly. Raingear is not a bad idea even if there is no rain in the forecast; I’ve attended more than one festival that went from fair and sunny to torrential downpour. Wear a hat to keep the sun off your head or hold in some heat if it’s cool out. Footwear is important; remember you’ll be on your feet for potentially 4+ hours so comfortable footwear is important. If it’s an outdoor fest you may encounter mud, debris on the ground and uneven ground as well as groups of people who can step on your toes, flip flops are not the best choice and ladies, leave the spike heels at home (not a joke I’ve seen this at an outdoor festival). I usually pick an athletic sandal with a closed toe, comfortable, cool and protected.
  6. Get there on time: I’ve been super early and as cool as being the very first person in line is, it doesn’t matter, Gate time and Pour time are not always the same, so first one there doesn’t guarantee you’ll be the first to get beer. Getting to the festival late doesn’t matter as much if it’s already started you may encounter a line but at least it’ll be moving; if you show up really late make sure you pace yourself, rushing to burn through your tickets is a mistake waiting to happen. I recommend arriving an hour to 45 minutes early, there will be a line but generally by the time you make it through the gates they’ll just be starting to pour.
  7. Know Your Surroundings:  Basic safety rules for any situation, know your emergency exits, in the event of a worst case scenario, but if something happened it could prove useful, indoor brewfests are often quite crowded and in a panic could become confusing. While you are looking at the exits check for food vendors, water sources, shade and restrooms. Pro Tip: A quick walk around the festival grounds may reveal “out of the way” port-a-potties that hardly get used, no lines and much cleaner than the busy ones.
  8. Bring Cash: I know it’s hard to believe but not everyone accepts credit cards, you’ll want food, water, maybe that killer T-shirt from your favorite brewer.
  9. Know Your Limits:Consider your personal tolerance, factor in the heat and the stresses of being in a large crowd, how much you’ve eaten, if you’ve stayed hydrated and the fact that you are not sipping 1 beer but sampling a variety of styles and ABV’s and you might not react as you expect. Be smart, there is plenty of time to slow down and take a break.

    2012 Maine Brewers Festival

  10. Food Break: in my experience some pretty stellar food vendors show up at brewfests, take advantage of this and take a break, it’ll soak up some alcohol and give you some energy to power through the rest of the event. Pro Tip: pick a time and if you are with a group meet up for a food break, this is a great opportunity find out what some of the booths you haven’t visited are pouring or if one of the brews you were looking for has already kicked.
  11. Hydrate: Yes you are correct I’m repeating myself; now go find a bottle of water before this thing gets ugly. Especially in a hot room or on a sunny day you’ll want to drink some water between beers. The Vermont Brewers Festival brings in a converted milk tanker full of ice cold water that’s free for attendees, take advantage of these opportunities if they exist otherwise someone is selling bottles of water somewhere.
  12. Take Care of Each Other:  Look out for your fellow brewfest attendees, if you see someone in need offer to help, they might be with a group but nobody is around, help them find water, shade or a place to sit down and if you suspect a real problem find a volunteer or security and get them some help.
  13. Don’t be an Ass: I shouldn’t have to explain this one, brewfests are about the Beer and the experience, don’t be the guy who starts a fight or ruins someone else’s brewfest because you can’t handle it. I’ve seen this a few times, best case you get bounced out, worst case you get a ride in the police car.
  14. Have a Driver: If you can’t walk home or to your hotel from the festival, take the Bus, Call a Cab, have a friend pick you up, do whatever you need to do but don’t make a bad decision that you’ll end up regretting.
  15. Enjoy the Experience: It’s brewfest! Enjoy the experience, take the opportunity to chat with the brewers but keep in mind you’re not the only beer geek who wants to visit so keep it brief and move along, talk to the people in line with you, you never know who’s around and you might learn something or make a new beer friend, Try new things, take in the sights and sounds and most importantly, have a fun and safe time.

There you have it, from someone who’s done it right and wrong, the brewfest is about the beer and the experience, there’s no glory in being the most drunk and there is no enjoyment in reliving your brewfest through other people’s memories because you were too drunk to remember. Be safe and I hope to run into you at a festival someday.



Glasses from the 2013 Seacoast Winter Brewfest in Portsmouth, NH

Chad Lothian

About Chad Lothian

Chad Lothian lives in Old Town, Maine. He is a craft beer enthusiast and homebrewer. Chad has travelled to brewpubs, breweries and brewfests all over New England.