The Problem With Beer Festivals

Fridge Beer
What we happen to have in our fridge at the moment

Beer at Home

The average cost of a craft six pack is $10. There are always more expensive options. One of my favorites, Ballast Point’s Habanero Sculpin, is around $15 and last week we bought the variety pack, Petrus Sour Power, for $24. So we don’t mind spending more to get something special. We buy beer most every week because we like to have options in the fridge. The advantages are obvious: drink what we want, at our own pace, and at the end of the night we don’t have to drive anywhere.

The National Beer Bloggers Conference

Sierra Nevada Brewery Tour
The Beer Bloggers Conference included a private tour of the Sierra Nevada brewery given by founder and owner Ken Grossman

For the last 2 years we’ve attended the national Beer Bloggers Conference. The cost for admission has been $120 per person. For that amount we get beer, panel discussions, brewery tours, swag, several meals, and transportation to and from the various activities. It starts on a Friday and runs all day and night until Sunday afternoon. If you’re from out of town there’s travel and accommodation to factor in, but as far as the event itself goes the entrance fee has you covered.

Sierra Nevada Cookout
This lavish cookout was just one of several at The Beer Bloggers Conference. Other perks included the bus that shuttled us safely from one location to the next.

The WTF math of Festival Beer

Since we’ve been back in the area there have been several regional beer festivals. After reading up on them we’ve gotten excited about each one. Most of them take place on 2 day’s worth of evenings and feature 40+ local breweries. Food is on site and available for purchase. The events have all sounded great, but we haven’t gone to any of them. Why? Because the cost for these festivals is about $40 per person, per day. The per day part is crazy to us.

If I went into Spirit Haus and saw a six pack advertised for $10, picked it up and was then told at the counter that price was actually only for 3 of the beers, I’d politely switch it out with something else. It’s not the expense that would turn me off, it would be the deliberately misleading labeling. If instead there were several interesting “3-packs” advertised as $10 I’d most likely try them all.

Firkin Event @ The Foundry
A recent Firkin night at The Foundry highlighted local breweries, was priced per sample, and allowed the brewmasters to mingle with attendees.

Festivals get even worse

If you’re a vocal and passionate supporter of local craft beer you’d want to sample all participating breweries, but at these festivals that’s not possible unless you go to both nights of the event. Why? Because half the breweries are there one night, half the other. That’s like the hypothetical six pack above being a variety pack, the store only selling you 3, and asking you to return the following night (but only between 5pm and 10pm) to purchase the remaining 3.

If it sounds like I’m telling local beer festivals to go to hell, I’m not. You can’t insult someone who has spit in your face, taken your money, and walked away laughing.

To top it off festivals don’t seem to care about safety. Many people spending that much for one 4-hour day of an event are going to try their damnedest to get their money’s worth. Festivals don’t include any sort of transportation options in their admission prices. That means that if a person were to responsibly hire a car, go to both days of an event, and purchase food each evening they were there, the festival would wind up costing substantially more than a national, all-inclusive conference. That seems extremely exploitative to us.

Suggestions?

We think a beer festival should be about 2 things: getting great, hard-working local breweries the attention they deserve and providing a safe, unique place for local beer fans to enjoy themselves. I hope festival organizers make money for themselves in the process, but that can’t be the main point of these things as we feel it is now.

We have three suggestions:

  1. Charge one, low admission for the entire event and then sell a flexible quantity of drink tickets so that festival-goers don’t feel compelled to drink so much they can’t even see straight to call an Uber.
  2. Have ridesharing forums on festival websites.
  3. Have all breweries in attendance every day of the festival.

We’d love to hear your ideas too, so comment below!

The Problem With Beer Festivals is a Musing

3 thoughts on “The Problem With Beer Festivals

  1. 1. Low entrance fee, and per ticket pricing for beer. This in my estimation has been tried in the past, and has been put to bed. What’s the number one curse at a brew festival – lines. Why would you want to encourage an additional activity that slows your day. Line to get ID. Line to get entrance. Line to get beer tokens. Line to get beer. Line to bathrooms. Line to get more beer tokens. How do you limit lines – more staff. More staff = more cost. How many do you buy? How do you get a refund for un-used tokens (usually you can’t). Personally I would feel more compelled to spend my over-purchased token or two left in my pocket, as opposed to calculating if I got my worth.

    I guess I don’t understand the “feeling compelled to drink” portion of your statement. Because you spent $40 at a beer festival, what exactly do you need to do? Drink precisely 8 glasses of 10oz beer? 8x$5, with no tip = $40? The entrance fee is for more than just the amount of beer you can manage to drink. As a craft beer aficionado, there are certainly beers at a brewfest that I hope you don’t feel so compelled to try that you actually try them, because you “paid” for it.

    “Festivals don’t include any sort of transportation options in the admission prices”. What is your suggestion here? How do we promote an event and secure transportation for 2000 people? UBER cards have been available at every brewfest, with discount codes at every brewfest I attended this year. Valley Fest, 2 weekends ago had a taxi service, which was either free or a max of $10 off your ride. Discounted rooms were also offered at the Sheraton for both The Worthy and Valley Fest.

    2. “Have ridesharing forums on festival websites”. No problem. Post them on the event page. I welcome your assistance.

    3. “Have all breweries in attendance every day of the festival”. I have been to a very good share of brewfests this year, and a tremendous amount of them in years past. I have not once heard of having different breweries at a festival on different days. Perhaps some breweries we not allotted enough beer, packed up, and left? That’s the only thing I can think of. Where did this happen to you?

    Fests that I attended this year – American Craft Beer Festival. Extreme Beer Fest. Vermont Brewers Festival. The Worthy. ValleyFest. Holyoke Canoe/CT River brew fest. Belgium Comes to Cooperstown. Rising Pint. Mt. Snow Brewers Festival. (maybe one or two more…but that’s what I remember right now)

    Some things to consider. In years past, brewers were invited to attend Brew Fests and were asked not only to donate their time, but to also donate their beer. If I was running a brewfest and didn’t have to pay for beer, I can assure the cost could come down wildly. I am extremely happy that this theme has changed. Brewers deserve to get paid for their craft.

    Additional costs for a festival. There are a HUGE number of expenses that add up to your $40 admission fee. Site rental. Local Police x4. Local Security x4. Permits. Fencing. Gates. Scanner rental for tickets. Ticketing. Glassware. Shirts. Volunteer shirts. Website. Website development. Bands. Promotional pre-fest events, Staging. Sound. Lighting. Groundskeeping. Communication rental. Fire inspector. Portable bathrooms. Trash pick-up and removal. Electrical. Tent rentals. Ice, and a ton of it -literally (50 breweries x 20lbs x 2 sessions = 1 ton.). Beer. Refrigeration. Advertising. Tables. Chairs. Umbrellas. Water hook-up. Rinsing stations. Paid and non-paid volunteers.

    The above costs are what it takes to put together a fest, as opposed to sitting at home with a 6, 4, or 3 pack. I hope this helps clarify some of the WTF costs.

    1. I’ve gotten a few of these responses from event enthusiasts and organizers, and I appreciate them. So thanks Jeff. I’m glad there’s so much support for craft beer festivals. What I keep hearing is that a festival can’t be done in a way that’s inexpensive and that the expense inevitably must be passed down to the consumer.

      My confusion is this: I’m fairly sure that all the Firestone Walker I drank at the 2014 Beer Bloggers Conference was paid for by Firestone Walker. The fact that I went on to purchase lots of Opal and Easy Jack and Velvet Merlin over the next couple years is something I think Firestone was counting on and why they viewed the beer they brought to BBC not as a donation, but as an investment.

      The same goes for the dozens of other breweries I tried at conferences, loved, and now purchase regularly. I had my first Ballast Point at the 2014 conference also, and can’t even begin to calculate how much of their beer I’ve purchased since then. I think I’ve probably hit a few hundred bucks just on Habanero Sculpin. I love that stuff.

      Maybe that’s the point of a conference though, and festivals are simply a different way to buy beer. I think and hope they continue to do well. My only hope is that someone comes up with something else to fill the gap for people not interested in the markup festivals seem to require.

      1. I completely understand your comment about Firestone Walker and about Ballast Point. Advertising = an investment. At festivals, the investment on the brewers side is their time. These reps, distributors, and/or brewers spend a great amount of their time promoting their brand at events. Many times their entire weekend The brewery pays for their time to be there. They also bring their own equipment, signage, and in some instances tents and tables.

        In the case of a small brewery pushing to get into the business, it’s a bit tougher. Many of these people are still working their day job, and push like hell to be successful and grow. A festival where they can invest their time, and still get paid for their beer helps in a small way toward their profitability and growth. $300 means a lot to a start up, and means nothing to the likes of Firestone Walker or Ballast Point.

        I disagree that festivals are just another way to buy beer. In many instances you have an opportunity to talk with a brewer, or their brewery representative. Sure it’s not a discussion paneled forum, but I have to think that you understand that conferences aren’t for everyone either. Festivals are also about the vibe. The music. The people. The food. The gathering of like minded people, and the interaction between them.

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