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The Problem With Beer FestivalsMatthew Wright • September 13, 2015
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- Have ridesharing forums on festival websites.
- Have all breweries in attendance every day of the festival.
We’d love to hear your ideas too, so comment below!