For several years, I have wanted to attend a beer festival. I always thought it would be a fun experience to be able to try some decent beer, maybe get some good food, and hang out with some cool people.
Though the opportunity has been there before, I never have taken the chance until a couple of weekends ago, when I went to the Snommegang Invitational with my brother and his wife. The event was in its second year and the theme was perfect for this area, and for the winter we’ve been having. It was put on by Brewery Ommegang, which is a highly popular and well-known brewery in our area.
They teamed, too, with America On Tap, which is one of the top companies to put on beer festivals.
I’m going to call it straight here, too. I truly didn’t have the best of experiences. It wasn’t the worst, by any means, but I have a hard time believing I’ll go back to it next year.
First, it was $50 (plus a $3.50 fee). Many other festivals I’ve looked at in the past have been well less than that (in the $35 range), including a pretty big one (also put on by America On Tap) in Binghamton each year – with this year’s being the weekend before Snommegang.
Something to keep in mind, too, is that I’m not a heavy drinker. I like to taste and experience a good beer, which is why a festival seemed perfect. My goal wasn’t to get drunk at this, it was to enjoy the experience and have all my faculties when it was over. Simple enough, right?
But… if I pay $50 (plus fee), I expect to get a $50 experience. Instead, I felt like, at times, I was at a frat party.
Let’s start in the beginning.
When we checked in and such, we were given our tasting glass. I use that term lightly. Why?
Because the “glass” was plastic.
Now, I know many people who go to these festivals and they all have talked about how the glass is nice, rugged and one that will likely not break. It’s also a cool little keepsake. I know there must have been some glass glasses given out because I watched somebody drop one later in the day. It didn’t shatter; it bounced a little and … it definitely didn’t sound like plastic. It was glass.
So did they not plan enough glasses? Maybe only certain people got the glass? In my eyes, that can’t happen.
Think about it, though. You pay $50. And get a plastic 5-ounce pilsner-style glass (cup). That’s it.
Now, this was also outdoors. I knew this coming in, so I can’t – and won’t complain – that it was cold out. I dressed accordingly. I remember seeing something about heated tents, though, and that heat was done more by body heat, I think. But in the end, that actually wasn’t too bad. If they had massive heaters there, it would have taken up more precious space and it might have gotten uncomfortable in the tents.
The issue was how crowded it was. The tents couldn’t have been more than 15 feet wide or so (if that), and part of it was taken up by the tables for the breweries and space behind there. There were also random tables on the opposite side of the tent, and the only thing I saw on said tables were big jugs of water. So the people were crammed in. And people didn’t move. That says more about people than the festival, though. So you would get log jams all over the place. Squeezing through was not easy.
One thing to note – I realize the tents could only be so wide on the closed-off streets because emergency vehicles need a certain amount of room if they are called upon. Still, there are ways it seems like it could have been worked to give the people paying to be there more room.
Let me talk about the beers. I tasted many that day. Even if just a sip or two. I tasted a lot I liked, and many others I didn’t like. It was a good mix. When things were overly hoppy, I didn’t like them. But I did have a few stouts and other dark beers that were divine. But this isn’t reflective on the festival or organizers. This would be the same at any festival. It’s all based on personal taste.
There are many check-ins on my Untappd profile that I will be revisiting, that’s for sure. I also got to test things I’m not sure I ever would have, besides at a festival. I enjoyed the aspect of seeing some people I know and chatting with brewery reps and such. What was really nice is the amount of smaller breweries that were there.
One thing to note is I didn’t see any food vendors. Now, we were on a main drag, so there were places to go eat (midway through, we went and got some pizza), but I think the experience of things like this is when they bring in different food vendors. Unless I totally missed seeing any, I don’t think there was anything other than the local places to eat. Which, hey, that’s great for local business. But for those who just wanted to grab some grub and keep going, it’s a little harder.
The problem was the overall experience just didn’t live up to things I had hoped for. I brought my camera with me hoping to get some cool shots. But I was so crammed and rushing along with people behind me that there was no time to pull the camera out, so I got three or four shots with the iPhone.
Look, a lot of people seemed like they were having a good time. And I’m sure many people got their money’s worth (I saw a ton of people who seemed like they had tried each beer – more than once!). The brewery reps I spoke with were, for the most part, friendly and engaging. The few people who seemed to be connected with Ommegang were, as always, amazingly friendly and outgoing. That’s the experience you get when you go to the brewery, too.
But this is just about the festival. When I left (and I left a tad early, actually), I did so with the feeling that the experience just wasn’t worth the price of admission.
It’s a shame, too. I’ll probably never use the taster glass again (I likely would have with a glass one as it’s a perfect size when testing home brew), and I’m not sure I’ll ever attend this festival again. I’d love to attend the one they hold at the brewery itself as that seems like it would be a fantastic time and, probably, much more space.
A lot of people definitely had a good time. I’ve talked to a few people I knew who were there and it’s a mixed bag of reactions. Some really liked it and some felt the way I do — a fun time, worth the experience of trying, but likely not a repeat one. This was only the second year, though, so hopefully it will grow and continue to improve and maybe down the line I’ll give it a go again — as long as I get my actual glass!
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