Our helpful tips on how to get the most out of a beer festival.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that Cask Days, North America’s biggest cask beer festival, is one of the highlights of my year.
The Morana family—the owners of Bar Volo—have been growing their trendsetting festival for 11 years, and this year promises to be the biggest one yet. The festival will feature over 150 breweries and more than 300 (unfiltered and naturally carbonated) beers and ciders being served from all over the country, with highlights from Washington, New York, California, and the U.K. Without a doubt, Cask Days is a fun way for the brewers to stretch their creative muscles on unique brews, as well as giving folks the chance to see just how diverse and incredible beer can get.
Held at the beautiful Evergreen Brick Works, the festival is spread out over five sessions from Friday the 23rd to Sunday the 25th. Saturday sessions are sold out, though you can still get in on the Baller Pass, which gives access to the entire weekend.
For some of you going, this might be your first beer festival (lucky you!) and for others, this isn’t your first alcohol rodeo. However, inexperienced newbies and seasoned vets all can stand to learn a few things on how to handle themselves out there in the big, boozy battlefield. With that, here are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years that will ensure you have a grand time out at a beer festival.
(It should be added that while I’m specifically talking about Cask Days here, these rules can be applied to any beer festival.)
All the experts agree, if you participate in any beer event, you will in no way be suitable to drive. Thankfully, Cask Days offers a $5 shuttle service to and from the festival that is walking distance from Broadview Station or right outside the Brick Works. If sitting with people bugs you, call a cab. Either way, stay alive and don’t drive (G.I. JOOOOOOOE).
Beer tokens and food cost money and, while there will be ATMs available at the festival, that’s just going to be one more line you’d have to get in before enjoying yourself. Save yourself some time by bringing some cold, hard cash along with you.
Plan ahead but plan to go off-plan
There will be over 300 beers served at this year’s festival. With that comes a painful realization: You are not going to be able to drink all of these beers. Really. Don’t even try. Like Paul Newman said to Redford: It’s not. Gonna. Happen.
Luckily though, most beer festivals put out a list of the beers that will be featured beforehand, so you can figure out what you might want. Here’s Cask Days’ list. Handy hint, remove the beers you’ve tried before and narrow the list down by figuring out what appeals to your personal tastes, your sense of adventure, and your morbid curiosity. For instance, I like a good English Best Bitter, so I’ll be giving the one by Washington’s Machine House Brewery a try. That said, California brewery Monkish Brewing Co.’s “Hard Drive Problems” (barrel fermented saison with strawberries, blueberries & cherries) and Sawdust City’s “So What’cha Want” (cucumber jalapeno golden beach ale) sound downright interesting.
With that said, one of the fun aspects of beer festivals is that things never go according to plan. One of the things I love doing is asking people what their favourites have been so far. More often than not I discover a lot of beers that were not on my list, and that I would have been upset if I missed out on. You may start to see your carefully considered plan deviating, but as long as you’re having fun, don’t worry about it!
Also, don’t plan what beers to try according to ABV content. If you just want to get drunk, stay at home with a bottle of cheap whiskey and the complete box set of Jem & The Holograms. There are some incredible beers to be found that are both high and low in alcohol content.
Stay hydrated and eat something
Your family and I are worried that you aren’t drinking enough water and eating as much as you should. A growing child, you are.
Look, in a festival like this, getting not-sober is inevitable. Staying hydrated with lots of water and eating some nice food will really help make sure that you won’t be waking up at 3 p.m. the next day wondering where your head is. Along with plenty of designated water stations, Cask Days offers some incredible selections of food, such as snacks from 416 Snack Bar, sausages from WVRST, fried chicken from Chef Brandon Olsen, sandwiches from Porchetta & Co., and of course, pretzels from Pawel Grezlikowski of Hogtown Charcuterie. All of this food goes insanely well with beer. Getting hungry? Good.
Clean your glass
There are going to be a lot of different flavours at Cask Days, and in order to better appreciate them all, it helps that your sample glass won’t contain anything from the beer you had last. Those water stations found throughout the festival are also there to let you clean your glass!
Don’t be afraid to dump
If you’re sampling a beer you just aren’t digging, it’s okay! You don’t have to finish the thing and there will be plenty of places (usually by the water stations) where you can discreetly dump out the offending beverage. Part of the fun of beer festivals is going through all the ranges of flavours and discovering what you do and don’t like. Have a quick solemn moment for the discarded beer and move on to the next one!
DON’T BE A JERK
Don’t be *that* person at a beer festival. This includes, but is not limited to:
Pushing people, getting into fights, hitting on women you don’t know, mansplaining beer to women, assuming that a woman is there with her boyfriend, making racist/sexist jokes, not knowing when to stop drinking and go home, instigating unwanted physical contact, enthusiastically dancing in a crowded area where there is no dancing going on, cutting in line for either beer or the washroom, spilling beer on other people, not cleaning the seat after you use the bathroom, getting in a festival volunteer’s way, arguing with security, and generally, being an entitled douche.
All those above things? Yeah. Don’t do those things. It’s all common sense, but you’d be surprised how often people forget how to not be a jerk, and I have personally seen people do every one of those things at festivals. It’s safe to say that if you’re the type who thinks a great way to end a beer festival is to smash your glass on the ground, you are better off not attending and should probably come to terms with your own immaturity.
Being a jerk: Not even once.
Know where to take a breather
This goes out to my fellow introverts who have anxiety in crowds. Yes, there’s going to be a lot of people attending (more at the evening sessions than the day ones), however if you start to feel overwhelmed, there are plenty of places to take a quiet time out that don’t involve a bathroom stall. The Evergreen Brick Works is a beautiful old place with some areas that are very low traffic. Basically, anywhere there isn’t a cask or a security guard telling you to steer clear is a good place to stand and relax a little. I don’t have to tell you how to handle things, I’m sure you have your own methods, but just thought I’d give a heads up that it won’t be wall-to-wall people.
Non-introvert folks, if a person isn’t up for talking with you, don’t take it personally and leave ’em be.
An incredibly important rule. You’re at one of the best beer festivals there is. Enjoy yourself! Talk with people about the beer your enjoying! Make recommendations! Take in the whole vibe of this awesome event!