A guide to surviving the Irish Craft Beer Festival

Yep, it's that fantastic time of the year again, for three days the Irish Craft Beer festival will return to the RDS in Dublin from 27th - 29th August 2015. Boasting to be Ireland's largest celebration of Irish craft brewing, with over 50 brewers, cider-makers & distillers offering over 200 different beers ciders & whiskeys, it's very easy to find yourself spoilt for choice but overwhelmed when it comes to choosing. 

Rush hour at the RDS

Rush hour at the RDS

Whether it's the first time you've set foot into a beer festival or you're a beer festival veteran, TheBrew.ie have a few tips put together below that should help you  make the most of the event.

Food. 

And I don't just mean getting in the first thing you find in the nearest deli on the way, there's more to this than having some "soakage" in your stomach. Throw the term "eating is cheating" out the window, you're not on a stag/hen night.

As you're going to be tasting many different brews, with many different flavours, food will play a key role to ensuring you'll experience these flavours at their best. Look for something tasty and also full of flavour, just don't get anything that will destroy your taste buds before you even start. Eating something right before you start on the beers will stimulate your taste buds and have them primed for your first sip of beer. If you're planning on having a few different beers, having some food breaks throughout the day will help "calibrate your palette", especially after a few of the more complex tasting beers. 

The Irish Craft Beer Festival will have a range of artisan food producers on site so take advantage of what's on offer.  

Start small to think big.

Less is more

Less is more

While I often enjoy a pint as much as the next Irish beer fan, half pints/third glasses are the way to go at a beer festival to cover the most different types. Now just because you're looking at half measures now, you don't need to jump right into the "more bang for your buck" (as I've heard someone call them before) big ABV % beers. 

Start off with a few nice session-able drinks, something that you can enjoy while walking around eyeing up what's on offer. There'll be plenty of time to try the stronger beers later. This may seem obvious to most people but it's quite easy to be tempted into the 8.5% Double IPA or  10% Russian Imperial Stout as soon as you see the tap. There's plenty of beers around so give yourself the best chance to try more. 

It's also not about trying to drink as many different beers before you run out of time. Be smart about this and have a strategy. By all means think of the big picture and aim to try many different beers, but don't do it in a way where you'll have to cut the day short because you've had too many too soon. 

Have a "Style Schedule"

As some people would go to the super market with their shopping list, I like to go to beer festivals with my beer style lists. Not so much for a "check that one of the list" motive, but rather to have a plan of what I want to drink and when I should drink it. Almost to extend to the last point, I'll plan to start off on the lighter styles and try at least sample more than one in each style, working my way around to the more complex styles. No two beers of the same style will be the same, so this is a great way to compare one brewer's stout (for example) to another, each will have their own characteristics and trying them around the same time will help you to really appreciate this. 

Depending on how long you're going to be at the festival will depend how many styles/beers you'll get to taste. If you're lucky enough to go all three days, spread your style schedule out a bit take some time. If you don't have too much time, group some similar styles together. It's your Style Schedule so it's really up to you and what your tastes are, really the aim is to have half an idea of what you'd like next. 

For example you can even start simple & try something along the following lines:

  • Wheat/wit beers
  • Belgian blonde, golden ales 
  • Red/brown ales
  • Hoppy beers
  • Stouts
  • Double/imperial ales

Not a big beer buff? Not much knowledge of all the different beer styles? Left you're style schedule on the bus!? No problem! A good rule of thumb for you would be to start on a light/pale coloured beer and head towards the darker beers. Most of the stands will have the brewers there, so just tell them what you've just had and ask if they can recommend something if you're still not sure where to go next.

Expand your Beer Game.

Remember, you're at a beer festival! If you're in the pub on a normal Saturday night, drinking the craft beers on offer there all the time, don't make a rush for the "usual please" in the festival. A lot of the breweries will bring festival exclusive limited edition brews, I would recommend getting some time to try these when possible. 

If you see a type of beer (or cider/whiskey even) you've never seen or heard of before, these are the ones you should give some time to. If you ask, most of the brewers will give you a taster before you decide what you'd like a glass of, so if you're still not sure if you're willing to part way with you're hard earned beer token just yet for something you know nothing about, ask for a taster first.

If you're sticking to a plan / schedule as above, see can you fit this in somewhere to try some unknown new beers or even just a style you've never had before.   

Take Time to Enjoy the Beers

When eventually get your beer, take some time to take in some of the qualities the brewer has worked hard to put into this brew. You don't need to be a qualified beer judge or a professional beer taster in order to appreciate some the characteristics to be found in each beer. 

  • Appearance - What colour is the beer?  Is it clear or cloudy? Does it have a foamy head and does it retain it well?
  • Aroma - What does it smell like? Does it is have a strong, hoppy, citrusy, tropical or a mild, earthy nose? Does the smell invite you to get into tasting the beer without any further delay?
  • Taste - as you take your first sip from the beer, ask yourself what you taste and try to remember these for later. 
  • Mouthfeel - What does the beer's texture actually feel like? Is it a light, dry thin bodied beer or is it a full bodied chewy beer?  

Before you finish your beer then, take a moment to get an overall impression and notice if the beers flavour had changed over time as it was in the glass.

Taking notes is a great tip also, having a look at the beers you had and what you thought of them the next day when your head clears up, really brings it all back. If you're not one for carrying around a pen & pad, there's some apps out there that will do the job. Untappd is a great one, its free and easy to use.

Have Water Breaks

Make a concious effort to take regular water breaks, a good time to do this would be on a token run or even after every 2 pints (or 4 halves). Your liver will thank you, your brain will thank you the next morning and most importantly you'll last that little bit longer to have that extra beer. 

and it goes without saying...

Enjoy the entire festival. Whether you're heading for one, two or all three days, make sure you'll remember the the event!

The festival tickets can be bought online or at the door, there's even a beat the queue's option where you can get some tokens with your ticket. If you plan to go for for more than one day, the three day ticket is fantastic value! 

For more information on the Irish Craft Beer Festival head over to irishcraftbeerfestival.ie

So are you going? Will this be your first festival or is this another notch in your beer-board? Any tips you have to share? 

Leave a comment below and share the wealth!