A tale of two festivals
By Alan Moen
It was the best of festivals; it was the worst of festivals.
It was an
ocean of beer; it was a sea of swill.
It was a celebration of life: it was a spectacle of
It was a garden of great brews; it was a factory of predictable products. It was a
day of sun and suds; it was a night of rain and flat beer.
It was a time of
good pours from good pourers; it was a time of niggardly dribbles from ignorant
It was easy access to a ready supply of the promised pilsner;
it was a long line for an absent ale.
It was a musical feast to accompany a
gustatory one; it was a wail of noise among foods greased and salted beyond recognition.
It was a
benefit for the less fortunate; it was an extravaganza for the profits of its
It was a time to meet friends, to share the joy of good beer; it
was a time to maneuver in a mass of strangers, to party alone in a crowd.
It was a
venue that was limited in scale; it was an amorphous spread too large to
It was the reflection of the healthy growth of the beer business;
it was the sign of cancer in the industry.
It was a plastic drinking mug; it was a real tasting glass.
It was a staff that
changed kegs in a flash; it was a fresh keg sitting in a truck, a mile from
an empty tap.
It was a selection of souvenirs that did not interfere with beer
tasting; it was a pile of t-shirts, posters and coasters with the beer buried somewhere
It was a time of congregating on a grassy field; it was a time of trudging on
It was a separate, ventilated area to smoke a good cigar; it
was an uncontrolled space where tobacco smoke obscured all other smells and tastes.
was a chance to rub shoulders with brewers and owners; it was a risk of locking
elbows with Joe Six-pack.
It was a place to walk or ride to; it was a
circus in a parking lot.
It was an event with many restrooms conveniently located; it was a
wall of sani-kans only reached by wriggling through the entire crowd.
It was a
place that offered non-alcoholic drinks and coffee; it was a place where
the only water to drink had been brewed.
It was not a place for small children; it
was not a place for adults.
It was an event with a host of volunteers, working
short shifts and having a good time; it was a scene with a small staff putting in long hours
and hating it.
It was in an open, well-marked and separate space; it was in the
crowded aisles of a shopping mall.
It was a cluster of accessible taps; it
was a gauntlet of kegs and lines jammed together.
It was beer served from each
tap into each glass; it was a row of pitchers of beer that were frequently mixed up by
those pouring them.
It was enthusiastically supported by breweries and brewers; it was
undertaken as a necessary evil of beer promotion.
It was a dog-and-pony show for the brewing
illiterate; it was a tasteful production for the craft beer connoisseur.
was a selection of real ales; it was an abundance of filtered and pasteurized
It was a place to visit briefly, since the best experiences were to be had
outside its gates; it was a place to stay as long as possible, since its finest moments
were in its midst; It was the master of its own success; it was the victim of it.
It is far, far better beer that I drink now that what I have drunk before;
it is a far, far better beer festival that I go to now than many I have known.
(with apologies to Charles Dickens)
© 1997 Alan Moen