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 drunkenness.

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 volunteers.

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 promoters.

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 navigate.

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 between.

It was a time of congregating on a grassy field; it was a time of trudging on blowing sand.

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.

It 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.

It was a selection of real ales; it was an abundance of filtered and pasteurized products.

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