On April 9th, the Hungry Native team made a pilgrimage to the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence to experience our first beer festival. We attended the “afternoon” session, which started at 1 pm and went until 4:30 pm. Tickets were $39.00 per person.
The first thing we encountered upon entering the convention center was the huge line of people snaking through the lobby. We figured that these people must be waiting to buy tickets, and confidently began looking for the “cool kid” line for smart people who, like us, had pre-ordered tickets online. There was no such line. As it turns out, the few hundred people in front of us waiting to use the escalators in small groups directed by event staff, all had their tickets as well. This was kind of a letdown, as it was probably 1:15 before we made it into hall. We found it interesting that the convention center was apparently hosting a cheerleading competition for pre-teen girls at the same time. The combination of heavily-made up 12 year old girls in cheerleader outfits (many crying), their over-bearing stress-case mothers and many anxious, soon to be incredibly hammered twenty-something’s made for a strange, yet humorous vibe. As ill conceived as this combo seemed, all was well once we finally made it onto the escalator and into the hall. Upon entering, we were each handed a small clear plastic tasting cup, and turned loose in the 25,000 square foot room.
Like good orderly New Englanders, everyone seemed to take a left turn and started going around the room in a clockwise fashion (we only go counter-clockwise around rotaries). This made the lines at the first few booths pretty long, but things soon opened up as people realized that they were free to roam, and that there was plenty of beer for everyone.
We’re not sure how many brewers attended the beer fest (the GIBF’s website doesn’t seem to state a specific number) but there were certainly hundreds of beers to try. Some booths had craft brewers pouring a few select beers, some were distributors with a wide range of products (many new to the New England market) and a few were large brewers with many beers on hand. We were happy to see many small New England craft brewers participating, including Martha’s Vineyard’s own Offshore Ale Company. Interestingly, even with the help of many scantily clad women, the Corona booth was consistently devoid of lines, or any customers at all. While there were plenty of kids there just to see how much beer they can drink in three and a half hours, they were still staying clear of the Coronas and Heinekens. Perhaps there IS hope for the youth of today.
With so many beers to choose from, picking a favorite was pretty much impossible. Even with the small sample size, we found our palates to be pretty burnt out after the first hour. Many brewers were showcasing their stronger, hoppier beers, adding to the palate fatigue. We bravely soldiered on, as did the pretzel necklace sporting masses. Apparently, people make these necklaces to give themselves a little something to eat, so they don’t get too hammered during the fest. This tradition happens at beer fests all over the world, though we did find a free pizza stand.
About halfway into the session, people started getting drunk, the lines for the bathrooms became interminable and the whole event turned into an endurance event. A beer fest may be the only public event we’ve ever attended where the wait for the men’s room is longer than the one for the ladies room, but then again there were 5 times as many dudes as ladies there.
The beer fest was a lot of fun, if not a bit overwhelming and chaotic, but that’s to be expected when you give people unlimited samples for a limited amount of time. You may think that you can’t get drunk drinking two ounce samples, but the kids dropping their cups, molesting the life size cardboard Sam Adams or passing out along the wall would prove you wrong. If you are going to a beer festival for the first time, we advise you to pace yourself (three and a half hours is way longer than it seems), remember to eat something, and take advantage of the many pitchers of water, both for drinking, and washing out your tasting cup periodically.
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