Spring has finally arrived to NC. The trees are in full bloom and the past few weeks temperatures has been +15C on a cold day and +25 on a warm day. Spring is also when beer festival season kicks of. There are of course a few winter festivals, like the Winter Warmer in Asheville and the World Beer Festival in Columbia, SC in January. Spring and fall is when it starts getting crowded in the beer festival calendar. Summer is not a good time for beer festivals here in the southeast. With temperatures of +40C or more and humidity of 95% it’s a little to hot for a beer festival, at least outdoor festivals. With in a two-hour drive from where I live, I have about 6 festivals to choose from and they are all fairly big. The World Beer Festival in Durham and Raleigh are the two biggest with about 8,000 attendees and 300+ different craft beers. If I include some smaller fund raising events that have craft beers and home brew
events it’s significantly more. If I would want to travel further I could probably attend one beer festival every weekend for a year and still not be half done. As the craft beer revolution has spread in America the amount of beer festivals has exploded. Every town with dignity has to have a beer festival. The quality and model of the festivals are quite different Some are more music than beer, some are more about raising money for a cause and many are just plainly drunk fests with focus on quantity before quality. The festivals with focus on beer quality, like the World Beer Festival have beer education, informative programs and signs and other educations elements so that the intake of knowledge exceed that intake of alcohol. A quality beer festival is also the best way for a brewery to connect with they customers. They have the opportunity to tell them about their beers and letting the attendees taste their beers There are also many different models of execution. Some festivals are just one or two four hour sessions during one day with a fixed admission fee and no other costs except the cost of food if you decide to have something to eat. It’s like speed dating with beer. At other festivals you pay and admission fee and for every beer sample you have. They often go on all day for one day or several days. It all depends on state laws, festival tradition and what the mission of the festivals.
During the coming spring I plan to write about some of the festivals I have and will attend. I will of course write about the World Beer Festival, which might not come as a surprise to many of you. But I’m not going to start with a local festival. Not even a nation festival. I’m going to start with one of North America’s largest beer festival, Mondial de la Beir in Montreal, Canada. I had the opportunity to visit the festival in June 2009. Mondial has been running for 16 years. In the beginning, it was located at an outdoor venue that made it more dependent on weather. To make sure that the festival had at least one weekend with good weather the festival was a ten-day event, which made it hard for the small breweries to attend. 6-8 years ago they decided to move the festival to Windsor Station in downtown Montreal. Windsor Station is an old railroad station that is now used for offices and events. The station is right by Center Bell Arena (formally under the name Molson Arena), home of Montreal Canadians that Mats “Le Petit Viking” Näslund’s used to play for as the first European in the Canadians. The beer festival takes place indoors in the old arrival hall and outdoors where the tracks and platforms used to be. Having the festival at an old rail road station creates a great atmosphere. There is no admission fee. You can just enter the festival area but to sample any beers you need to buy coupons and a tasting a glass. The coupons are 1 CAD each and you pay 1-5 coupons for each 10 cl. sample. Each importer or brewery have a booth so the festival is like a big gathering of multiple bars with a great beer selection. They offer a VIP ticket at 75 CAD with food, selected free beers, 20 coupons and guaranteed entrance. Because you can’t be sure to get in. The venue only holds 2,500 people at the same time so when the station is full it’s full. You can only come in if someone leaves. They open at 11 AM and close at 10 PM so I had the opportunity to be there daytime and late afternoon when it was not crowded and very pleasant. Lines start to build up around 6 PM during the weekend. And the lines are long, very long. At takes least an hour to get in. During the five-day festival they have a total of about 25,000 attendees.
Mondial is truly a quality beer festival. They offer educational seminars, workshops, beer industry seminars, a beer dinner and a competition. The organization behind Mondial de la Bier has recently started a beer academy with a certification program. They also run a small beer festival in the fall, Bieres et Caprices Flaveurs, which is a beer and food event. In 2009 they had the first Mondial de la Bier in Strasbourg, France and the festival will return to Strasbourg in October 2010.
So what about Canadian beers? Well stay tuned and you will find out about Canadian beer, Montreal as a beer town and what Swedish beer celebrity I met in Montreal. And I promise you; it will not take 3 weeks for my next post.