My girlfriend and I had the misfortune of attending Granite State on Tap last weekend. The festival is part of the America on Tap festival company, which puts on “Authentic Festivals,” as its logo’s tag line… Which is the easiest way to say “We actually are not authentic, or there are obviously people that question our authenticity, but we are, we swear. It’s in our logo, see…”
Plenty of other great online sources have talked about festivals in the past. The excellent Fuj called out a company last year for hosting sub-par festivals, and the company’s belligerent owner even sent him an angry email in response. This being my first (thankfully) truly crappy experience; however, I figured I would write about it, and hopefully save someone else the trouble of attending one of these.
Many of my complaints with this festival are, in fact, already summed up by the Fuj (I just re-read his article…), but I’ll list my complaints here anyways.
For starters, there were way too many people. I mean dangerous numbers of people. If there was an emergency, half of the people present would have been trampled to death in the press of drunken bodies. There were still more people flowing in as I left the festival, too.
I think such bloated numbers are a good first red-flag for a festival. The fact that America on Tap is literally a company that makes its money by hosting beer festivals (i.e. they get paid for more ticket sales) immediately makes their festivals undesirable to attend. Lousy beer list aside (I’ll get to that further down), no one wants to stand in line forever at a beer festival. If the festival is held by a company that makes its bread-and-butter off of ticket sales, however, then that company wants to sell exactly the legal maximum of tickets, which means there is going to be no space to move, and a lot of grossly drunk individuals being sloppy all around/on-top of you.
In comparison, ACBF (a beer festival that I personally feel houses to many fest-goers per session) is held at the Seaport World Trade Center which is 163,000 square feet. At ACBF, Beer Advocate (the festival organizers) sold 5,000 tickets per session. Manchester’s Radisson Expo Center is 29,480 square feet, and yet America on Tap sold 2,000 tickets for Granite State on Tap. If ACBF held the same ratio of people to floor space that was held at Granite State on Tap, they would have had to sell over 11,000 tickets! Of course these numbers assume that everyone came to both festivals, but even when you shave the numbers down, they’re pretty outrageous. 2,000 potential fest-goers is an excessive number of people for the given floor space, especially given Granite State on Tap’s severally smaller list of beers and breweries in comparison with ACBF.
The point of a beer festival is to allow attendees to sample lots of different beers, and to help smaller breweries get their names out there and connect with potential customers that may never have even heard of them. When a festival becomes a money-making operation, however, it immediately loses this potential. With a room so packed that people can’t move around, the intention of any sane individual becomes: “Let’s get hammered so I don’t care that some man’s beard is tickling the back of my neck, and my butt has been grasped by countless passersby that think I am a woman…” Lines start to hold back anyone from sampling from certain breweries, and for the unfortunate souls that comes late, they have to wait an hour plus after the festival starts to actually enter the festival and earn their money’s worth because the entrance line is too long. When a festival is a money-making venture, it’s not beneficial to its attendees, which makes the festival obsolete, since it’s an entertainment event meant for its attendees’ enjoyment.
The real problem is that this event will be viewed by its organizers as a rousing success. They will look at how many people they crammed into the Manchester Radisson’s small convention hall, and they will pat each other on the back and laugh. They sold tons of tickets, which was their objective. They don’t seem to care how the festival actually went, they just seem to care that their reputation stays neutral/positive so that they can sell tickets in the future at other crappy festivals. That is the other problem with this festival; for the idiots that got so hammered they didn’t recognize how crappy the festival was, or who had never been to a beer festival and don’t know how much better they can be run, Granite State on Tap was a great time.
There is also the issue that this festival was called “Granite State on Tap,” yet a good majority of the breweries there were from out of state, and most of the exciting young breweries in state that could use a spot at the festival weren’t there (probably because there was an entrance fee, or they knew how crappy it was going to be). What is the point of labeling a festival with a state’s moniker if you are not going to at least focus on that state’s beer? Sure, a couple of NH standby’s showed up, and a couple young breweries, but that leads to another problem with this festival: They all brought their least impressive beers (apparently they were more aware of what type of festival it was). The least this festival company could have done was draw in the state’s young breweries that could use the exposure and get a couple rare beers on tap. They could have at least partnered with a local brewery to make a “festival beer,” but they were obviously in it to make money, so such a scheme would cost them far too much. Why would they bother?
I have lots more to rant about, but I am trying to be fair here. I understand that New Hampshire is an under-developed beer state where the common palate doesn’t care what it drinks, as long as it has alcohol. I also understand that America on Tap is just trying to pay its poor employees, but I guess I just disagree with all of that from an ideological standpoint. The point of good beer is to focus more on the product, instead of on the money it makes. The point of ‘craft beer culture’ is to encourage good times with friends, a welcoming society, and a place where people can all appreciate fine beverages and have fun. Logically speaking, the best way to make money out of this culture is to hold crappy festivals where you pack as many people into the place as you can with the cheapest beer that you can purchase, and you tell them it’s “a variety of the countrys best craft breweries.” (P.S. apostrophes are not difficult.) America on Tap has a smart business plan, but it is shitty in terms of the culture, and not beneficial to anyone but America on Tap.
In an ideal world, such companies would not exist, but obviously we don’t live in an ideal world. America on Tap is just one of a group of companies that are cashing in on the “craft beer movement,” and there is nothing that can be done about it. I can advise you to research the festivals you attend, and try to not attend those run by ‘festival companies,’ but that won’t stop them. I can tell you that I will not be attending again. I can tell you that I prefer festivals with limited capacity, and I like festivals that allow for comfortable movement and mingling, and that I prefer a selection of beers that I can’t find at a grocery store. I can tell you all of this, but I’m just one beer nerd, and I’m not the target audience for many of these festivals. I don’t have solutions for any of this, I just wish people would take a little more care in these things, and sacrifice a little more money so that they can ensure everyone is happy. If a festival company did that, they would surely have a winning program. The company wouldn’t make as much money though, so what’s the point?
Cheers and beers.