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Impressions of a crowded, unorganized beerfest

Buzze talks Winter Beerfest — and has some suggestions

When I was younger I frequented the Electric Factory on a number of occasions.  My friends and I would stuff my car full of beers, too many people and then sit in long line of traffic on the Schuylkill expressway. We would blare the radio, laugh at bad jokes and make unconvincing passes at the girls in the cars next to us.  We were young, immortal and looking for a good time.  I didn't remember much else about those times.  Well, except the hangovers — and that no one ever sprang for gas.  

The Feb. 12 Winter Beerfest at the Electric Factory refreshed my memory of the feel of all those heavy metal concerts: confused, cramped, sweaty and uncomfortable.

As we approached the Winter Beerfest, we quickly joined the long line that was forming. We plucky drinkers quickly took our place in both the line and the freezing temperatures and began joking with those around us.   The doors opened on time and we patiently waited for entry.  After some time though, we started to worry that something was wrong. There was an entire separate entrance that no one was using. As I entered, an upset manager was barking orders at confused looking employees. It took me more time to get a cup and a bracelet than to have my ID and ticket scanned.

But soon enough that was all behind me, and upon entrance I breathed deeply and looked out upon the scene. Much like the feeling of stepping into that first bar on St. Patrick's Day, this was my turf and it was go time.  It was crowded at the entrance, so I quickly filled my beer and slid through the chattering cliques in an attempt to find some room to scope out the brewery tables.  Despite being one of the first to enter, the only elbow room to be found was in the center of the floor area.   Sadly, someone had mistakenly placed a bunch of vendors’ tables in that area.

Oh well, I thought. Everyone needs to make a buck — even if that means selling wooden signs with mildly humorous drinking phrases burnt into them. A Yosemite Sam beer sign, anyone?

OK … this isn't about me, it's about the beer.  It's time to have fun.

I quickly make a b-line for a few breweries and beers that I haven’t tried yet, dodging in and out of the crowd with my group in tow. The lines were long — which isn’t unusual — but they weren’t moving. When I finally shouldered my way to the front of the line (by which I mean I handed my cup to a tall guy who had already fought his way there), I noticed the problem wasn't accessibility, but the fact that a number of people were simply standing in front of the table with full beers chatting.  Now, if you're having a discussion with a rep or brewer, I have no issues.  Simply talking about the upcoming 'Nova game while preventing others from enjoying the brewers’ bounty? That I have a bit of a problem with.  I spent more of my time fighting the crowd than enjoying my beer.

There are few things grouchier than a bear after hibernation, and one is getting between me and beer. 

But, there is no cure quite like a delicious well-crafted brew to, well ... just about anything but cirrhosis. So I began enjoying myself and my company, along with quite a few excellent brews.  Roughly an hour in, the proprietors opened up the second floor.  This began to release some of the suffocating press and allowed a bit more wiggle room.

As we continue on our way, the inebriation factor of the crowd begins to jump, and instead of whispers, loud laughs begin to reverberate off the high ceilings. 

This is what I came for, and everything is in full swing.

The next two hours fly by, and as my cheeks become rosier and rosier, so does my disposition.  But I noticed that due to the poor set up, press, and general drunkenness that people are bumping into the beer pourers. 

There is a golden rule at bars, beerfests, and gentlemen’s clubs:  Don’t touch the staff without permission.  As an advocate of good beer, I hope the staff of these breweries to go back and tell their coworkers that though they had to work, they still had a good time.  Hopefully this will bring them back again, and their word of mouth will bring great breweries back to Philadelphia year after year.  This will not happen if they’re covered in sticky beer and stepped on by the attendees.   

I've been going to beerfests in the greater Philly area for five years now, and while this isn't indicative of  every beerfest in town, the majority of them are like this. Think of it this way: A couple of friends are interested in trying out the craft beer scene for the first time — do you really want this to be their first impression?  Good people, good beers, and good times, but only one thing is missing: environment.  Thus, we have Buzzé's simple beerfest suggestions. 

1)   Do not oversell.  Nothing is worse than having your fresh sample spilled down your shirt not because of a drunk, but because everyone is ramming into you.  Strike that. There’s one thing worse — hour three of the beerfest, and kegs are running empty because the breweries prepared for the stated headcount, not the actual number of tickets sold.

2)   Logistics.  Plan, Plan, Plan.  The flow of people is critical at any event.  The venue needs to be spacious and in no way confusing.  This is a food event, not a Slayer concert.  Mosh pits aren't known for their ease inducing comfort, and I shouldn't feel like I'm in one.

3)   Inform your staff of the logistics.

4   Inform the breweries of your plan. Is everyone on the same page?  We might have something here!

5)   Treat the breweries with respect. We want this to actually be the best beer city in America, and to do that, we have to show prove it to the brewers.

6)   You need to pay for all this somehow. I understand.  But this is about the beer, and that's what the attendees paid for. Get the vendors out of the way.

7)  And to everyone else: A little bit of consideration.  Make room.  Get out of the way.  Help someone else get a beer.  Point out the bathrooms.  It's the little things.  We're all here to have a good time, drink beers, and hopefully make a few friends. And after a few beers, shouldn't we all be friends?  

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