2013 MBA Fall Festival Survival Guide

The 5th Annual Montana Brewers Fall Festival is this Saturday, September 28, 2013, at Caras Park in Missoula.  It’s shaping up to be the biggest and best brew fest ever held in Montana. But with 80+ all Montana made beers, you’re going to need a plan of attack.

We’ve got you covered. Read on as Alan (Growler Fills) and Ryan (Montana Beer Finder) weigh in on their tips for making the most of this fantastic celebration of Montana craft beer.

Alan’s Tips:

1. Adopt a pacing plan.

With your price of admission you’ll get a 9 oz tasting glass. Refills are $1. This is unusually generous for a brew fest and not the best way to take advantage of the festival. While it’s great to get a pint of fantastic Montana craft beer for under $2.00, getting 9 oz at a time is going to set you back in no time.  There’s a lot you’re going to want to sample.  Don’t be afraid to ask for a half (or even quarter) pour. It will still be plenty cheap, you’ll last longer, and you’ll get to enjoy a wider variety of beer.

2.  Branch Out

This is second nature to beer geeks, but start with a brewery or beer style you’ve never tried before.  That will be very easy at this festival.  Homestead Ales in Eureka is Montana’s newest brewery.  Odds are you can count on one hand the number of festival attendees who have had a chance to check them out. Several other breweries far from Missoula will be on hand such as Uberbrew from Billings. Once you’ve tried a new brewery, try a new style.  The festival will boast a barrel aged octoberfest (Tamarack), a helles bock (Bowser), a pumpkin cream ale (Higherground) and a cologne-style kolsch (Bozeman) among many others.  In other words, there’s likely a style or two you’ve not tried before.  Then, revisit a brewery you may know well and see what’s new, like an imperial stout from Blackfoot River.  Branch out. Have fun.

3.  Seek Out Some Fresh Hop Ales

Quite the debate rolls on about what to call these beers (fresh hop/wet hop) and what composition is appropriate (it is common in the industry to use some dried hops), but one thing remains clear: these beers are designed to showcase the unique qualities of this year’s recently picked crop of hops.  At least four such beers will be available at the festival and all feature hops that went from bine to kettle in very short order: Chain Reaction Fresh Hop Ale (Draught Works), Frog Hop 2013 (Great Northern), Bine Hopper Harvest Ale (Tamarack) and Fresh Hop Harvest IPA (Blacksmith).

Ryan’s Tips:

1. Create an Improv Tasting Group
You can use the same tactic enjoyed by thousands of craft beer enthusiasts by creating a tasting group. The tasting group concept is simple: for instance, if one person brought two bottles of beer to a tasting, and there were seven other people at the tasting who did the same, everyone would have tried 16 beers by the end of the night for their initial two-beer investment. Of course, when tasting we employ the same rule of moderation as stated above, usually sampling about 1-2 oz. per beer (besides, a 12 oz. beer split between 8 people leaves 1.5 oz. per person. Math is awesome!). This can easily be done at a brewfest one of two ways: either find a partner, each with your own glass, and one of you orders a beer and pours half into a partner’s glass. When those are finished, the other person picks a beer and shares half. Also, if you don’t mind drinking after your friends, you can also “trade sips” (of course, everyone will need their own ticket and wristband to sample. No freebies here!). 
2. Use Your Ears
That’s right, your ears can help you find good beer. The draw of brewfests is that they often serve as a debut spot for new beers. We see this with the MBA Fall Festival, having over 20 Festival Release beers. Now we also know that a keg of each Festival Release beer will be tapped first at 1:00 p.m. and again at 4:00 p.m. And we also know that these will be popular choices, so even if you have your “strategy” in place for trying new beers, be listening for any news about what’s popular, where the lines are, and what beer might be tapped out first. You don’t want to miss a beer simply because it was low on your list, you waited too long and it blew. 
3. Prepare Well Ahead of Time
Hangovers are no fun, and the main cause of a hangover is (other than alcohol consumption!) dehydration. Try to drink at least 64 oz. of water BEFORE you go to the brewfest (hey, that’s only two Nalgene bottles’ worth). Then fill your 9 oz. tasting glass with water between every 1-2 beers. Also, eat food! There will be a fine selection of food trucks at the brewfest, so use them. And most importantly, plan your transportation. DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE. Get a DD, hitch a ride, take a taxi, or walk home. Be smart about this and you’ll have a great time, year after year.
For a downloadable checklist of beers available at the Fall Festival courtesy of Montana Beer Finder, head to this link.