Practicing Moderation at a Beer Fest? Yeah right! Well Maybe.
Is that even possible? Well yes, actually it is. But first, why would I even go to a beer fest if I had not been to one in years because they are moderate-to-high ABV laden affairs.
Well, in a first for the craft beer industry, a leading nonalcoholic craft brewer would be attending as a brewer.
That set the stage for an experiment. I wanted to see how low I could stay in average ABV consumption. My plan was to seek out as many brews below 4.5% and then retreat to Athletic Brewing's booth when I needed a break. More on observing the Athletic experience at their first beer fest later.
I was not able to get a sense of just how many beers would be offered in this low range before going as the fests rarely tell you ahead of time what will be served. That left me with trying to spy the ABVs at each booth before wasting precious time in line. Let me tell you, it was not easy. Most brewers did not conspicuously display the ABV of their offerings while some don't display them at all. I ended up sampling a few out of my target range because I was intrigued by the name or description and they poured a sample as I was inquiring about the ABV. I'm a passionate fan of beer flavors. I'm not going to walk away at that point without tasting it.
With practice, I was able to eventually find several brew below 4.5%. I'd say I ended up having nearly two dozen samples below 4.5%, with the lowest being 2.5%, outside of Athletic's nonalcoholic (< or equal to 0.5%) offerings. I think what made this possible is the rapid growth of the more health-conscious, active, low carb brews that tend to land around 4.0%. A very unscientific calculation of all of the ABVs I sampled landed me with an average ABV of 3.5% throughout the fest.
Of course, the average ABV was largely influenced downward by two extended periods of hanging out with my friends at Athletic, drinking repeated samples of various 0.5% brews. I have to say, I was amazed at the reception they received at the beer fest. Their booth was steadily busy with curious fest-goers. At times, short lines formed. I did not see one reaction to the negative as people walked away tasting their sample. I saw several surprised faces and noted several fest-goers making repeated visits to the booth. Also, several who sampled engaged in long conversations with Nick (NYC area brand manager) and Bill (Founder.) There was some genuine curiosity taking place that day. Later on, Bill reported to me that it was an overwhelming success.
The Final Word on the Experiment
I was actually surprised by the number of samples I was able to try under 4.5% and having an NA craft booth there was very welcoming for seeking respite when the sampling effects became noticeable. All in all, it seems doable to attend a fest with a plan for moderation and still get your money's worth. At any fest in the past, my limit was always around two dozen samples before palate fatigue started setting in. I nearly hit two dozen low ABV samples this time around. The active-beer segment is definitely helping to lower the ABV ceiling at fests.
I still woke up the next day feeling groggy, with a headache, and a slight hangover. I think fests would have to offer more of an NA balance for me to reproach the idea of attending a beer fest. Trying an NA beer back home as a "hair of the dog" replacement the next day did not really help. I ended up grabbing another low ABV brew and that got me back to feeling better.
It's going to be interesting to observe what if any effect NA craft beer has on the fest environment. Interest in NA beer already seems bigger than I think the industry realizes. Do NA drinkers want to attend festivals that offer a balance of NA and traditional alcoholic craft beer or only fests that are strictly NA? Time will tell.