June 10, 2009

Mug Shots: Summertime beer fests

During the halcyon days of my youth, which were far less carefree in practice than when viewed decades later through beer-drenched memory, summertime always meant a profusion of outdoor beer festivals.

So did winter, spring and fall. When you’re 17 years old, look more like 13, live at home with your parents, and require divine intervention just to get served, the open air constantly beckons, especially those patches of isolated farmland belonging to people who don’t know or care that someone older had been recruited to score a few kegs of the cheapest swill possible, borrow the steel tubs otherwise used to water future beefsteak, and await the onslaught of teenagers who’d learned there was a kegger taking place.

When it rained, we got wet — not the worst conceivable outcome in hot weather if any girls bothered to come, which was seldom. Sometimes, liquid consolation aside, it all worked out. I’d insert Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” right about now, but to be honest, I never liked his music very much after “Katmandu,” which I heard for the first time at — where else? — an outdoor beer festival, with any beer you liked available for sampling so long as it was warm Falls City, and Seger’s tune blaring from the sub-par radio of a car stuck in a muddy field littered with spent plastic cups.

Now I’m considerably older, and fake IDs no longer are needed for furtive liquor store visits, but warm-weather outdoor beer festivals remain on the must-do list of seasonal activities, even if they bear no resemblance to those midsummer debacles, circa ’77.

Today’s outdoor beer festivals are devoted to craft beer, and they tend to follow a common template. As many different beers and breweries as possible are penciled in for duty. There’ll be brewers and beer sales representatives around to explain the choices offered. Your festival entry fee will cover numerous, if not always unlimited, small samples — not full pours — of these many beers.

Food will be vended, usually on an a la carte basis, and musical entertainment provided. The latter tends toward the rock, pop, blues and bluegrass spectrum, although some sweet day I’d love to hear a string quartet performing modern compositions or a rocking Klezmer band.

Outdoor craft beer festivals are designed to expand the category through heightened consciousness and increased business for pubs, package stores and breweries, yet almost all such events support a chosen charity or commensurate good cause with a portion of the proceeds.

There also are special entry prices and terms of engagement for designated drivers, all of which goes to show that beer consciousness without social consciousness is little more than the ingestion of alcohol, as recounted in the opening paragraphs of this essay.

Last weekend, local beer aficionados had two summertime outdoor beer fests to choose from — and several hundred did just that.

On Saturday, Keg Liquors (617 Lewis and Clark Parkway, Clarksville) staged its fourth annual Fest of Ale at a new, nearby location — a field (!) behind St. Anthony’s of Padua Catholic Church. Twenty-three hours later, the inaugural Great Flanagan’s Beer Festival took the urban approach, with a half-block of Morton Avenue closed off adjacent to Flanagan’s Ale House (934 Baxter Ave.). Fest of Ale raised money for the Crusade for Children, and Pints for Prostates benefited from the Flanagan’s gathering.

Discerning enthusiasts had great weather and eye-popping choices spanning the range of good beer, including local breweries, regional micros and selected imports. Numerous beer reps and industry people attended, and the knowledge level of tableside discussion was impressive and heartening.

Considering tighter times, was it a good idea to book two beer festivals on consecutive days? At first I doubted it, but based on conversations with the participating breweries, beer reps and wholesalers, I’ve changed my tune. The sponsors are different, and so are the crowds they draw. Most importantly, out-of-town beer reps get two promotional opportunities during one road trip, and that’s an enticement.

How about a discounted ticket for both festivals, with entry to another Saturday night “after party” thrown in for good measure? The after party might even attract the most interesting man in the world, although in truth, I never once saw him at White Castle after one of our high-school keggers.

Roger Baylor is co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Co. in New Albany. Visit potablecurmudgeon.blogspot.com for more beer.