Calgary Beerfest…the good and not so good

CalgaryBeerfest_2013_POS_11x17_WEBThe Calgary International Beerfest was May 3rd & 4th, 2013 and my wife and I purchased weekend Beer Geek VIP passes. The VIP passes were supposed to get us in an hour before general admission and give us access to some beer not available to those with GA tickets. The VIP tickets were also supposed to give us access to special beer seminars too.

So let’s start at the very beginning… We arrived via taxi and were dropped off steps from the entrance about 25 minutes before the doors opened. I found the beer list and floor plan, we then started to make a plan of some brewers and beers that we wanted to get to. Soon the crowd started to build and we hopped in line before it got too big. Most notably there was no security presence, no one assisting with how to line up or to keep those ignorant people from just getting in line where ever they like. Soon a large group of security personnel gathered and seemed to be having a little team meeting and I was hoping that they were coming up with a plan to control the ever growing crowd. To my dismay, they just walked by everyone and entered the empty event center. The doors opened promptly at the designated time, they checked everyone’s ID and that was it, we were in! We talked to a few people later in the day and it turns out that some people waited for over 40 minutes to get in because the line-up for the VIP was so long. Now the great thing is that the sales must have been great and there was a lot of interest in the VIP tickets. The obvious downside is that there were some fellow beer geeks that hardly made it in the door.

 So we got into the BMO Centre and it was a huge space with the pre-purchased sample ticket booth located directly inside the main door. Picking up our sample tickets proved to be painless and it was worthwhile to have purchased them in advance.

 Now we were seeking our VIP perks, but had a difficult time finding the special seminars and the beer that was only being sampled for the Beer Geek VIP’s. So after wasting sometime looking around we decided it would be best to just start sampling some of the beer. We were a little disappointed that many of the breweries and vendors weren’t ready to serve any beer. Some were still getting ice and organizing their booths. Now it’s hard to say why it was like this; was it their own choice, was it the organizers who limited their access, was it the facility who wouldn’t allow access or did they all think that no one would show up? I would really like to know.

 We were offered sample cups but didn’t want to use them since a fresh cup for each beer would give us the best chance to taste only the beer we are currently sampling instead of having traces of the previous beer, or beers, included in our sample. Some of the vendors had different disposable plastic cups but they all had different sizes, some rather small. We found a couple of vendors that had no cups at all.

 So the first hour was coming to an end and the one benefit that we got out of the VIP tickets was a smaller crowd and better access to brewmasters and staff at each booth. The crowd was now starting to steadily grow over the next hour or so and we decided to have a few more samples and then leave for the day since there is no reentry. Overall it was a good, fun day. Please keep in mind that any criticisms posted here are purely constructive. I understand that this festival is growing and there must be many challenges.

 Okay, bring on day two! We made a point to get down there about 25 minutes before the doors were scheduled to open to avoid the really long lineups for the VIP. When we arrived there was already a good crowd of 40 to 50 people and there was a steady stream of people adding to the line right up to door opening. So it seemed like the organizers had made an effort to improve the process to get into the event. They started checking ID and taking tickets about 5 minutes prior to the doors opening. So far, so good right? Wrong. Now a security officer wants to move the entire line from one side (right of the door) to the other side (left of the door) toward the coat check. As she was trying to move everyone she was asking for our tickets, obviously some communication may have helped out here since the event staff disposed of our tickets after scanning them. At this point there seemed to be lots of confusion. People were now moving around, people were still arriving and were not sure where to go, some got in line and had not been checked.

 So now we are in for day two. We had a list of the beer we wanted to try and had it mapped out to make our day efficient. This time we take the sample glasses to get some samples that we could not get the previous day since there were not always disposable glasses available and the provided glasses were bigger than the disposables. As we went vendor to vendor we would ask to have our glasses rinsed and some had a little system set up for this and others refused because the event never provided it for them. So, we had to take our glasses into the washroom and rinse them in the sink. Not ideal in any way at all! The crowd grew quickly and it appeared busier than day one at this point, but no surprise since it was Saturday.

 A big thank you to those vendors who gave us free samples! It was greatly appreciated. We made rather brief notes since table space was very hard to find. It was not because there weren’t any tables it was just that they were all full or full of garbage that people left behind. We will go out and buy all of the beer that we enjoyed and we will write about it when we can.

 So in closing, we enjoyed ourselves, we had fun but it could have went smoother. So here is a rundown of the things that could be improved to make this good event a great event; proper crowd control prior to the event, disposable cups provided to vendors that are the same size and a rinsing station for the reusable cups at each vendor, provide more tables and get some of the staff or volunteers to clear and clean them (especially the ones around the food vendors), some way to reenter the event.

 If you are in Edmonton this same beerfest is coming your way June 14th  & 15th, 2013 . Get your tickets and go support craft beer! I hope that the organizers keep this festival going and that it continues to grow and get better each and every year.