Friday, February 21, 2014

How to Prepare yourself for The Winter Beer Festival

Written by  Ben Darcie
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 How to Prepare yourself for The Winter Beer Festival

Hello again friends, another year has passed and we find ourselves on the doorstep of the 9th annual Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beerfest! The last few years have seen ticket sales skyrocketing, with the last four years consecutively beating the record of the year before.
In 2012, we saw tickets sell out by December 23rd, which broke the previous year's record by more than a week. 2013 brought the first major record breaking, selling out in under 13 hours. This year was not to be tamed, and sold out in a mindblowing three hours with over 18,000 people attempting to get tickets!

For those of you who weren't able to get tickets, there are still tons of events going on in the city for GR Beer Week (Feb 16-22), along with plenty of specials and incentives the day of festival to get you out to the breweries. Just because beerfest is sold out doesn't mean you can't make your own!

I suggest heading over to Facebook and checking out the page “GR Beer Week” for updates and daily postings on the day's events.

Now, for those who will be attending the festival, I have a few guidelines that I'd like to share; these may be refreshers for those returning, but for those who find themselves in first year situation, this information might be quite helpful!

1. Have a solid breakfast

Food is often overlooked in the excitement of the day, but I want to encourage you – don't skip breakfast! Your morning grub will not only energize you for the day, but prepare your system for what the day is destined to bring. Those with a good food buffer in their stomachs tend to last longer for the day, not need to go to the bathroom as often, and will be able to absorb alcohol more easily than their empty-stomached counterparts (those are often the ones you see that 'aren't doing so well').

A word of caution: have a solid breakfast, but don't overdo it! Heavy breakfast foods are perfect preparation, but I'll encourage you to eat until you're comfortably full. Nothing worse than having a whole day with plentiful Michigan beer at your fingertips and not having any room for it!

I also suggest eating again during the festival, and again, don't overdo it! There are plenty of tasty options on the grounds, including the classic steaming, mouthwatering turkey legs!

2. Dress for the weather

This one should go without saying, so I won't spend too much time on it. The items that I find particularly helpful are waterproof boots and waterproof gloves – depending on the weather, there could be snow on the ground or we could be welcomed by tons of cold slush – better to be prepared! Waterproof gloves help immensely with the inevitable spills that will occur from slips and bumps you'll encounter throughout the day – I've seen many friend's mittens frozen solid with beer come the end of the day!

Also, make sure your footwear is comfortable! Between waiting for the gates to open, festivaling all day and getting home, there's a lot of time on your feet!

Make a plan, but don't expect it to hold up

Many people (including myself) like to map out their day; decide what breweries they want to hit first, which beers are highest on their own personal list, and where to spend their time throughout the day. I encourage this, but one of the things I've learned over the years is to not expect it to hold up.

The day itself is a wonderful chaos, and one that tends to get more fuzzy as the day progresses. Often times you'll find your tediously mapped out day start to slip away by the halfway point, and I encourage you to embrace it! One of the beautiful things about the festival is simply going where the flow takes you. You'll find beers and maybe even breweries you've never heard of before, which, in my eyes, is just as awesome as following your plan to completion.

In regards to this point, I will say this: Pick a few beers particularly that you want to be sure to hit. Maybe a top 5 or top 10 list, and put those beers at the forefront of your efforts, as the day will (most likely) slip away from you. This way, you're still free to enjoy the flow of the festival, and you've still hit your most wanted list!

Pick a meetup spot for your group

This is something minor, but will surely make your day more efficient, as far as meeting up with your group goes. This is a problem that troubles groups year after year – people slip off to grab a beer, or go to the bathroom, or grab some food, and the hardest part is trying to find your group again. The tents are packed with people, the grounds are full of shoulders jostling, finding their way, and you're looking for a small group amidst thousands and thousands of people – it can be a daunting task.

I encourage you and your group to pick a standard meetup spot, somewhere recognizable – possibly by a visually loud location, by a flag, or a specific area that everyone can easily recognize and locate. Make sure everyone in your group is on the same page, and if part of the group is about to split, tell them that the group will gather at the meetup spot when both parties are done.

“You guys want to get a beer? We'll hit the bathroom and meet you at the spot,” and then both parties don't continue their day until the group has re-gathered.

5. Tasting power in numbers

This is a technique that I utilized with my friends over the last few years. Very often, I'll see groups pop up to a brewery pouring 8 different beers, and three of the four people will order the same beer. This is just fine, provided everyone wants the same pour, but I prefer to taste as much as I can while having the opportunity to!

This one is a bit different, some people find sharing gross, and of course, all of this is completely up to you and your group. If you have a group of four, at every brewery you stop at throughout the day, there's a chance for each person to taste four beers rather than just one (provided you're comfortable with it).

If you're willing, I encourage group sharing. It makes each stop more valuable, as you get to maximize your exposure to all the different beers, while not having to drink an entire sample's worth of each.

If it's not for you, that's fine! Your cup can just as easily remain solely yours.


This is something that gets overlooked so easily throughout the day! I heavily encourage you to bring your own personal water vessel that you keep on your person. I suggest getting a cheap carabiner at your local hardware store and hanging your vessel from your belt. There are water stations placed around the grounds, keep your vessel full (you never know when you or a friend will need it) and, more importantly, keep on drinking water throughout the day! To help your body process the alcohol as well as keep yourself hydrated, you need to be drinking plenty of water through the day.

I also highly suggest getting a good amount of water into you before bed – I suggest two pints. Whether you don't feel the effects at all or have already slipped into your hangover by 10pm, a generous helping of water will help you sleep better, and, ultimately, make your next morning that much easier!


This one goes without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway. GET. HOME. SAFELY.

There are many options to get to and from the festival grounds, from walking to utilizing the Rapid, and the GR Hopper service runs from the festival to downtown for 12$ round trip! There will be plenty of taxis on the day (but expect a wait), and you can always utilize a Designated Driver.

This is the most important thing on the entire list be sure to get home safely! The police are well aware of the event, and, being so close to the highway, they are very, shall we say.. aware.

Start planning now and take care of yourself and your group – nothing's worth a DUI, even one of the very best days of the year. Be responsible, be smart, even if you're the only one in your group doing so – be that person.

Another word on getting this done early: the day of, the last thing you want to think about is transportation plans. Get it done now, get it planned and set in stone, that way everything is all set for your wonderful day on Saturday.

Well, I think that just about does it for me. For those of you returning, enjoy your day! For those of you who are attending for the very first time, I have this to say: prepare yourself.

Winter Beerfestival is one of the most unique and fantastic experiences I have all year. It's a journey, a battle, and a delight all rolled into one!

Surely, not a day to be forgotten.

Cheers, and have a happy, fantastic and SAFE Festival!


Ben Darcie

Ben Darcie

Ben Darcie has been homebrewing since 2006 and is currently the Brewery Representative for Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids, MI. He also provides public and private Beer Education and is a Beer Writer for BeerAdvocate, I'm a Beer Hound and three other Michigan publications. He is also the founder of Experience Beer WM and the 9wk Grand Rapids Beer Tasting Class (est. 2010).