Tonight alphacygni and I went to our first beer festival since moving back here, the Beer Advocate Belgian Beer Fest. It was OK, but definitely not as exciting as I had hoped for. Tonight's session was the "Connoisseur Tasting". That meant a much smaller selection of beer, supposedly stranger and rarer stuff, and a smaller crowd. As it turned out, it also meant a lack of entertainment, or information, or anything to do but wander around the Cyclorama while drinking . We didn't feel much like connoisseurs in that environment. It wasn't crowded generally, but all of the spaces near the serving tables were crowded - arguably worse than a normal beer festival, because there were relatively few of them compared to the number of guests.
The beer itself was decent, but hard to enjoy and evaluate properly. Unfortunately, while it makes sense to serve small portions of high-alcohol beers, the combination of the 2oz pour size and the small, narrow glasses made it difficult to get a good sniff and taste of the stuff. Many of the beers tasted extremely similar, more so than I think they would have in better circumstances. For an event focusing on just a few categories - straight-up doubles and triples, saison and biere de garde, and various fruity pseudo-lambics - this was more of a problem, since it's the subtle differences among examples of the style that should be the focus.
The food was excellent - perhaps the best I've had yet at a beer festival: Flemish carbonade, several good cheeses, crackets and crisp breads, sausages, pressed sandwiches, and amazing, crispy-sweet yeast-raised waffles.
Looking at the program, we felt slightly cheated: all of the speakers, including beer-world celebreties like Garrett Oliver, and the much broader (categorically) selection of beers are during the Saturday session. It seems likely that any useful information or material - and, say, any brewery schwag - will only show up then. Tonight's servers were all Beer Advocate volunteers without particular knowledge of the stuff they were (busily) serving. A couple of industry folks were around, like the local representative for Stone brewing, but I wasn't sure if he was a regular guest or if his presence as someone to schmooze with was supposed to be part of the appeal of the evening.
So, next time: regular session, not this "connoisseur" thing - it just takes away too much from what makes beer festivals fun, and didn't add enough to make up for it.
(In small world news, however, I was recognized.... by someone who had been a substitute teacher at TJ, 12 years ago. That's one heck of a memory.)
 Well, the cover model for the program was there signing her picture - a nice photo which was clearly trying to replicate the image from Rapscallion Premier