Thursday, August 19, 2010
It didn't take long last weekend to remember why the Manitou Craft Lager Festival is one of the highlights of the Colorado summer season. Breweries from up and down the Front Range converged on an eclectic small town. Many brought beers well outside their standard fare that can be found in any liquor store. Some even brought beers that they were debuting at the festival (or, in the case of Left Hand Brewing, were showing off even before its official debut).
But by late afternoon Saturday, the increasingly popular gathering was starting to show its growing pains. By 4 p.m. - two hours before the five-hour session was over - two popular breweries had run out of beer. By 5, a full 13 out of the 26 breweries present had gone dry, though Trinity Brewing deserves credit for tapping another keg late in the day after it had run out originally. And the lines at the remaining booths had moved from resembling Russian River crowds Thursday night at the GABF to bearing a similarity to those New Glarus giant queues at the Saturday afternoon tasting session.
An overabundance of beer drinkers is not always a fatal problem; it's certainly no worse than, if not less of a problem than, throwing a tasting where nobody comes. But the great joy of the Manitou festival has always been that it felt just a little different from many of its summer cohorts, more like a laid-back gathering of beer aficionados hanging out on a summer day than a cram-packed room of people searching for any beer they could find. It got to the point this year where a close friend told me: "That's it, I'm not coming back next year." I'm not ready to take that step, but any time you get longtime fans - this buddy and I were at the very first Manitou festival together - spouting that level of frustration, it may be time to re-examine things.
So, before I laud some of the stellar creations that were served at the festival (which will be tomorrow or Saturday's post), I want to make a plea to organizers as a fan: Some changes are needed.
*Ask the breweries to bring a few more kegs. Even if people are drinking, say, Ska's standard fare rather than their tasty, rarer schwarzbier late in the festival, they'll have something there to enjoy.
*Consider limiting limiting the number of tickets sold. While I can criticize a certain other friend who didn't show up until 4 p.m. (and I did), his tardiness should not have left him largely without options for most of his time there, since he did show up for 40 percent of the festival.
*Create more activities that didn't involve standing in line. You've already got a headier crowd than at most summer festivals. Rather than just throwing up your standard music stage, have some big name brewers give a talk or pour a special creation for seated crowds at various times. This might pull some people away from the long lines and slow down the taps just a little.
Again, I will be back next year. The festival is too interesting and the beer entries too creative to ignore. But once you start losing hard-core beer geeks who have been there for eight years - the kind of people who will step out of lines to discuss the beer with strangers who want to have the same conversation - you run the risk of taking away the joy of what makes the event special.
Labels: Manitou Springs