How to survive your first beer festival like a pro

It’s beer festival season in Los Angeles, and with more than 60 breweries in L.A. County, there’s never been a better time to dive in. And if you’ve never attended a beer festival, or if it’s been a few years, you can catch up on the local beer scene at some upcoming events. Who knows? You might even discover some new favorite brews. Here’s what to expect, and how you can make the most of the can’t-miss beer festivals of 2017.

Not all beer festivals are created equal

In years past, many of the beer festivals in L.A. were more about getting hammered than they were about showcasing the best beers. While there’s nothing wrong with getting sloppy on IPA in the middle of the day, the crowds, lines and atmosphere of the generic beer fest isn’t the best showcase of local beer culture. Your best bet is to find a festival organized by, or in support of, a nonprofit. Next time you’re at your favorite local brewery, ask them which upcoming events they’re excited to attend.

One of the biggest differentiators between festivals is how the beer is served. In all cases, you can expect a small taster-sized pour (between 2 and 5 ounces), but where some events offer unlimited samples, other events provide a number of drink tickets. The all-you-can drink events are usually more expensive up front but they can work out to a better value if your goal is to try as many brews as possible.

Where to go first

Having trouble deciding on a first festival? There’s no better opportunity to experience the state of L.A.’s thriving beer scene than the L.A. Beer Week kickoff festival, organized by the Los Angeles County Brewers Guild. Beer week launches on June 17 this year with the marquee event at Los Angeles Center Studios downtown. Besides unlimited samples from the 50-plus local breweries, a couple dozen guest breweries from across the country are also featured alongside local food and bands.

Beyond trying a myriad of brews, the festivals are also great opportunities to learn more about the breweries and even connect with some of the folks making your favorite local beers. Some festivals are staffed with volunteers, but the best also feature brewers and other brewery employees either pouring the beer or on-hand, or chatting with fans. Instead of asking for “the strongest” or “the most hoppy” beer available, ask for advice on what you should try. Especially if you’re new to beer, the brewery staff can point you toward the styles and brands to try first. A good opportunity to have some quality brewer interactions is at Beer Camp Across America, the touring beer festival organized by Sierra Nevada Brewing, which returns to Long Beach to close out L.A. Beer Week on June 24.

Dealing with the crowds

With so many events throughout the summer, it’s tough to gauge how busy some of the festivals will be. Long lines for beer, food and the restrooms are common at the popular festivals, but less-cramped events are just as common. One way to combat the crowds is to arrive early; time spent waiting before the gates open will pay dividends once you get inside the festival. What you really want to watch out for is the lengthy wait for food at some festivals. Once you’re a few beer samples into the day, the throngs clustered around the food trucks can dissuade you from having that snack. Avoid the problem by putting down a solid base; a hearty breakfast will give you the stamina and the fortitude to persist to last call. And while the pretzel necklace (exactly what it sounds like — small hard pretzels strung around your neck to facilitate easy snacking) have become a beer-bro cliché, the idea of a pocket or purse full of something carb-y to munch on to help counterbalance all that beer is a good one.

Alternatively, you can hit up a festival that puts as much emphasis on the food as the booze. The annual Eat Drink Vegan festival is one event that you’ll want to show up to hungry (even if you’re not vegan). With 80-some breweries curated by Beer Belly’s Jimmy Han — including lots of beer-geek favorites — alongside coffee, kombucha and wine, there’s many options to wash down food from favorite local restaurants and trucks (Mandoline Grill, Badmaash, Trejo’s Tacos and 70 others). The festival formerly known as Vegan Beer Fest takes over the Rose Bowl on Saturday. , May 27.

Three more pro tips

It might go without saying, but you’re probably going to get good and buzzed at whichever festival you choose. The best way to avoid getting too sloppy and dodge the dreaded same-day hangover, is to drink water throughout the event. Hit up a water station after every couple of beer samples and your future self will thank you.

At the events offering unlimited pours, there’s no reason to stick with a sample that you don’t like. If you find yourself with a glass of dud, don’t hesitate to dump it. If your goal is to try as much as you can stomach, there’s no need to waste valuable liver enzymes on something you aren’t enjoying. Likewise, you can always ask for a half-pour, an especially prudent tactic if you’re exploring the strongest of the brews on offer.

Finally, don’t expect to drive home after a few hours of sampling craft beer under the sun. The Metro and ridesharing services are worth the extra time and cost, and they are certainly easier than trying to rope a friend into designated-driver duty.