Farmhouse Fest – Vancouver’s Saison and Wild Ale Festival

Farmhouse Fest

It was recently announced that Vancouver’s first Saison and Wild Ale Festival, Farmhouse Fest, will be held at UBC Farms on June 27, 2015 (shameless, plug: buy tickets here).

I’m part of the group that is planning the festival and it all started with a conversation on how there isn’t a local festival that just showcased the great saisons, wild ales and sours that BC Breweries are making, as well as the ones that are being imported. We have some great beer events and festivals in Vancouver and as the beer scene continues to mature, we felt it was time for a style-focused festival for those of us that appreciate and adore these beers.

And so the planning began. Our first, and easiest decision, was the venue – UBC Farm. What’s better than hosting a festival that promotes earthy beers and wild propagated yeast than on a local farm with apple orchards, hop bines and a farmers’ market? In my books, it’s perfect (and yes, it’s going to be sunny on June 27th. uh yeah?).

Picking the breweries to invite was the hardest challenge. BC has great breweries but not all of them are making our festival styles thus, we kept our invites to those breweries that are already knocking these out and doing them well. Having to say no to a brewery isn’t fun, but we want to keep our style focus – bring the funk, brewers. 

Our ask of these breweries was to provide something unique, even a one-off, to give festival attendees a real treat. Once the beers have been finalized, we will be posting the descriptions on our website. I can tell you that the lists I’ve seen thus far are exceeding our expectations – so much so that I want someone to take over my responsibilities at the festival so I can drink. Any takers? Bueller? Bueller?

As I’ve been to my share of beer festivals both locally, the US and internationally, I pondered about what makes a good festival for me. Here are my thoughts:

Logistics:

  • Easy access by transit.
  • Pain-free ticketing site with mobile access to your tickets.
  • Designated driver tickets – yep, it takes up head count that you could have a drinking patron use for more revenue, but it’s the responsible thing to do.
  • Ticket pricing matches the experience. I’ll pay more for a festival that has unique beers than one that has the breweries’ regular line-up. If I can buy it at the store, there’s not much incentive to get a pour at the festival.

Festival Logistics:

  • The entrance line-up is organized and goes quickly. The last couple of US festivals we went to, it took over an hour to get in and we lined up early. That’s precious beer sampling time gone. Kaput. Wasted.
  • If there are multiple sessions, have the same number of bottles/kegs at each session. That way, the rare beers aren’t all consumed in the first session.
  • Supply programs – seems like such a simple thing but the last major US festival we were at, there were no programs. You could look at the tiny map in two locations to find the breweries but didn’t know what they were pouring. Good thing I nerded out before and printed off the entire list to highlight what beers I wanted to try. I could have sold copies of that list.
  • Map of the breweries’ location – in the program and larger signs at the festival.
  • Brewery booth signage – and large enough that you can actually read it from a row away. An 8.5” x 11” sign just isn’t going to cut it for my aging eyes.
  • Description of the beer at the table and if there’s room, in the program. Having the beers listed on the website before the festival is also top notch. Hence, this is where I print off the list and study.
  • Rinse stations or jugs of water at each brewery table to rinse your glass. This isn’t a frat party, I want to rinse my glass between pours. The best setup I saw was at Borefts where they had glass scrub/rinse stations. I’d love to have this at Farmhouse Fest but alas, our outdoor venue doesn’t have direct water access for a hose.
  • Enough food choices so that there’s variety and shorter line-ups. Waiting an hour for food is not how you want to spend your time at a festival.
  • Enough toilets and TP. I don’t even want to think about the times I’ve had to drip dry. It’s gross – supply enough TP!
  • Space to walk around. Too many festivals are crammed to the rafters with as many people as the liquor license will allow. I get it, it maximizes revenue, but if you can’t get past people in line, it diminishes the experience.
  • Having the brewers or brewery reps pour whenever possible. Volunteers don’t usually know much about the beers they’re pouring thus, if you have a question, you’re usually SOL.
  • Know your audience – not every beer festival is meant to please everyone from the newbie to the seasoned veteran. Have a variety of beers and breweries to suit the intended crowd.

Other Pluses:

  • A cool glass to take home. Even better if it’s not a sample-sized glass as I’m unlikely to use it again at home other than for a vertical.
  • Having brewery/agent reps that are friendly and want to talk about their beers. One of my fondest memories from Borefts was chatting with a brewery rep from Brekeriet in a line-up, not knowing who she worked for. I’d already fallen in love with this Swedish Brewery’s sour beers and the next pour I went for, she introduced me to the brewer. We had a great chat and I begged him to import to BC. When I got home, I put him in touch with a few agencies and low and behold, Gerry from Westbier signed them and they’re coming to BC soon! I’m crossing my fingers that it will be here in time for our festival.

I’m not promising that our inaugural Farmhouse Fest will be perfect, but while planning the festival, we did talk about the good, the bad and the ‘oh wouldn’t that be amazing’ to plan our festival. Shoot me an email lynn@hopscanary.com if you have any festival pet peeves or amazing festival experiences you want to share. We will do our best to put on a solid festival for you.

Now go buy your tickets – they’re selling out fast!

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