Last weekend, my wife and I and some friends went to the Top of the Hops beer festival in Jackson, MS. The festival was indoors, which was nice considering it was hotter than two hells outside, and they had about 150 beers, according to the website and publicity. So how was it?
This is how it was.
This festival had several good beers to try. Rogue was there, Merchant Du Vin was there (the Samuel Smith beers), Abita, Lazy Magnolia, Sam Adams, Yazoo were all there as well. And I tried at least one beer from almost all the different booths/tables.
The thing was sold out. So there’re more people in MS who care about beer enough to go to a beer festival and stand in line for 2 oz. samples than you might think. And the convention center it was in was easily big enough to make the experience comfortable.
Friends were there. We went with a group of friends, most of whom we don’t get to see very often (two friends I met up with I haven’t seen since high school, which was quite a while back), because if you’re going to be drinking small amounts of beer for four hours, you should be well equipped with good company. And we were.
The good people at the Diamond Bear booth were very generous with their pours near the last half hour of the festival. Which is exactly the time you want more than the SOP pour of 2 oz. (As you’d imagine, we basically camped out right behind the line at this booth for the final hour of the festival.)
So these are good things. Must’ve been an ass-kicking, no-name-taking festival.
If you can’t say something nice, you better be fucking right. So I’m about to be right all over the place.
Top of the Hops seems to be a product of the Red Mountain Entertainment co. (which is a Birmingham based event production co. boasting such concert productions as U2, the Stones, Wilco, Sonic Youth, etc.) and the Jackson Convention Center. Which, this in itself is not a bad thing. We need beer festivals in MS, so I’m glad they made it happen. But. This festival gave me more the feeling of being in a Walmart than a place where people could drink and learn about beer.
Because the booths weren’t manned by actual brewery staff, and they were set up in rows with tables in front and uniform ‘Top of the Hops’ signs listing the beers offered against a plain backdrop. Guess what was more prominent on the sign. Only by reading the plain text on each sign was it clear which brewery and beers you were getting in line for. So, OK, maybe I’m being picky about that–it was still visible. But one of the great things about beer festivals is that you go to a booth put up by the brewery and, usually, manned by someone who either makes the beer or has at least tried it and can talk about it. This, mostly, was just not the case. (Mostly–I’m sure there were plenty of people who were able to talk about the beers they were pouring. I might have just have only asked the wrong people questions.) Most, or maybe all, of the people pouring beer were volunteers wearing Mellow Mushroom shirts. The only brewery with an actual tent was the Diamond Bear brewery.
Because the majority of the beers were being poured out of bottles. Again, this in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. But it didn’t take long to cultivate the impression that somebody just went and bought a shitload of beer and was pouring out little samples into my plastic beer mug (and I’ll get to the mug in a second). Like I said, part of what should be great about a beer festival is the face-to-face interaction you can have (albeit short interaction) with the people who make/care about/drink the beer they’re pouring you samples of. Not that the actual brewers wouldn’t bring beer in bottles, but when a booth runs out of beer within the first hour and explains that ‘we’re going to get some more,’ it seems more like I’m visiting an empty trough than a booth where the brewers simply underestimated the festival goers’ interest in their beer. Call me nuts.
Because the ticket price was more expensive than either of the other two beer festivals I’ve been to. Both of the other festivals had at least as many or more beers offered with more of an emphasis on microbrews than the Big Three beers. Both the other festivals had booths that seemed to have been manned by the actual breweries. One of the other two festivals didn’t make DDs actually pay to get into the festival. You had to pay $15 as a DD just to walk around the place at this festival. And the $35 ticket got you a souvenir sampling mug–which was plastic (and was actually still wrapped in plastic when you picked it up). Either a glass sampler or a full-size pint glass (picked up on the way out) would better justify the ticket price. Come on.
So to wrap up this already long post, I did have a good time. Even though there weren’t any beers I couldn’t get at the store, I enjoyed the beers I had. The problem with the festival was not the beers but the festival itself. End of bitching.
So and also, this is the first post in a month. But. I’ve got stuff coming up including new beers (homemade and nonhomemade) and new equipment.