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News Patrick Sullivan of Highland Brewing Co. Offers Tips for Maximizing Beer Festivals

Even amid a pandemic, summer is full of beer festivals. Every weekend the faithful gather at stadiums and local parks, in armories, brewery parking lots, and large spaces to sample beers from around the world or just down the block. Throw in some food trucks and a good band and a fun time isn’t far off.

It is never just as simple as just showing up and dropping a jockey box on a table and getting beer on ice. Proper planning in advance and having a plan for consumer interaction should be the goal of every brewery, in addition to having a good time.

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“There are three things we always try to do, says Patrick Sullivan the sales director for Highland Brewing Co. in Asheville, North Carolina. “We want to send the biggest personality, we need to have old favorites and something new, and we always try to rotate the beers we have to offer so people come back a few times.”

He suggests bringing a smaller format, a sixtel or bottles or cans rather than a half barre. Not only can you regulate that amount better it makes it easier to rotate the beers.

Making sure the people working the booth are enthusiastic about the brand, know the beers, and can offer up a few quick talking points, from tasting notes to ingredients, to where to find it, all in the span of serving up a one ounce pour.

It is also helpful to have a schedule of what to offer and when.

“I think about progression in terms of ABV and timing,” Sullivan says. “The ones we want people to taste and remember are the ones we tap first. Maybe it is a seasonal or a special beer. But earlier in the day if you can make an impression and get word of mouth going around the festival it’s a good day.”

If your brewery has a flagship that is well known and has been around for a long time, like Highland’s Gaelic Ale, Sullivan says that’s often a good beer to tap towards the end of a session. Attendees will be looking for something familiar and your brewery can fill that need.

“Invariably, people ask where the Gaelic is, so that’s why we save it for later,” Sullivan says. “Tell them to swing back and get it before they go and hopefully, they will.”

Of course, having great signage, a professional looking setup and a bit of shade via a tent goes a long way to make people feel comfortable and welcome. The aesthetics should be thoughtful and representative of a brewery’s overall look.

Sullivan says the nature of festivals has changed over the last several years. The brewery is a bit more discerning about what they attend, making sure it fits a budget and overall company goals. It’s nice to be asked, he says, but always best to make smart decisions. When considering a festival, it’s good to make sure its goals or purpose align with your brewery.
And try to have some fun. These festivals are not just for the attendees, “it’s also a great chance for camaraderie with other breweries that we don’t get to see too often.”

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