By guest writer Alexander Henderson
Petite cups of beer ruled the day. Pale-gold wits, roasty porters, bubbly ciders, and chestnut browns floated torch-like through the crowd of thousands. Sips were taken, followed by gulps. The curious and the devoted of Washington DC’s beer scene converged on a patch of asphalt surrounded by stacks of multicolored shipping containers, putting some drinkers in the mindset of espionage movies and dockside showdowns at the ends of action TV shows. However, everyone’s mission was clear: drink as much beer as possible as fast as possible, and maybe play a few small-prize games.
Welcome to the second LivingSocial Beer Fest.
Your fearless reporter started early, having lucked into a VIP pass that allowed him into the Fairgrounds Container Park in SE DC, circa-Navy Yard Metro, about half an hour before the gathered and thirsty masses began trickling through. A bazaar of beer greeted me – eclectic banks of local, regional, national and European breweries flanking the festival pavilion, feeding cool and high quality beer (or cider) into the LivingSocial-stenciled cups of the Very Important People who had been drinking for nearly the past hour while various huddled masses looked on through chain link fences. At each beer table, taps connected to portable coolers via coils of plastic tubing, through whose transparent sides the gathered faithful could watch their amber liquids of choice zip around like fluids in a bad scientific medical experiment. Piles of complimentary stickers crowded the base of these coolers, awaiting new homes on the sides of cups and the backs of people’s heads, depending.
Your intrepid reporter didn’t quite know where to start. Breckenridge Brewery seemed as good a place as any, and their Vanilla Porter proved a tasty first choice. Alexandria’s own Port City Brewing Company offered an attractive next option with their Monumental IPA, with my home state of North Carolina’s Duck-Rabbit Brewery’s flagship Milk Stout nipping right at its heels. Lost Rhino, Dogfish Head, Flying Dog and Peak Organic did not take long to find their way into the mini-cup. With an enormous white tent overstretching a faux-lawn checkered with imported sod, I never lacked for shade to which to retire and enjoy my hand-crafted prizes. A cool waterfront breeze dispersed some of the heat.
Several macro-brews (and macro-brews masquerading as craft brews) squeezed into booths between the true craft breweries, trying to seem like their artsy booth-fellows in much the same way a giant might try to put on a child’s shoes, and with about the same success. Not long after the regular access ticket-holders began coming in, the lines for these high-quality beer kiosks grew and grew, until some of my drinking companions eventually reported wait times of 15, even 20 minutes for a single pour. The downside of the festival had manifested: simply too many people wanted too few varieties of beer, and so terrible lines developed. I observed several fest-folk become fed up with the line for Evolution or Weinhenstephaner and jump ship for the Pabst or Leinenkugels lines simply because the lines there were short.
Good weather had lent the festival a pleasant start, but soon enough the late September DC heat brought out the makeshift sunshades and hat brims. In addition, I found myself stuck in line for an hour waiting to order a sandwich at one of the woefully few and far-between food trucks, my neck receiving too much sun and my cup receiving far too little brew. Luckily, the truck only ran out of sandwiches after I ordered my vegetarian mojo, so for me, at least, the day was saved. However, the difference in food options between this Beer Fest and the first, which LivingSocial put on this spring, was stark. Hopefully the next festival will find the original food truck line-up mounting a comeback.
Still, who could complain? For $25 ($35 if you waited too long; $49 if you waited way too long), they let you into a clean, well-decorated park, give you a cup, and let you loose among 100 different beers. And they’re good beers, too. More than any prudent consumer could sample in the five hours they allot for the event. That didn’t stop anyone from trying, of course. I don’t know about you, but I’ll drink to that.