Biggest surprises: Southern Tier Gemini (on tap) and Oak Aged Unearthly (on tap)
Best beer: Founders Kaiser Curmudgeon (on tap)
Best beer Stella didn't like: Firestone Walker 14
Stella and I got there a little before noon thinking we'd have to wait outside the gates until they opened. We were wrong, they just let the 10 or so people hanging around come on in. They were ready to get the show on the road. I opened up the fest with a taster of Brown Shugga' after we opened a bottle of Lagunitas Imperial Stout with Josh and Kim, the official opener of Gents. From noon until 1 when the 100 VIP people were the only ones around, it really did feel like a beermusement park only without lines. If I wanted a beer, I walked to where it was and immediately received it. I spent some time talking to beer people I only know from Twitter mainly to slow down the drinking which very well could have gotten out of hand if I couldn't talk to the pourers. I think I had all the "special" beers during the VIP hour.
Biggest beer mistake: Stella asked for Schafly Weissbeer and got a Schlafly KolschStella's favorite drink: Fox Barrel Blackberry Pear Cider
At 1, the riffraff came in. By riffraff, I, of course, mean the crowd. It got a little more crowded, I sometimes had to wait for a person or two before I got my beer filled. I saw some Gents and had some more conversation. But with only 2 or 3 ounces of beer at a time, a conversation among 8 people suddenly turned into 8 people walking in different directions for more beer. The layout was perfect, the L pattern worked so you didn't feel as though you were doing a path, it was no big deal to get a beer from, say Boulevard, then get one from Tallgrass which was on the other side of the L. I didn't feel like I had to do the circuit in some order. The pourers were always friendly, the crowd was well behaved and happy. When you have 800 people around drinking pretty heavily on a hot day, you would expect the 2 security guards/cops to be a little more busy than hanging out talking to a hot chick and feeding her dog ice cubes, but that's what they were doing for a good 15 minute period.
Best beer on tap not already mentioned: Monk's Cafe Belgian Sour
Joke I heard 5 times that wasn't funny once: I figured I'd find you by the Lagunitas tent
People I feel bad for: Anyone that has to approach someone and ask "are you Bull E. Vard?"
Now on to the annoyances. First it was hot, did I mention that yet? Second, the fitness people were a little aggressive in trying to talk to people. The funniest thing Stella saw was when one of the fitness girls walked up to, let's just call him chubby, a man trying to sell him on some fitness and he looked at her and said "does it look like I'm going to be interested in this while I'm drinking beer". I don't know why they were there, I got a nice little yellow drinking cup for my bike filled with warm water for their efforts, but mostly they annoyed me. Though, I did only notice them during the VIP session. Third, the fitness people were by the water station which made it seem like you would have to talk to them in order to get some water. Even on a hot day, water didn't seem important enough for that. Fourth, if you wanted to cool down in the tent, you were subjected to very loud music (good music, just loud). A couple of times I wanted to have a conversation with Stella or someone in the tent while cooling down and it just very hard to hear. I don't want to be responsible for killing a dj or anything, but I think it might have been nice to have the speakers outside of the tent so it wasn't quite so loud. I don't think it's a coincidence that I spent a lot of time talking to people outside of the tent, in the heat. Last, there were no hand washing stations outside of the supremely clean Johnny on the Spot's. I had to dump some of the rinse water (which was always available at every beer station) on my hands at one point because I'm just a tad obsessive about washing my hands.
Things I missed: Everything Unibroue, Great Divide, New Holland, Bear Republic, Goose Island and Arcadia
Beer I'm happy I've never paid for and now probably won't: Bridgeport Stumptown Tart
Quick tip: Don't bring a bunch of stuff in to the house from the car after a beer fest and then a birthday party (oh yeah, that's right, I went to a party after Hops Fest, I drink professionally). You're not likely to find the stuff you brought in to the house because you don't remember the next day that you brought the stuff in. It's like living with a ghost.
Annoyances discarded, did I mention there was a lot of beer? I know Firestone Walker 14 went pretty fast, Saison-Brett was being rationed early, but other than that I don't know of much beer running out in the first couple of hours. I'm positive that there was plenty of beer choices at the end of the day. I'm pretty sure Lew's and The Well will have plenty of beers from Hop Fest available for weeks, you can probably find some good beer specials in the weeks to come. I was surprised at how many beers were available on tap, probably over 30.
Oh yeah, best beers that I didn't see: Budweiser, Miller, Coors, Corona, Michelob, Dos Equis, Hamms, Busch, Rolling Rock, Schlitz, Pabst, etc.
Funny moment with JJSKCK: He asked Drunk Monkey if he's the one known for wearing a hockey jersey.
Embarrassing moment with JJSKCK: Introducing him to Drunk Monkey then looking at Drunk Monkey with a gleam in my eye and saying "he's a tall drink of water isn't he".
For a first year festival, and one that go kind of destroyed the night before because of the huge wind storm that swept through town, I don't have any real complaints. I trust the annoyances will be corrected, more drinking water stations, a quiet shaded place, hand washing sinks, none of these is hard to correct. The things done right, the layout, the beer selection, the beer quantity, rinse water, friendliness of pourers, far outweigh anything that might have annoyed me. I think next year, you're going to want to buy your tickets with a little more urgency than you did this year, because next year, it's going to be a sellout.
Things I wonder about post Hop Fest: What color is Flenker (he's a ginger) this morning.
Disclosure: I did receive 2 free VIP tickets to Hop Fest from a party interested in selling more tickets to Hop Fest. This did not influence my review of the event but you can be the judge of that.