Monday, April 23, 2012

Parkville Microbrew Festival Review

Saturday's 9th Annual Parkville Microbrew Festival definitely proved one thing: the popularity of craft beer is undoubtedly booming. Selling 1000 more tickets than last year, the increased crowd size was evident to anyone who has attended the Parkville festival over the course of the past few years. Like any event, the Microfest had it's share of ups and downs. Here are a few of the highs and lows, in my opinion.

The Good

Added breweries.

Last year there were 33, this year there were 45 if my count was correct. And thanks to the Iowa Brewer's Guild booth, many of the new additions were smaller micro and nano-breweries from various parts of Iowa. Visiting booths like these and getting to try beer that isn't distributed here (if they are distributed at all) is always the highlight of beer festivals for me. Hop Wrangler IPA from Peace Tree was one I especially enjoyed. I may have to take a trip to visit Knoxville, Iowa sometime, because after tasting that and previously trying their Hop Sutra, they seem to be doing some great things.

Special releases. 

I liked how special beers were tapped throughout the course of the day, and I thought breweries did a good job of publicizing what time these beers would go on. Though not all were winners (I guess I couldn't have expected too much from a brisket beer), it added some extra fun and strategizing to the process of making your way around the festival. One of the booths that handled this the best, in my opinion, was Nebraska Brewing Company. They had 3 special tappings, which they spaced out and posted a sign noting what time they would be available. And they were serious about it too. We showed up 2 minutes early and asked for a Saison Sabdariffa, but had to get something different and go back and wait in line again.

The Not So Good

Ticket lines.

This probably goes without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway: the entrance/ticketing lines need VAST improvement for next year if they plan to sell the same amount of (or more) tickets. Where to begin? The pre-paid line was a complete mess, stretching so far back that people were dodging trains (okay, not really, but it did go over the train tracks) and it had to constantly be broken up to allow for cars to get through. Meanwhile, the much shorter line of people paying at the gate got in before the majority of the pre-paid tickets. And, when the pre-paid line started to move up toward the front and organizers finally wised up and broke it up into multiple lines to get checked in, they were taking people from the back of the line to pull up to the front of the new lines. So essentially, there was zero incentive for purchasing your ticket ahead of time, or for arriving early. I would have gladly paid a few extra bucks at the gate for my ticket if it meant not having to wait until almost 1:30 to get my first sample.

Booth lines/layout.

While I certainly understand that longer lines are going to come with the territory of more tickets being sold, the longer booth lines were exacerbated by the booth set up. There was an area in the middle of the festival where one line of booths overlapped and ran parallel with another line of booths, causing lines from each side to interweave and essentially creating a giant bottleneck. It got to a point where it was much easier to actually walk around behind the booths if you had to get somewhere. Also, the booths on the backside were set up parallel to the food vendors, so certain people in the backs of long lines were subjected to a nice blast of heat and smoke in their faces while they stood there waiting. While long lines/larger crowds by themselves aren't necessarily a bad thing, the setup of the festival made it much worse.


Though I tried to use the mobile site as much as possible (my rant against T-Mobile's impressive 2G service will come in another post) to look up brewery info, I still needed to use the tasting note book throughout the day, and it was not user-friendly by any means. I hope next year the organizers will consider alphabetizing the breweries, or if that's not possible, numbering the pages and adding an index in the front. It would save a lot of random flipping and browsing trying to find the brewery you are in line for and seeing what beers are available, as well as marking beers off and writing notes after you've tried them.

Though at first glance, the negative may seem to outweigh the positive, I still had a great time at Parkville Microfest this year. It's not surprising that attendance shot up significantly given the steadily increasing popularity of craft beer, so from this point on it will just be a matter of Parkville (and other beer events) adapting accordingly and growing with the crowd.

If I had to give out awards for the festival, here are a few:

Best Overall Brewery: Nebraska Brewing Company - Saison Sabdariffa and Midnight Ryed were both favorites of mine this year. I really hope that someday these two beers make it into bottles and are distributed in KC.

Most Adventurous Brewery: CIB Brewery - Between a bourbon ale, a boozed up quadruple brown ale, a beer made with volcano peppers and a brisket beer, CIB took a lot of chances (though they didn't all hit the mark, necessarily)

Please Package This: Tallgrass Plum Farmhouse Ale - Delicious, refreshing, I wish this was regularly available for the summertime.

Wish They Would Have Been There: Since we get Kirkwood Station, Morgan St., etc., I'm hoping that soon we'll be seeing Perennial, 4 Hands, Civil Life and some of the other newer St. Louis microbreweries show up in booths at Kansas City festivals.

WTF Award: The drinking fountain at O'Fallon's booth spouting out Gold for people to drink. The germaphobe inside me was horrified.

Worst Booth: Verizon Wireless - That DROID RAZR tasted way too oxidized and had a little too much horse blanket for my tastes.

What did you think of the Parkville Microfest? Will you be going again next year?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. May as well copy and paste a comment I already left on another site.

    I did not enjoy Parkville at all. My friends who bought prepaid tickets waited 30 minutes just to get in, as the line snaked past the railroad tracks. We only got in sooner than that because one of the people directing traffic accidentally sent us to the wrong place, and they were kind enough not to make us start over in the back of the line.

    I twice waited 20 minutes for samples. I gave up on trying to find the beers I really wanted and just went to the shortest line I could find...which was a chore with that many people all in one amoeba-like cluster.

    I typically enjoy beer festivals immensely, as they offer a chance to try new things and geek out with fellow beer people. However, this one had WAY too many attendees. It was pretty much 4 hours of standing in line. They did a great job getting breweries to sign on, and most of them brought interesting stuff. You just couldn't get to them.

    There are enough other beer festivals in town now that are much more user-friendly. I'll stick with those in the future.

    Parkville had 3,500 tickets for sale this year. For perspective, last year's Hopfest had about 760 attendees with only a modest reduction in the number of pour stations. That allowed you to sample leisurely & spend time out of line talking to friends, all while not feeling guilty about talking to the rep while he/she poured the next person's beer. The beer fests I've attended in Denver have had a similar pacing to them. Even the first-ever KS brewers expo in Lawrence, while congested in a couple spots, had short easy lines. And it sold out well in advance.

  3. I think your review is pretty spot on, but I felt like the negatives outweighed the positives. I still had a good time (I was drinking beer and the weather was beautiful, so no complaints there!), but unless there are some huge improvements in the logistics and layout of the festival, I don't see myself attending next year.

  4. JJSKCK, you raise a good point that Parkville now has some competition, and we have choices for beer festivals, which was not necessarily the case a few years ago. Now that we have options, these events will have to step it up and be 'better' than the others in terms of experience and what you are getting for your money.

  5. Jonathan, I think if the price point were any higher for tickets, I'd be leaning much farther on the negative side. I agree with you though, at this point there's no guarantee I'll be attending next year unless they make some noticeable and publicized changes to the logistics of the event.

  6. Copy that! Need to just start taking admissions an hour early and if someone wants to stand in line for an hour at a vendor that's their choice and not the organizers. They could simply flip the vendors back to back and then you'd at least know what line you were in and how long it was. If it was me, however, I'd spread'em out over the park a bit because standing around the whole time is the worst part of any of these events.

  7. The city of Parkville won't let them put anything on the grass according to one of the organizers I talked to.

  8. The original plan was for a horseshoe shaped layout for the booths near the ballparks, but at the last minute the city nixed that plan. A lot of it was due to the grass, yet I don't think anyone heeded the "Stay off the grass" signs.

  9. This was my 6th year pouring at Parkville. To me it seemed like the first 4 years were steady growth handled well, but the last 2 years have been epic and they are attempting to adjust but need another plan for next year. Maybe there needs to be 2 sessions, like a noon-3 and a 4-7. Spreading out in the park would be great if allowed.

  10. Couldn't agree more. This was my first, and likely last time for this festival unless there are widely publicized improvements. If it's a "grass" problem, then set up tents all along the downtown corridor. That way then entire town can benefit from the swell of 3500 people to their town. Waaaay too much "asses and elbows" for me.

    There's no need for a DD when in 4 hours, you can only manage 15, 2oz pours. And breweries started running out of beer. I was standing in the Green Flash line when they ran out of everything at 3:45.

  11. @JC, totally agreed. We had a DD but like you said, there wasn't even a need. A lot of people were saying, 'well, it's a beautiful day and I'm having fun regardless'. If I'm paying money for something, I don't want the weather to be the best part of the experience. It was a disaster.

  12. It was $25 for all you can drink craft beer from dozens of brewers. Yes, lines were long, and waits were more than I would have liked. But having been to many such events on the east coast, and paying at least twice as much for half the brewers (and usually with those brewers pouring from bottles, not taps), I'm quite happy with the experience at Parkville.

  13. My wife and I had a great time at the festival this year. Ok, so it was our first microbrew festival ever, but we still had a good time. It was a bit overwhelming at first, for all the reasons mentioned above, but once you go acclimated, it was very enjoyable. I completely agree with Pat's original thoughts on "The Not So Good" though, especially the simplicity of alphabetizing the booklets. As everyone has said, next year and the years to follow, Parkville and the festival organizers will have to rethink the logistical layout of the event (ticket lines, booth lines and even space to enjoy the music.) We'll be back again sometime but I do hope that the city and organizers are paying heed to the thoughts and comments from attendees.