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.
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.
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
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.
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?