Over the last several years, craft beer has emerged as a symbol almost as synonymous with Huntsville, Alabama as the Saturn V. A number of craft beer festivals and German Biergarten events have popped up in the area to resounding success. The Von Brewski Beer Festival, only in its second year, was held on Saturday, January 20th 2018 at the South Hall in the Von Braun Center in downtown Huntsville.
My wife and I decided to attend this year’s event and had an absolute blast! For those of you reading this that are on the fence about attending next year’s festival, I hope this post gives you enough information to convince you to buy a ticket.
Sampling tickets were $35 before the day of the festival and $40 the day of. This does not include Ticketmaster fees. We didn’t 100% commit to going until the day of the show and the two tickets cost us $93.90 or roughly $47/ticket. A sampling ticket entitles you to drink as many samples as you want. They also offer a non-sampling ticket for $15 that allows you to attend the event but you won’t be able to drink. All attendees must be 21 years old or over and present a valid ID.
How It Works
Getting into the festival was the only confusing part of the experience. There were two people standing in front of the lines where you present your tickets. These people checked IDs to validate that attendees were 21 or older. There wasn’t clear direction that you must see these people first. Once you proved you were 21, you were given a band to put around your wrist. Then you proceeded to the ticket line and showed your tickets. We had digital tickets so my phone was scanned and we moved on to a new line. In this line, you had to show your tickets again. This check was to see if you bought a sampling ticket or a non-sampling ticket. Unfortunately, it wasn’t clear you needed to present your ticket again. For those of us using the Ticketmaster app, we had to pull up proof that the ticket was a sampling ticket. This check was done visually by the workers so, obviously, the Qr Code that makes digital tickets so convenient wasn’t applicable. Once they confirmed that you had a sampling ticket, you received a VIP wristband and a sampling glass. You could also pick up a pamphlet with a list of the breweries that were at the event and the beers they had to sample. The pamphlet had room to rate each beer and they even gave you a free pencil so you could keep track of what you thought about the beer that you tried! Finally, since it’s illegal to give away beer, you had to pick up a cup full of pennies to give to each vendor. Fortunately, pennies were abundant and, if you ran out, there were plenty available for you to take for free.
Once inside, you could go to any of the over 60 vendors and request a sample. Technically, you are to put a penny in the bucket and the vendor checks your wristband to make sure that you have a sampling ticket. I only had this enforced one time during the four hours we were there. I wore long sleeves so it made it hard to keep the wristband visible at all times. Once you get your sample, you can drink the entire thing or pour it out in a bucket if it wasn’t to your liking. It’s as simple as that!
The event was held in the Exhibit Hall and had a very wide-open layout. The beer vendors formed a ‘C shape across the back and sides of the room while some non-beer vendors set-up shop in front of the concession stand. The band, 45 Surprise, was set-up in the middle of the room and there was plenty of space to dance if that is your thing. There were also tables and chairs placed through out the room, although there weren’t very many. There is no time for sitting when you are sampling beer!
To be completely honest, I really have no idea what kind of music was played as I paid very little attention to anything but the beer. I know I did hear country music on occasion which is not my thing. Maybe I tuned it out on purpose. Or maybe I was concentrating too much on drinking!
We went to this event not knowing a single person who had planned to go. By the end of the four-hour event, we had met dozens of people and spent the last 90 minutes almost exclusively hanging out and chatting with people we only knew casually before.
There was one for-pay concession stand open that served food that you would typically expect at the VBC. They did have a special on Bratwursts which we took advantage of. They were really good but, then again, almost anything tastes better when you’re full of beer! The event ticket did include the ability to make yourself a pretzel necklace at no extra charge. We both passed on this as we’re not beer and pretzel kind of people. The VBC also had a for-pay drink cart set-up that served other alcoholic beverages such as whiskey. I’m not sure why anyone who had a sampling ticket would buy other alcoholic beverages but maybe this was for those folks who didn’t have sampling tickets.
With over 60 vendors serving well over 100 beers, the choices seemed almost limitless! Jennifer wanted to start with the Ciders & Meads so we headed to that section first. We tried a little bit of everything but the Strawberry Magic by Blake’s Hard Cider wound up easily being our favorite! The Pineapple Cider from Ace Premium Craft Cider was another one of our favorites. Neither of us cared for the meads we tried and we decided that’s probably not our thing.
The nice thing about this particular festival is there were vendors from all over the country, not just local breweries that you see at other festivals. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about our local breweries but it was nice to try things from non-local breweries that you wouldn’t normally buy at the store. Golden Road Brewing’s (Los Angeles, CA) 329 Lager and Red Clay Brewing Co’s (Opelika, Alabama) Half Time were two that stood out. As far as local breweries, we really enjoyed Below The Radar’s English Pale Ale and Main Channel Brewing Company’s Amber Ale. I’d give Back Forty Beer Company’s Peanut Butter Porter Best In Show but I’ve had it so many times that I am biased.
In the end, we wound up splitting 52 samples over the course of four hours. That was far more than we had anticipated and it was a good thing that we live within walking distance of the event.
Was It Worth It?
The answer to this question is a resounding YES! There was some concern within my circle of friends and co-workers that the ticket price was too steep.. My argument would be that you’re not only paying to drink, you are paying for the experience and opportunity to sample a bunch of different beers at one location. If you like craft beer, the Von Brewski festival gives you the opportunity to, in a sense, “try before you buy”. We’ve all been burned on buying an expensive six-pack only to not particularly care for it and watch it get stale in your refrigerator.
We didn’t particularly pay attention to the band but I’m sure there are those that enjoyed them. We would have preferred a DJ with a more up-beat vibe. The process of getting into the event could be better streamlined but I don’t really see it being that much of a problem once you’ve done it once.
As long as we are in town, we’ll definitely be attending next year’s event! If you see us there, come up and say hello – maybe you can change our opinions on meads!