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Sunday, December 04, 2011

A Small Raspberry for the Holiday Ale Fest

There are always a lot of reasons to praise and criticize the Holiday Ale Fest, and this year, the steep entrance fee was the number one target. Personally, I don't mind the cost ($25 bucks gets you in with a mug and eight tokens; essentially half the price is an entry fee). Once you'd paid up, you could come back with your mug and buy more tickets at the usual price of $1 a pop. This had two effects: 1) it depressed attendance a bit on the two days I was there, making it a far more pleasant place to be than in past years; 2) it rewarded people who sampled broadly and came back a time or two--because the more samples you tried, the lower the per-pour price became. All cool so far.

But they also charged designated drivers $5 to get in the door, which is itself a stupid disincentive to any Samaritan good enough to volunteer to chauffeur. But worse, yesterday a pregnant friend of mine and a designated driver begrudgingly agreed to the usurious entry fee on the promise of soda. They got there at 11 am--i.e., opening. Soda? Nada--they'd long run out. But thanks for the five bucks--have a great time!

It's the kind of unforced error that permanently turns people off fests, and one I really, really hope HAF avoids repeating. And come on, guys, let the drivers in for free.


  1. I couldn't agree more. I ended up not attending at all – I had wanted to drop by after work to have a couple tasters with friends, but wasn't able to stay long and I wasn't sure I'd be able to be back the next day.

    So instead I just skipped it entirely. Maybe they were going after smaller crowds, that's fine, but I think there are better ways to do it (raise the taster price, for example) that don't discourage short sessions.

    Frankly, the high admission cost probably encourages heavier drinking (gotta get my money's worth!). If anything, with lots of high-alcohol beers on tap, they should be encouraging less sampling, not more.

  2. I had not heard they were charging designated drivers. That's the dumbest thing I've heard in a while. And shameful not to have the promised soft drink. Thanks for reporting this.

    I tried to go along with the high entry fee. I understand the greater expense associated with a winter festival, including the high cost of the special beers served. If the idea was to reduce the crowds somewhat, I'd say it worked. Lines weren't a big deal for me.

    You talk about the unforced error connected to the designated drivers. I think the high entry cost is miscue of its own. Hardcore fans will attend an event like this pretty much regardless of cost. Casual beer fans are different. To them, the high cost creates the impression that the HAF is an elitist event. I heard plenty of people griping about it and I think the popularity of the event was undermined to some extent. Part of the historical charm of the various beer festivals is they usually seemed like a great value. I'm not so sure that was the case this weekend. No offense to HAF organizers, but I think the cost factor should be reevaluated.

  3. I agree with the comments here. I paid the high price this year, but I'll think twice next year. My wife came with me and wanted to be a designated driver. When they asked for $5, she refused and went home. So I drove home after drinking.

    Last night I went to the 5th Quadrant and had tasters of their seven holiday beers plus a bartender's choice, all for $7.50. Was the HAF three times better. I'm not convinced.