Does Knowing Too Much (About Beer) Ruin the Act of Drinking?

I’ll never condone being a dummy. Education keeps life interesting and I’m afflicted with a constantly curious mind. Working in the craft beer industry, however, I’m immersed in the nitty-gritty of 100s of different hop varietals, barrel-aging techniques, and specialty malts — at any given time. And sometimes I find myself thirsty for an uncomplicated pint. I wonder: can knowing too much ruin a simple pleasure like drinking beer?

If visiting a brewery taproom feels more like an episode of Jeopardy than a low-key adventure, signs point to yes. There’s certainly a time and a place for quizzing the beertender about a brewery’s history. And if you taste a rare brew you like, there’s nothing wrong with asking about the recipe or brewing process. Moderation is key, and here we’ll apply a philosophy that spans more than just beer drinking: don’t take yourself too seriously.

Craft beer is a fun, collaborative industry. One need only read a list of silly-named beers like New Kids on the Hops (Altamont), Ninja vs. Unicorn (Pipeworks), or Fist Bump (Cloudburst & Stoup) to realize that the eccentricity behind some of our favorite brews is often what catches our interest — bonus points when the flavors and overall sipping experience charms us as well.

What I mean to say is, beer invites more lightheartedness than medical science or accounting, for instance. The world will not stop turning if a brewer combines Mosaic Hops and coffee, and then ages it in red wine barrels…for no reason other than to test our palates. And sometimes a good ole’ crisp AF Pilsner doesn’t warrant further discussion beyond “this is the perfect BBQ beer.” Maybe, on occasion, drinking a beer and not talking about it is just the chill pill we need to fully appreciate it.


*For anyone who does want geek out and delve into the specifics of beer styles, brewing history, and flavor identification, I’m considering starting a Cicerone Certification study group meetup in Seattle. Let’s grab a beer, talk about our place in the larger brewing universe, and maybe even share some flashcards. (Don’t worry, we’ll always make time for a no-frills brewski or two.) Sound scintillating? Comment on this post or email me at — if I hear from enough of people, it’s on!


How to Pick the Best Beer Festival (and Make the Most of It)

Talia Shapiro WA Beer Collaboration Festival

Photo by Will Foster @wfstr

It’s summertime. Festival season. Time to break out the tie-dyed tank tops and daisy-brimmed flower crowns. Or maybe that’s taking it a little too far. In all seriousness though, there are zillions of summer festivals each year that focus on music, food, film, sports, and, my personal favorite: beer. Living in Seattle, it’s nearly impossible to attend every beer festival, and I’m on a never-ending quest (through trial and error) to learn exactly which events I enjoy the most, and why. To keep from feeling overwhelmed by the steady lineup of beery happenings in the coming weeks, I’ve put together a list of key factors to consider when determining which festivals to attend.

Location and venue

Will we sip beers while lounging on an open, grassy lawn under the Space Needle, or spend the day in a cavernous, indoor convention center? Do I have to traverse bridges or hop a ferry to get there? Is the festival out of town, somewhere I may want to stay for a few days? These are all helpful questions to ask before event day. Planning ahead makes it easier to reserve lodging, find a designated driver, study the bus routes, and dress accordingly. If it’s an outdoor festival, in Seattle especially, an extra layer of clothing usually comes in handy.

All-inclusive vs. pay-as-you-go

Does admission include a certain number of drink tickets? What about food? Do only VIP tickets promise all the goodies? I hate when I encounter surprise fees for extra festival features, so I always make sure to read the fine print before I purchase my tickets. It’s too easy to get caught up in the festivities and spend more money than intended. However, I’ve found it’s a good idea to bring a little extra cash to tip the tenders (it’s just good manners).

Entertainment (besides drinking beer)

Beer and music, to me, make the perfect festival. In fact, I love craft beer and indie music so much that it almost doesn’t matter what I’m listening to, or sipping (I said, almost). For some people, food and beer make the magic combo. Or festivals that feature classes and presentations by master brewers. It’s helpful to know, in advance, what’s on the roster, so I can grab business cards, a pen and notebook, or earplugs.

In the past year, I’ve discovered a few Seattle beer festivals that became instant favorites—and my list is always evolving. The Washington Beer Collaboration Festival took place under a huge tent on the South Lake Union Discovery Center lawn and showcased a camaraderie between breweries that was truly inspiring. The festival featured 25 unique collaboration beers from 50 different Washington breweries, and offered a platform for brewers to team up and deliver unexpected flavor profiles and unique styles. I was particularly impressed by a White IPA from Whitewall Brewing and Skookum Brewery. Brewed with Galaxy, Citra, and Mosaic hops, the beer was conditioned on whole Mango and pink peppercorn. Very unconventional, and very… complex.

Elysian’s 20th Anniversary Party at Seattle Center satisfied my love of music and beer with a full day of tasting both flagship and limited release brews, while rocking out to an eclectic lineup of live music by Chaotic Noise Marching Corp, Ming City Rockers, Black Lips, The Raveonettes, and The Gits. (Check out my KEXP blog festival review HERE.)

The Bellingham Bay BREWers Cruise was a mini beer festival on the water—it offered a low-key space to chat with local breweries while enjoying views of the beautiful Puget Sound, plus, it gave me an excuse to visit my family en route. (Check out my Seattle Weekly write-up HERE.) All of these festivals had their own unique characteristics, and they all drew diverse crowds. They also offered perfect opportunities to connect with the beer community. Always a pleasure!

No matter where your beer festival adventures take you, my fellow beer enthusiasts, enjoy! I’ll wrap things up now with some poignant, highly entertaining festival advice from the newest book on my shelf: Patrick Dawson’s The Beer Geek Handbook. Cheers!


  1. When considering attending a festival, Beer Geeks begin by researching the festival’s list of participating breweries (serious festivals also include a list of beers to be poured). They will then assemble a list of beers of interest and make a quick mental calculation to determine the value of each beer (based on what it would cost to purchase or trade for them). If the value of the beer exceeds that of the ticket price, a Beer Geek will attend. If there are out-of-distribution DONGs [a.k.a. draft only, no growlers] on the list, festival attendance is a no-brainer.
  1. Once it’s been decided that the festival is worth attending, a Beer Geek will assemble a group of fellow Beer Geeks, numbering no greater than eight, to go together. Any larger and the group is too cumbersome to accommodate serious tasting.
  1. For large festivals, a strategizing session is held among the fellowship of Beer Geeks to create a prioritized list of breweries to hit once inside. Popular breweries will be hit hard at the onset, since it is not unusual for rare selections to run out in even the first hour. Breweries such as these make up the priority list.
  1. Beer Geeks always arrive at the festival with a full stomach, preferably of cheese or other fatty foods, slowing alcohol absorption to maximize allowable intake.
  1. Once inside, the priority list is executed. The tasting format is often limited to 1- or 2-oz. samples. When sampling breweries have a line, a Beer Geek never camps out at the front in an attempt to sample multiple beers. This is a classic noob move and goes against all Beer Geek etiquette. Once you get your sample, head immediately to the end of the line to get another sample. Time is of the essence.
  1. Fraternizing can fully commence once the priority list has been addressed. At this point, the tasting should move to “free-form format” based upon suggestions from fellow Beer Geeks. It is now okay to talk with brewers and brewery reps, since by this point all festival attendees have had ample opportunity to sample their top beers.
  1. As the festival winds down, the Beer Geeks quickly become distinguishable from the posers. While Beer Geeks might certainly get drunk at a festival (there can be a lot of beers to sample, after all), they don’t go there with the primary intention of getting drunk. At this stage, non–Beer Geeks begin flinging coasters, knocking their buddy’s glass out of his hand, and stealing every bit of brewery schwag not nailed down. Beer Geeks, having properly trained for the event, maintain (some) composure.
  1. Once last call goes out, a Beer Geek, knowing full well that the remaining samples being poured aren’t any Gold Medal winners, heads out to grab a cab or a bite, leaving the frat pack to do shots of every beer left standing.

Excerpted from The Beer Geek Handbook (c) Patrick Dawson. Used with permission of Storey Publishing.

Beer Nerds Unite!

Image source:

Image source:

Most of us have come across a few self-proclaimed “wine snobs” at some point, and I recently became curious about the equivalent beer-drinking persona. Imagine my surprise to learn that one of the most popular terms for beer enthusiasts is “beer nerd!” The label doesn’t bother me personally, as I survived my adolescence as a “band geek” and have always been the “dorky older sister” to my hip younger siblings. Personal acceptance aside, I wondered: Are there informed beer drinkers out there who are offended by the potentially negative “beer nerd” description?

There is no simple answer, I discovered as I perused a popular Beer Advocate forum discussion on the topic (check out the Beer Nerds: Negative or Positive? thread here). At first it may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s widely agreed that “beer snob” is a negative term while “beer nerd” is positive. There are also those who prefer “beer guru,” “beer aficionado,” “beer geek,” and even “beer Jedi.” One Beer Advocate member explains the phenomenon quite well in saying that beer nerds are those who “talk about beer, not about how cool beer makes them.” This grounded sensibility, the unpretentiousness, is key.

Not quite sure how you fit into the beer nerdiness spectrum? Luckily, there’s a handy online quiz: So you think you know Beer?: Quiz for Beer Nerds. (I’m warning you, it’s really challenging!)

While hipsters across the globe may clutch their cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon for dear life, I’m happy to report that beer nerds can be found enjoying tasty craft brews, discussing a beer’s merits, and most certainly not trying to impress their fellow Jedi.

Question for readers: Besides “beer nerd,” is there another label that accurately describes your beer expertise?