We went to a beer festival this past weekend, and it was amazing.
Oh, sure, we could have written that statement dozens (hundreds?) of times in the past, but since the pandemic arrived, we haven’t had the opportunity. The last sampling festival any of us could recall was WinterBrew in January 2020, while the last tasting event was the Stout Invitational one month later. Then, boom, the world stopped, and beer festivals seemed to go the way of the dinosaur.
After I got back from vacation and felt sufficiently recovered from all the East Coast beers that I consumed — Brew Dog’s Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32% ABV) and Samuel Adams Utopias (26% ABV) were included — it came time to see what was up for the weekend. I read Reid’s preview of Ullr Fest, which had returned for the first time since the fall of 2019, and started to think “why not head up there?”
With Erin in tow and Luke meeting us there (he got to ride up with the Hidden Mountain brew team), we arrived at our first beer festival in almost two years.
It was glorious.
Well, the weather being perfect (not too cold, not too hot) certainly helped, but you could just feel the buzz of excitement in the crowd. We took the shuttle up from the parking lot of the Los Alamos High School football stadium, letting someone else navigate the winding roads to the Pajarito Ski Area. Upon arrival there was a line up the stairs as security checked IDs and, perhaps more importantly these days, our vaccination status. Only one older gentleman was denied entry; otherwise the crowd was cooperative and in a positive mood.
We paid the $20 admission, picked up our mugs with the free full pour ticket, and ascended the final stairs to the spacious outdoor area. It was full of happy beer drinkers, some dressed in proper viking costumes, and many people brought their amazing dogs.
There was something so familiar, yet so new to all of it. There we were, taking stock of the brewery canopies to see that all nine of the promised participants were present. Brewers and other staff members were manning the jockey boxes, pouring out small samples for some, filling mugs for others. We had seen most of them over the past couple years, but in a way, we were seeing them in a more natural environment here. In the past, you could sometimes sense a reluctance for brewery staff members to be serving at festivals. Now you could sense the joy that they had in being back.
The lines were short and moved quickly. Folks covered the hillside, some sitting on blankets, others milling about, making new friends out of strangers. There were pictures, and toasts, and lots of requests to pet the many, many dogs. Our old friend Thad Hahn and the rest of the organizers did an amazing job of putting things together, and a huge thanks goes out to all of them, and the participating breweries — Bathtub Row, Beer Creek, Boese Brothers, Boxing Bear, Canteen, Hidden Mountain, Red River, Second Street, and Tumbleroot.
We made our way up and down the line of brewery booths, drinking a mighty gaggle of marzens and festbiers, sampling other styles that intrigued us, and listening to music from the band up on the deck by the cafe. We did remember to take some time to stop for a bite to eat, though we probably should have remembered to apply some sunscreen while we paused. In a way, though, we were having too much fun to stop, seeing our old friends again, indulging in a little beer oasis away from the chaos thousands of feet blow.
It was the way things were meant to be again, a respite from the world, a time to just enjoy life and nature and the camaraderie of our beer-loving community. It was another rejuvenating shot in the arm after a long stretch of frustration, confusion, and darkness.
Welcome back, beer festivals. We missed you.