See photos from the BrewHaHa in our slideshow.
This weekend beer lovers gathered at Galveston Island's Moody Gardens for what organizers hope will be the first of many Brewmasters International Beer Festivals. Eating Our Words was there too, and while Food and Vine Time Productions, the couple-owned company behind the event, have a few kinks to work out before their next endeavor, Saturday's BrewHaHa beer tasting was remarkably hiccup-free for a first-time event.
I arrived about half an hour after the doors opened (thanks to island-bound holiday traffic) to find the lobby of Moody Gardens' Convention Center clustered with people waiting in two long lines: one for will call pick-up, and one for ticket purchases. The event was scheduled from 3-6 p.m., but it didn't look like most of those people were going to make it out of line before the first hour of pours was up. Thankfully, I already had my ticket.
Once inside, I was given a tasting cup (the VIP vessel was five ounces, while the regular ticket holders got a tiny two-ounce beer stein) and a yellow punch card with 24 spots, each good for a 1-ounce sample. Then the waiting in line began again.
I consider myself a beer lover, though definitely not a beer knurd, and my plan was to try as many beers I'd never had before as possible. But with the Spec's-sponsored selection, that wasn't too easy. One whole wall of the tasting room was taken up by old standbys like Dos Equis and Budweiser.
And the way the festival was organized could use a little better planning. Some lines were staffed by volunteers from the Galveston County Food Bank, who no doubt deserve accolades but who were often woefully unprepared to answer questions about the beer they were pouring. On the other hand, some brewery reps were so intent on networking that their respective lines dragged on while they made small talk with the drinkers. I waited a very long time in one line only to find that the server was slowed by working the line next to me at the same time.
Some servers were sticklers about the pour amount and punch cards, meaning the people who bought the cheapest tickets paid $35 for roughly two beers. Those who splurged for VIP tickets found that the free food in the lounge was gone before the event was halfway over, just when people needed something other than beer to fill their bellies.
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This is not to say the event wasn't worthwhile, though not everyone agrees. Media relations liaison Kristi Moers told me the event drew more people than the organizers expected, and around 4:30 p.m. as the crowd in the room thickened, some of my friends were turned away because the tasting was sold out.
I had a great time at the event, mostly thanks to the camaraderie of other beer connoisseurs, who were there not to get wasted, but to discover some new brews and appreciate the rest. Local favorites Saint Arnold, Abita and Southern Star were represented, as were Left Hand Brewery, Full Sail Brewing and Pike Pub & Brewery, one of the few I'd never had before.
Early in the afternoon I met William Grasser and his wife, owners of Bubba's, the burger shack on Westpark under Interstate 59. Both were dressed in their Oktoberfest finest. Grasser told me the couple plans to go to the 50th anniversary of the New Braunfels Oktoberfest next month. They've haven't missed a year since 1972.
At 6 p.m. the event was barely winding down, and though many of the purveyors had run out of their most popular beers, most were still pouring. Workers collected spent bottles from the booths, dumping them into a large trash can in the back somewhere. The clink of the cascading bottles was musical -- enough that it provoked whoops and applause from nearly every reveler in the tasting room, a good indication most of them were having an enjoyable time. If this event continues next year, I plan to be there.