Monday, June 15, 2015

Constructive Criticism for Portland Fruit Beer Festival

Last weekend marked the 5th Annual Portland Fruit Beer Festival, which I've mentioned is one of my favorite festivals. Again this year I enjoyed it (overall) but I noticed more and more issues that are quickly eroding my enjoyment. Generally I play by the old saying, "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all," so what follows is intended to fall into the realm of constructive criticism instead of bashing/complaining/bitching/being mean.

Tickets per sample
It seemed to me like there were a lot more beers that required two or more tickets for a sample this year. While I haven't specifically counted in the past what I found this year was that of the 27 Main Beer Taplist beers/ciders/others at least seven required two tickets and four required three tickets. That's over 1/3 of the beers, enough to give me the feeling like I'm getting nickeled and dimed. Don't get me wrong, I understand a lot of fruit beers have a higher production cost, all I'm saying is that it's bad enough we have to deal with the OLCC's ticketing crap (entry price covers all, please). If there are that many beers that are more expensive, why not raise the entry ticket price a couple of bucks? With the number of people that attend this event I suspect the numbers would balance.

Lack of shade
It was my bad that I forgot to put sunscreen on before I went to the festival but in my defense I know in past years that by getting there when the gates opened on Saturday I should be able to secure a (usually high top) table that was tucked under a tent. Not so this year. All of the high tops were out in the full sun, even at 11 am, and I counted myself lucky to snag a barrel that at least offered shade for the new ink on my leg, my most important consideration all day. Sure, Burnside has a nice set up with their year-round picnic tables under the tent but there needed to have been another tent of equal size erected for this event. It was a gorgeous, sunny weekend but we all know heat and sun are the enemies of outdoor beer drinkers.

Venue size
It's great that the organizers were able to use the car lot across 7th street (a 40% increase in size by their calculations) but it was still not enough. More specifically, it's the shape and overall layout of buildings and streets that no longer works for a festival as popular as this.

Sidewalk crossing snafu
If you attended surely you saw or were made aware by the alcohol monitors of the "No Beer On Crosswalk. Finish Beer First." signs. Apparently the sidewalk that sits between the car lot and 7th is a "public sidewalk" and the organizers were unable to secure a permit that would effectively close that sidewalk to people not attending the festival. This essentially negated the addition of the car lot space as people were unable to freely roam, beer in glass, between the two areas of the festival. Seriously, how many times has EVERYONE in your group had an empty glass at the same time, allowing them to migrate? I never even went to that area specifically because of this.

Only 22 minutes into the festival on Saturday
Line length
Again, I applaud the festival organizers for creating such a hugely popular festival. The problem (compounded by the aforementioned issues) is that very early in - I'm talking within two hours of gates open on Saturday - the lines to get beer were already an issue. An hour later I switched to full pours because I couldn't stomach the wait (in the hot sun no less) for just a sample.

That concludes one of the very few disparaging posts you'll see from me. And as I said at the beginning I hope that if the festival organizers read this they'll take it as constructive criticism, as it was intended, and make significant changes to the event before next year. I'd really like to continue attending.


  1. Great commentary.You describe exactly what I feared and suspected, although I'm mystified on the issue with shade. That's insane. I'm glad I didn't attend. It's time for this event to move.

    1. Thanks, Pete. Fingers crossed next year they'll be touting a move.

  2. This isn't the first time I've seen a beer festival outgrow itself, so maybe this is attributable to ongoing growing pains, but your observations are generally spot-on. It's probably time for a move. The silliest thing was that no-beer zone on the sidewalk. I've seen some bafflingly stupid regulatory foolishness before - in British Columbia, you can only get one beer filled at a time! - but in relatively progressive Portland, Oregon? That was just wacky dumbassery on the part of the powers that be.

  3. Yes!!!!! This festival has always been my favorite, and you definitely hit the nail on the head with your commentary - I hope they see this post! I went on Friday and within a half hour of open the lot was at capacity (which, on one end is great! So popular! But on the other, you had no idea who was standing in line or just trying to be out of the way). I can also say that the last 2 yrs I have also got blistering sunburns from the lack of shade available. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  4. While all of these things would be great to address some of them are just plain impossible or unrealistic within the constraints of a festival. I mostly agree with moving the festival, thats about the only thing that could address a lot of these issues. But some of your other points show a lack of understanding of pricing, cost and city regulations. For instance, charging a couple more bucks for entrance would not make up for the lost revenue of kegs that are running $100 over standard pricing. Now maybe if you upped the entry fee by $12 ie $2 per ticket that would, but then not nearly as many people would attend and you would all be bitching about that. That idea also doesnt work for people, can you imagine if all the beer bars just started charging you a $12 cover but all the beers costed $5 across the board? Not only would most people balk at entering but your forcing customers who might not want the expensive beer to eat the cost for others. I would rather just charge based on the cost of the actual beer, which is what we do, and let people make up their own mind. Last, your right organizers werent able to obtain a permit to shut the sidewalk because one does not exist. You must always leave either one lane of the street or a sidewalk open. No way to get around this and yes its a stupid rule. Last, I agree and disagree with your statement about shade, unfortunately the shade does not stay in the same spot, what is shady one part of the day is not later on. Also there is very little areas in that space that have any shaded. Actually there is probably not any shaded areas except for on the sides of buildings where vendors must be placed (it wouldnt work to have them in the middle of the lot for obvious flow reasons). I do think more shade could be added with pop-up tents and I think that can be addressed. Finally, if it does move to a park then prices will seriously have to increase and then everyone will complain about that.

    1. There ain't a whole lot you can do about pricing just exactly for the reasons you mentioned, but PFBF isn't the first festival that's been sort of a victim of its own success, and the venue issues are the tougher ones to overcome. Pricing is its own peculiar weirdness, and really, when I was pouring 3-ticket beer & cider and asked for that extra ticket, I really didn't get a lot of pushback from the attendees. In the end, though, the fact that it _was_ crowded speaks for itself. People like the festival and had a really good time, and I hope there weren't too many rowdy @$$h0les that had to be quickly escorted off-premises.

      I'll tell you this, above all: I had a great time being a festival volunteer and would do it again in a heartbeat, no matter where you hold it.

    2. You seem a little defensive, Samurai Artist. So, how much did you personally clear from the festival?

  5. I didn't attend this year because of many of the reasons you so tactfully discussed. Multiple elbows poking into my ribs and no escape from the blazing sun equals not such a fun time for me.