This year there were three noticeable changes:
1) The start time was moved to 3pm instead of noon on Friday
2) It was held in the Discovery Forest portion of the gardens instead of in a large tent and permanent building
3) Each ticket was good for a 2oz sample (a full glass remained 4 tickets)
The second change, setting up "tasting cottages," each housing the beers/ciders from three breweries in Rediscovery Forest upped the appeal tenfold. No longer relegated to fitting rectangular tables into a square or rectangle structure, the "tasting cottages" were spread along a slightly curving, woodchip-lined lane under the towering trees. An added bonus is that since dogs are allowed in the gardens, dogs were allowed at the festival and it afforded our new pup his first beer festival experience.
The final change was that the tasting marking on the festival glasses (real glass pints) was significantly lower to the bottom than in the past, allowing for 2oz instead of the standard 3 or 4. At first take I was a little irritated but in practice the reduced amount meant I was able to try more beers before reaching my limit. I suspect part of this decision may have been influenced by the varying price of the kegs. It seems lately more and more festivals are charging varying numbers of tickets for the same size sample. I can do math and I get it; nevertheless I do feel a little nickel-and-dimed when I get to a festival only to discover at least half of the beers I planned to try are double or triple the number of tickets (I've yet to see the number of tickets each beer will cost posted in advance). This is an alternate way to deal with the issue of pricier kegs and keeps things simple for everyone involved. I'm not saying I love it but I do think I prefer it to the alternative, more widely used option.
One final note, this year's Brewer's Tasting Dinner was the best to date. I'll try to find the time in the next few days to put together a post of the deliciousness to share with you.