The 3rd Annual Mankato Craft Beer Expo stormed through town last Saturday; by Wednesday, optimal hydration has been regained, and a recap (of sorts) is finally on tap.
This was one of many festivals organized by Chop Liver, Inc., and it’s doubtful that ours was the most exciting incarnation. Logistical issues kept the event from breaking the “moderately enjoyable” barrier, and often, the it felt more like a live-action commercial than a celebration. Here are a few takeaways from the festivities:
Springing for the VIP pass–an extra ten bucks–was a solid idea. You’re already spending a hefty chunk of cash on the fest to begin with, so receiving an hour of early access was beneficial for hardcores that had their eyes on certain brews, as well as casuals craving an hour’s worth of sweet, sweet personal space. (More on that later.)
The swag game was weak. For $45, you should walk out of there with something more than a six-ounce glass plastered with Pub 500’s logo. A coaster. A bottle opener. Something. Furthermore, there were only a handful of vendors hawking merch and independent wares, meaning that if you wanted to haul something home, your options were pretty limited.
The minimal merch presence rendered the $10 designated driver pass practically worthless; there was no reason to come to this event if you were planning on maintaining your sobriety, which is a shame. The DD-centric booth was serving orange Fanta and animal crackers. In the future, Chop Liver might be wise to wrangle a gourmet soda crew or two, or, at the very least, someone with a coffee maker.
This event was really best for people on the farthest reaches of the beer fandom spectrum: Noobs looking to expand their horizons and make new discoveries, and total nerds that read the program in advance in order to hunt specific brews like guided missiles. For people that sit comfortably in the middle, it was just a fun Saturday diversion. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t without excitement…
Clear victor at Mankato’s Craft Beer Expo: Finch’s Hardcore Chimera. And Natedogs. Always Natedogs.
— Jordan Campbell (@wolfpockets) January 17, 2015
…but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I just paid a bunch of companies to pitch me their products. This was largely a side effect of the setup and the venue. The floor of the Verizon Wireless Center is simply too small to make this an enjoyable experience. People were crammed tight, with little room to walk freely. There were no sights to take in. There was nowhere to sit. And there were probably a total of two cocktail tables on the floor. People were just forced to mill from booth-to-booth and have awkward encounters with one another.
Social awkwardness is a real thing, even for people that are relatively adept. Mankato’s small. You’re going to run into cool people on the regular, whether you’re familiar with each other from work, mutual friends, or simply being out on the town. “Drinking beer” isn’t exactly the most obscure hobby out there, so if you’re a local, the Expo was filled with people with which you’d have varying degrees of familiarity.
With each close-quarters encounter with a recognizable human, you’d have to make a series of snap decisions: Should you just wave and say hello? Should you go for the stop-and-chat?
If so, how long should you keep riding it out? Who makes the exit? And when? And if you’re more familiar with the person, how long do you hang before you go your separate ways? Is there an easy way to break a social interaction when you’re sardine-canned into an iceless hockey rink filled with drunk people? It’s not like there are a whole lot of things that demand your immediate attention.
Mankato has a burgeoning craft beer base, and the near-capacity crowd for this event is proof. If Chop Liver brings it back next year, they’d be wise to move it out of the confines of the arena, as well as the winter months. Scoot the event forward to late spring / early summer and set up shop in the woefully underutilized / under-promoted Vetter Stone Amphitheater. This will give the musical acts the ability to shine and actually be heard, provide a more linear structure for the vendor booths, and enable attendees to enjoy the wares in a more comfortable, relaxed environment. Would it compete with that Down in the Valley Craft Beer and Music Festival from last September that no one attended? Absolutely. That’s kind of the point.
See you next year…?
[Correction-ish: Since the redjacket fact-checker is on permanent vacation, our neighborhood bartender-in-chief, Sam, helpfully noted that Down in the Valley was co-promoted by Chop Liver, rendering the notion of competition between the two events completely asinine. So, get used to these beer events being set to unwashed, hipster-meets-hippie, folk-ass pseudo-Americana for the foreseeable future.]