Going All In: Why Freedom is, Unsurprisingly, Great

Written by Lily Waite
Published on March 1, 2019

Hundreds of beers; one glass. The freedom that ‘all in’ festivals bring, as well as the sheer bonkers level of enjoyment, is worth the price tag.

My first experience with beer festivals was somewhat detached from the type of festival I, and we in the beer world, have come to know and love. As a teenager, I’d often go to the annual Food and Drink Festival in my hometown of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, with my dad. We’d wander around, gradually growing more and more exasperated by the overwhelming choice of great dishes, before we realised we’d filled ourselves with free samples of cheese. It was here that I first encountered big groups of people in a large tent, all gathered together for one purpose: enjoying booze.

It wasn’t until two years ago last week, however, that I went to my first beer festival. The number of breweries in attendance blew my inexperienced mind, and the range of beers on offer was incredibly exciting. With hundreds of beers just seconds away, it should have been wonderful, but with the pay-as-you-play format, I felt paralysed by choice. Which beers were worth paying for? What if I missed out on one beer because I bought another, and felt obligated to drink it? What if I ended up pissing away money?

Later that year, I came across the other option, at Beavertown’s first Extravaganza. Immediately, all of the above concerns were negated. Don’t like a beer? Fine! Tip it out and get another. Want to try both? Go for it, and then come back for more if you want. If my memory serves (I’ve since stopped using any beer ‘check in’ system), I tried over 65 beers that day, discovering new breweries, trying rare and exclusive beers, and making new friends.

The sheer unfettered access to some of the world’s best beer, all available to you for nothing at the point of service, is insane. At friends of We Are Beer Mikkeller’s Beer Celebration Copenhagen last year, the ability to wander up to the likes of The Alchemist, Fonta Flora, and TRVE Brewing and just grab a beer, is phenomenal.

Even if you are paralysed by choice, that’s ok! Just take baby steps: grab yourself a beer, wander round, chat to some brewers, and maybe grab another. Repeat as you wish, and you’ll quickly find yourself in (a responsibly enjoyed) heaven, discovering beers you could only dream of.

I can understand why grown adults run as soon as the doors open. I don’t condone it (safety first, of course), and nor would I find myself doing it—rather than run for one specific brewery’s stand, I’d more likely find myself darting in different directions like a dazed house fly: always at right angles, and never sure of what to do.

‘All in’ festivals have revolutionised beer festivals. We Are Beer’s co-founders Greg and Dan pioneered the format in the UK with the first London Craft Beer Festival in 2013 (Mikkeller beat them to it in Denmark by about a year)—it wasn’t until the fifth year of LCBF that Beavertown followed suit with their Extravaganza. Token-based and pay-as-you-go festivals will always have a place in the world of beer festivals, but with an increasing number of breweries, and subsequently greater choice, ‘all in’ is the perfect way to go.

For four or five hours of uninhibited access to phenomenal beer, as well as complete freedom to explore and enjoy whatever you fancy, the price tag is almost always worth it. Plus, if you buy your ticket in advance, on the day itself everything feels completely free…