The World Beer Festival buffet: Drink Like a Champion Today!

When our family goes to an all-you-can-eat buffet, at least one of our sons makes the quintessential rookie mistake: loading up on bread. When I ask why he’s not piling his plate full of steak or seafood (both of which he likes), he just shrugs, “I dunno, these rolls are good.” This is the same mindset some of us unfortunately bring to World Beer Festival. This year’s extravaganza is the 20th annual – Sat. 10/10 @ Durham Bulls Athletic Park.


The Bull City Homebrew crew circa 2012, getting happy with Kyle’s Famous Hot Pepper Porter.

This is the ultimate liquid buffet, so make good choices, people! I’m not just talking about consuming responsibly, which goes without saying. Get a game plan ahead of time, look at what’s there, pinpoint like a crazed Black Friday shopper what you want to try, stay focused. I like New Belgium’s Ranger IPA as much the next person, but I have a limited amount of beer I can consume at this thing, and I’m not going to be drinking a beer I can find everywhere. Instead, I’ll steer myself to Four Saints Brewing Company’s “Stout One,” featuring coffee, cacao nibs and vanilla beans, then Rivertowne’s “Hala Kahiki,” a pineapple ale. Go find the stuff you can’t find so easily the other 364 days of the year. Hit them early, too, while your taste buds are still keen.

When WBF started 20 years ago, the festival featured dozens of brews you just couldn’t get around here. It was (and still is) a beer geek’s paradise. I tried Smuttynose’s Old Brown Dog and New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk long before they ever appeared on a shelf near me. The luster of the festival is still there, but much of what’s available at WBF is also at Sam’s Quik Shop or another bottle shop.

Another reason to leisurely attack certain tables (and avoid others) with the precision of a Smart Bomb is simply the endurance factor. My first WBF in my 20’s, I did what lots of other 20-somethings did – try everything I could based on impatience. If there was a short line, I bellied up, and ultimately paid the price the next morning. Good thing I had a designated driver. Think I took down PBR, Heineken, Fat Tire, lots of common stuff. Basically, I feasted on rolls. #RookieMistake.

As a relative lightweight tipping the scales at 145 pounds, pacing myself is crucial. Sure, some of the more sought-after beers may have longer lines, but so what? Use that to your advantage. You’ve entered a 4-hour drinking session, so going slow when it comes to drinking beer is actually a nice strategy. While the hare is passed out near the port-a-potties, the tortoise is sipping something barrel-aged.

As a homebrewer I like chatting up the beers with the reps that are pouring. Many of the tables are staffed by volunteers who may not know what hops are used in the DIPA, but other breweries send employees who can drop some serious knowledge about the beverages they serve. That’s how I found that Lone Rider’s Sweet Josie Brown is made without adjuncts (Yes, I know, you can get Sweet Josie anywhere in the Triangle, but I really like that beer. Yes, I broke my own rule. Little leeway here, please for a high quality beverage).

Reviewing our game plan: relax, meander, saunter, try some new beers, new styles, be curious, pace yourself, sample stuff you can’t find so easily. OK, to show proficiency here’s your final exam; pick one of the following beers you’d try if given the choice:


Pliny the Elder

If you circled Pliny, congratulations! No, you won’t find either at WBF, but you get the idea. Trick is to avoid the PBRs altogether. Eat the filet mignon, not the yeast rolls. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you should drink it because you can’t drink it all.


Go forth, seek the greatness beneath the nylon.

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