Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Festival -- A Volunteer's Perspective

The Festival, a collaborative effort of Shelton Brothers Importers and 12 Percent Imports, took place on June 23 and 24, 2012, and featured over 70 artisan makers of beer, cider and mead. It's doubtful that there has been a better collection of beer offered in any other beer bash in history.
Armsby Abbey's tap list.
Armsby Abbey's tap list.
 We drove to Worcester, Mass. on Friday along with Joel Shelton and Stephan Michel, the brewer of Mahr's. We arrived in the early evening and met up with scores of brewers and Festival staffers at the Armsby Abbey, which is a few blocks from the Festival hall. The beer bistro was hosting a pre-Festival party in their side room, with a few kegs of Hill Farmstead's Edward Pale Ale free of charge. Though it was hard not to order from the bar, given the astonishing tap list -- 16 mind-blowing selections! Zero boring beers! On top of that, we had some incredibly delicious pizza and a savory mac & cheese dish.
Pre-party at Armsby Abbey's side room.
Also on Friday night, we stopped by a cider event a few doors down from Mechanics Hall at the Citizen Wine Bar, and a Danish beer event at Cigar Masters, next to the wine bar.
Pre-party at Armsby Abbey's side room.
Pre-party at Armsby Abbey's side room.
On Saturday morning at about 8am we made our way to Mechanics Hall, a 5 minute walk from the hotel. We had no idea about how beautiful, ornate and elegant the hall was to be! Built in 1857, it ranks as one of the top 12 concert halls between North America and Europe, thanks to its excellent acoustics. Soon, its a-brew-stics would be tested!
The main hall.

So... we're gunna fill this join with beer? O.K.

I can see Cantillon being served here.

Ticketmaster of the 1800s.

Sadly, nobody played Inna Gadda Da Vida.
Our early set up crew started out small, but eventually grew. Andrew and Big Jim ran the set-up show. And, man, what a project. We had to bring hundreds of cases, thousands of bottles, scores of kegs and a ton of ice to the roughly 75 stands!
A tangle of taps.
The feat of getting the tap lines set up was mind boggling! Our meager crew was eventually augmented with a massive corps of "citizen volunteers" in blue Festival shirts.
Volunteers - we love you.
We can't tell you how many blue-shirted volunteers there were (there were A LOT), but we can tell you this: they were a rock solid corps of dedicated, hard-working, "never say 'no'" people dedicated to getting the job done. We heard rumor of a few issues with a bad egg or two, but everyone who we worked with were pure of heart and dedicated to the mission of creating the best experience for both the patrons and the brewers. No event like this can be a success without people like that. That's a fact.
Empty tubs were distributed behind the tables of each brewery. Volunteers and staff brought pallets of cases and kegs from the refrigerated tractor-trailer at the loading dock up the freight elevator to Washburn Hall (3871 sq. ft.) on the 2nd floor, and to the Great Hall (8480 sq. ft.) on the 3rd.
The pallets were set down on each floor's kitchen, where workers took the boxes and kegs off and into their respective hall, to their appointed table. Other workers distributed the signage indicating the brewery, brewer and beers offered for each table, according to the floor plans. Yet other volunteers worked like a corps of ants bringing crumbs into the nest, shuttling between the ice truck and the halls with hand trucks stacked with six 35-lbs bags of ice. They'd drop their load as other worker-ants broke open the bags and distributed the ice around the beer, placed in the large plastic tubs. Where was NatGeo to record this?!
Don't worry Joel -- this is the EASY part.
Many of the volunteers were assigned the job of working the admission area, checking tickets, handing out glassware and guarding the doors. Some were conscripted to help the brewers pour beer. Many more were in charge of emptying out dump buckets and constantly refilling water coolers. Everyone did their part.

All the beer was kept in this refrigerated tractor-trailer.
Rebecca and Selena, who organized the volunteers, along with Big Jim and Andrew, did an incredible job at getting things done. There were a few other staffers, we think that some were from High and Mighty, who helped direct things as well. And many volunteers just jumped into problem-situations that needed to be rectified, and used common sense and muscle power to just git 'er done. It really was an unbelievable orchestration, and considering the complexity of the logistics and all the challenges, nothing really went wrong. Well, of course there were small issues, but by the end of the day, hundreds of visitors had sampled hundreds of beers, ciders and meads, and glowingly sauntered away quite content!
Ice had to be hauled from an ice truck, outside, to the halls. Ice sidewalk (hand) truckers.
Once set up was complete, we continued working to make sure that all the brewers had what they needed, and assisted them. But after a while, with things humming along, we were able to get out our own sample glasses and have at it! (That angle of the story is in part 2 of the blog post.) At the end of the 1st Saturday session, from noon to 4pm, we were charged with restocking the tables with beer  and ice, which was a scaled-down process, similar to the morning work.
There was absolutely no time for goofing around!
At the end of the 5:30pm-9:30pm Saturday session, there was a LOT of work to do, emptying out water in the tubs of melted ice, replenishing ice for the beer that would stay on the floor overnight, and cleaning up. But following a long day of hard work and sampling beer (some people consider them one in the same!), we were treated to another VIP party for the brewers and staff at Armsby, this time featuring High and Mighty's Beer of the Gods, gratis!
Seriously -- we were too wrapped up with work!
We'll tell you about our Festival experience that took place in between the work shifts in the next blog post. Prepare to be jealous!
The loading dock hockey stick. Yes... there was a $200 Warrior hockey stick
stashed on the dock, for God-knows-what purpose. Hockey and Beer...

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