Halifax Seaport Beerfest: the good, the bad and the expensive

Friday night I attended the 2011 Halifax Seaport Beerfest. Now in its fifth year, the event has three different times slots spanning two days where visitors can sample over 200 beer and cider options from 70 different breweries.

I was pretty excited to be there on the first evening. As I entered the site, the overall mood was good. Sadly by the end of the night I left with a very mixed impression. Why? Let’s face some facts.

The good
Location. Without a doubt being outside at the seaport facility was a highlight. The modern buildings flanking the beer tents, the cool breeze and live music made the evening very festive. A big plus!

Variety. Over 200 options is a lot to try in one night. If you decided not to latch onto a favourite, you could avoid having the same sample twice.

Brewery reps. When the folks serving up the ales had time to speak with me I was always greeted with a smile and pleasant chit-chat.

Food. Nice to see that local restaurants were there selling their chow. Everything I tasted was really good and the service was pretty damn quick considering the crowds. There could easily have been only real slop or fast-food available. Thankfully there wasn’t. The quality was amazing. However…

The bad
Food prices, my biggest gripe. All over the city street meat typically costs $3.50 to $4.00 for a full wiener with bun. Fid Restaurant was selling what looked like less than half of a sausage on a tennis ball sized bun with not one condiment available for $5.00 each. Even though they were delicious that price was just plain wrong and inexcusable. Shameful.

Missing local breweries. Granite and Propeller were missing. What gives?

Crowds. Within a short time it became clear that the vast majority of attendees were just drinkers out to start the weekend piss-up. Not that I disapproved of that but I would have hoped for more of a connoisseur set with less pushing, shoving and brutal lineups.

Signage. With so many samples there could have been more clarity for what I was waiting in line to try. Especially at the pavilions. The Maine, Ontario and Quebec tents had no overhead signage so I didn’t know what line I was until it was my turn. At that point I felt rushed to choose a beer because of all the people waiting behind me.

Samples. I suppose limits are required but after a long line attendees were typically poured about an once of beer. Even with this small amount most tents were out of some beers halfway through the night.

Event price. $50 bucks including taxes was a lot to pay just to attend. Couple that with expensive food, the lineups, poorly displayed information and meager samples meant the event was just not worth the money.

The Halifax Seaport Beerfest was okay but really could use some improvements. A clearer focus on pricing, organization and signage would be places to start. Also the event could be marketed better to those who want the opportunity to really taste beer and discuss it. Being one of that crowd I felt left out. I admit, “all you can drink” is an attractive draw to the party crowd out to lay down an evening’s foundation but in the end that made it hard to take the event seriously.

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