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Posted at 4:18 PM ET, 10/ 3/2008

Breaking News: Oktoberfest Crackdown

By Fritz Hahn

If you're looking forward to sampling beers from 40 different breweries at the Capitol City Brewing Company's Oktoberfest in Shirlington tomorrow, be warned: The days of unlimited tastes are over.

For the last five years, attendees paid one price for admission and a tasting glass, and then could wander through the festival and try any beer that struck their fancy until last call. Not any more.

Earlier today, the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control told Brewer Mike McCarthy that Cap City would not receive the licenses it needed to hold the festival if it allowed attendees to taste as many beers as they wanted.

"The ABC raked us over the coals at the 11th hour," McCarthy said in a phone call. He says he was told that each person who pays the $25 admission can have no more than 10 tastes of beer all day. Period.

McCarthy is baffled by the ruling, pointing out that patrons of last weekend's Northern Virginia Brewfest got unlimited tastings for one price, as did patrons of the Vintage Crystal wine festival in Crystal City the weekend before. He attributes the change to the arrival of a new ABC officer who's not familiar with the festival, and adds that, as in previous years, Capitol City "has the support of the police who work here. They love it."

Because Oktoberfesters will receive less beer, Capitol City has lowered the price of admission to $20, which includes those 10 tickets, and beers in the brewpub will be $2 all day.

With a finite number of opportunities to drink, though, this year's festival is going to lose the element of exploration that made it so exciting -- the chance to happen upon a beer you'd never tried before, or the decision to taste a new seasonal beer on a whim. When you've only got 10 chances, with no do-overs, you need to be more cautious with your tickets.

So I asked McCarthy to put himself in the shoes of an Oktoberfest patron. What would he spend his 10 tickets on?

"Well, I'd go to Chimay and Spaten -- they have a tent together, and I'd use a ticket on a Chimay. I'd go to Oskar Blues, because they're going to have the Ten Fidy imperial stout. I'd go to Capitol City Brewing Co (laughs), I'd hit up Troegs, because I really like their beers. I'd go to Stone Brewing, and Bell's [Brewing], and I'd definitely go to District Chophouse. [Barrett Laurer]'s beers are really good this year. Dogfish head is going, go have their Pumpkin Ale, which people love. Bear Republic, from California. And Allagash. You can't go wrong with Allagash."

-- Fritz

By Fritz Hahn  | October 3, 2008; 4:18 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs  
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Wait a second...this doesn't even make any sense. Wine Festivals are allowed to give out as many samples as they want...why is it different for this? Is there anyone we can complain to?

Posted by: WTF??!!! | October 3, 2008 4:26 PM | Report abuse

I'd start with

Posted by: Fritz | October 3, 2008 4:33 PM | Report abuse

I volunteered to pour beers at the NOVA Brewfest last weekend. If you were at the New Holland tent early on Saturday or the Specialty Distributing tent (Bluegrass, Original Sin and Boulder) early on Sunday, you probably saw me pouring and answering questions. Beer samples (~4oz, I think) were $1 each. You could have as many as you wanted, but you had to keep buying tickets. It was not "all you can drink" for one price.

Now, I seriously love beer. I love it enough to spend an entire weekend on my feet pouring beers. But I am not sold on unlimited tasting. Most venues aren't really accessible to public transportation, most people drive to beer tastings and should be sober when they do. That's easier to do when you're monitoring your consumption with beer tickets. Also, unlimited tasting can lead to really obnoxious behavior. I'm all about having a fun time at beer fests, but unlimited tastings can lead some people to ruin it for others. Using tickets is a smart way to help people keep track of their drinks and keep things under control.

I'm not saying this because I'm one of those MADD types who want to discourage drinking entirely. Far from it. I want people to drink more beer, specifically good craft beer. I want people to drink more good craft beer because it's very tasty and relaxing in moderation. But if a few irresponsible people drink too much and kill some people on the drive home, or start swinging at fellow attendees while they are still at the fest, it's going to ruin things for the rest of us responsible beer lovers. So please, I beg you: buy and drink more good beer. Drink it often. Drink it in moderation. Have a designated driver, get sober before you drive, or, best option, take public transportation. No one is paying me to say this, and I'm not employed by any beer festival or brewery or trade organization. I am just a concerned citizen who loves beer, who wants to keep going to festivals, and who wants to see people coming back to them each year.

Posted by: Bill | October 3, 2008 4:50 PM | Report abuse

even $1 per sample doesn't mean you'll be sober at a beerfest. At the NOVA beerfest in June we spent at least 7 hours there drinking w/about $30 spent on tickets for 2 people, along with the free ones given w/our entrance fee and from friends.

Unlimited or paid samples, it's the responsibility of each individual to monitor themselves. Get a ride there.. get a DD.. buy a pocket breathalyzer to keep track of your blood alcohol level. The government needs to quit acting like a babysitter.

Posted by: Me | October 3, 2008 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Bill, I think what Mike meant -- or the way I took it -- is that you could buy all the tickets you wanted at NOVA. Sure, you paid for them, but you could buy more if there were beers you wanted to try. For the Oktoberfest, the ABC said "no more than 10 beers," period, which was not the case at the Brewfest, or Vintage Crystal, or Vintage Virginia, etc.

I agree with you 100 percent about moderation. My least favorite part of the Oktoberfest is getting there on public transportation. But my feeling is that saying "no more than 10 beers" means more people are going to be dropping tickets at the Sam Adams or Abita or Sierra Nevada tents, since those are known quantities, and not taking chances discovering Stoudt's, Smuttynose or New Holland. That, to me, is the reason to go to a beer festival, even if there is the potential for abuse by a few knuckleheads.

Posted by: Fritz | October 3, 2008 5:18 PM | Report abuse

My wife and I have poured and attended more than our fair share of beer festivals, but never have we been to one that limited the number of samples you were allowed. I think that takes away from the whole idea of a beer festival, to sample many beers and expand our knowledge of beers.

Yes there are those that will overconsume, but based on experience there are more people there to sample and have a good time, vice "drink drink and more drink".

"Boo" to the VA ABC.

Posted by: Oskee I | October 3, 2008 5:43 PM | Report abuse

It took about thirty seconds of research on their website to find the phone number for the Alexandria regional ABC office that oversees Arlington. They can be reached by telephone at 703-313-4432.

No one answered when I phoned, and the office won't reopen until 8:15 Monday morning, but you can leave a message.

Posted by: Tell VA's ABC What You Think | October 3, 2008 7:55 PM | Report abuse

At the REAL Oktoberfest last year, 1 beer was about $10 US, and was equal to about 40 OZ...

Posted by: beergirlie | October 3, 2008 10:44 PM | Report abuse

yeah the festival wasn't as good this year and I won't be returning because of this stupid new rule

Posted by: youknow_who | October 5, 2008 3:00 PM | Report abuse

I was disappointed by the festival for 3 reasons. First was this new rule, which I didn't find out about until I got in line, having walked 50 minutes to get there (I like walking, it was a nice day, and no need to risk driving tipsy). I paid $20 for a 4 oz glass (5 oz plus head space) which makes 2.5 pints and a free glass for $20. Second, I tried to track down all of the Oktoberfest beers and/or beers that are not regularly available in our area and struggled. I easily found 10 I liked, but I was hoping for some actual Oktoberfest or "fest" beers. Third, as the festival gets bigger, some organizational things have to change. I lost something and there was no lost and found. I went to each ticket booth and one recommended I goto Cap City to ask. The bouncer (who was a bit rude) wouldn't let me ask at the front desk without standing in the line to get in. They were at capacity from 3pm to 6:30pm (when I left), which was the reason for the line, so I wasn't able to ask until the next morning when I could stop by again.

I like Cap City. This has been one of my favorite festival for years, but if nothing changes for next year, I won't go back. It has gotten too crowded but the organizers are expanding the area so they're trying to resolve that problem - I think that once the Ballston Blocktoberfest stopped being held (on the same day usually), a lot of the crowd started going to Shirlington Oktoberfest.

Posted by: Arlington, VA S | October 6, 2008 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Besides the lines being absolutely insane (even more so than previous years) and the tasting are now limited to what the government says we should have, I'm done with this festival. Time to find something new and more exicting.

Posted by: Arlington | October 6, 2008 10:10 AM | Report abuse

My buddies and I didn't even bother to pay for the event. We went straight to the Cap City bar at noon for a good 3-4 hours. Unfortunately, not all of their beers were $2 like we had originally thought. The ones I really wanted were full price (Hefe, Belgium, and one other). Kolsch, Pale, Oatmeal, Oktoberfest were $2.

Posted by: Josh | October 6, 2008 10:47 AM | Report abuse

I was as much disappointed with Cap City as I was with the ABC. While the rule is ridiculous, Cap City handled it very poorly. As of 9 that morning, their website was still promoting the old system; they didn't send out an email to those on their list notifying of the change; and they wouldn't honor the $5-off coupon sent out previously.

It turns out that the tickets were not the barrier to limit tastings that we thought it would be. Several vendors weren't paying a lot of attention to tickets and many people were just freely giving away their extras. What was unfortunate was that my boyfriend and I spent the first hour scouting the brews so that we wouldn't waste our tickets on beers we've already had or can get easily. By the time we got in line to start drinking, the number of people there was outrageous. I don't know that limiting entry is the best solution, but they certainly need to have a better layout. There wasn't enough room for most lines to maintain order and still allow walk-throughs.

And chalk this up to unintended consequences: in years past, we would pour out any beer that wasn't a huge hit for us; this time we drank them all so as to feel like we were getting our money's worth.

Posted by: mspatterson | October 6, 2008 1:46 PM | Report abuse

I don't see what the big deal is about the tickets. With the INSANE amount of people that crush into Shirlington for the festival, the lines are so ridiculously long that there's no difference between 10 tickets and unlimited anyway. Even the line for a bratwurst looked to be at least a 1/2 hour wait. Plus, if idiots want to stick with the known quantities, that's fine with me. Leave the lines for the interesting beers shorter for the rest of us. I won't go back again, and I live a five minute walk from Shirlington. It's just not a fun time, and it has nothing to do with whether or not it's all you can drink.

Posted by: spectater | October 7, 2008 9:37 AM | Report abuse

I have attended every Shirlington Oktoberfest but will not attend next year. As a responsible adult, I took Metro and a bus to Shirlington so as to not have to drive. I found out, like most, that there was a 10 ticket limit while in line to enter the festival. I left the festival early. As another commentor pointed out, 10 4 oz. beers is less than four cans of beer spread over several hours (due to the lines). What a bargain, huh?And who needs a nanny state ABC. Does the ABC limit the number of beers a customer can have in a bar or at any other event? Forget it. This was my last year for this event. Fortunately, Frederick's In The Street and The Taste of Bethesda are both the same day.

Posted by: Peter | October 10, 2008 10:18 AM | Report abuse

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