What it takes to put on the Calgary International Beerfest…


There’s nothing quite like a beer festival. We love them. We love organizing them. We love attending them. We travel to other festivals for ‘research’. It’s a great way to meet people. It’s always a great time.


Every year when we put on our festivals, I’m lucky enough to run into some old friends I haven’t seen in a while. I’m usually running somewhere, but I always make a point to stop for a minute and catch up. Invariably, someone will ask me to go have a sample with them, to which I respond with a smile, “Can’t now. How about I bring a 6 pack to your office Monday morning?” To this, they usually reply, “But I’ll be working.” Then they we have a laugh as they get the joke and realise that they just asked me to have a drink in ‘my office’.


This often gets me thinking about the fact that most people don’t really know what I do (hi Mom!), or what it takes to put on an event like the Calgary International Beerfest (or any of the many other amazing beer festivals out there around the world!).


We’re incredibly proud of the festivals we organize, and since our biggest event, the Calgary International Beerfest, is only a few days away, we thought we would share a few insights into what it takes to put on a festival of this size.


Planning – Believe it or not, the planning for this year’s festival began before last year’s festival. Implementing ideas for events of this size is a lot like trying to stop a train – it takes way longer than you usually want it to. People will make great suggestions just before and at the festival – we’ll put them in what we call the Parking Lot Folder, and try to implement them the following year. Some of the big ideas we’re implementing this year that we thought up last year are: chocolate pairings in the Rickard’s Cooking with Beer Seminars, private VIP washrooms, and of course the new Craft Distillery District featuring 16 of Alberta’s growing craft distillery industry. And since the Banff Craft Beer Festival in November of last year, 6 full time staff and over 15 interns and captains have been working long hours to put this event together.


Exhibitors – Our jobs would be a lot easier if we just allowed everyone who wanted into the show in. Problem is, that wouldn’t make for as good of a festival. We take pride in what we do, and we actively partner and seek out like-minded brewers, distillers, eateries, and industry leaders. Our President tries to meet with every single exhibitor to get to know what their goals are for the event, share our ideas and vision, then work with them to help them build their business using our events.  It’s a long and arduous process – but one that has led to us developing many friendships in the industry built on mutual trust.


Getting the Doors Open – When you’re at the show next week, take a moment to look around. Make note of all the ‘things’ you see – tables, chairs, posters, banners, cups, beer, spirits, food, electricity, sinks, draping, volunteers, cleaners, ice, scanners, seminar areas, distillery district, large screen TVs, the token areas, the staff, the map, the tokens, the on-site liquor store, the cask stage, the liquor license, approval from Fire/Police/Health, Beer University…. now realize that each of those ‘things’ not only had to be built/called/printed/designed/brewed/distilled/cooked/scheduled/loaded/moved/set-up/plugged in/hung/prepared/approved, but they had to be done so that everything would come together in the same place at the same time for the over 43,000+ people who attend the show every year – and done in a way so that each of them could get a great experience. It isn’t easy. A team of 45 ABF Captains set up their respective areas at the festival, and they are joined by 200 volunteers, and over 800 exhibitors, plus Stampede security/usher/cleaner/catering/managerial staff and other staff so that by the time you walk through the door, everything is in place.


The more I think about it, the more I should take it as a compliment that people think it couldn’t be that hard to put on a festival. Must mean we are making it look easy. And to be honest, before I started organizing festivals myself, I probably had little to no clue what it took. When people come, all we really want is for them to have a great time. They sample the amazing beers, spirits, ciders, meads, food and more. They find a new favorite. They listen to great local artists. They watch the playoffs on the big screen. They play games. They learn something in Beer U or one of the seminars. But probably the most important thing, at least in our opinion, is that they come together as a community to have that great time. We wanted to build a festival the city could be proud of – and now, with the addition of the Jasper Beer & Barley Summit coming in 2018 to go along with the Calgary International Beerfest, the Edmonton Craft Beer Festival, Calgary Oktoberfest, Edmonton Oktoberfest (both now with full pints!) and the Banff Craft Beer Festival, we have 6 incredible festivals Albertans can be proud of.


For tickets to our spring festivals, visit:


Get Tickets At: www.myshowpass.com/2017-calgary-international-beerfest


Get Tickets At: www.myshowpass.com/2017-edmonton-craft-beer-festival


And keep up to date with everything happening in the Alberta beer community by following us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram at @ABBeerfestivals


To get the most out of your Beerfest experience, download the JustBeer APP for an interactive map, times of important highlights at the festival, a full exhibitor list, and keep track of your favorite beers at the event.   www.justbeerapp.com


And if you want to join the team and volunteer – visit: www.albertabeerfestivals.com/contact/get-involved/volunteer


Thanks and hope to see you at one of our events soon.


Bill Robinson