Another beer festival, just weeks after the first in years? Yes, indeed!
We’ve previously participated in Hagstravaganza via their virtual/at-home Boxtravaganza option, but being in person is a very different beast, in all the best ways. Well, most of the best ways – there were so many people to catch up with and so many breweries I adore, but rarely get to see here in Ireland that there simply wasn’t time to really say hello to everyone nor savour everything, but this is a Good Problem to Have.
First, though, to the logistics; while Fidelity was an easy stroll from my house, The White Hag’s brewery is located in Sligo, so a good 2-hour-plus train ride from Dublin, each way. However, this proved to be very simple indeed, thanks to some good advance planning and – shock – actual communication about how to get to and from the location via public transit; this is not at all a given in Ireland, even though it certainly should be. Train options and their timing were clearly described, as were the ‘stay local’ alternatives, complete with themed pub crawls for those up for continuing their tasting journeys after finishing up at the festival. I certainly don’t have the stamina for staying out late even without all-day drinking, but fair play to those who can! I was very pleased to be able to take my time in the morning – get in a run and copious amounts of tea before meandering to the train – and still arrive shortly after Hagstravaganza kicked off. Even better, I could catch the train by my house, rather than having to go into Connolly; this was even better coming home, though with slightly more drama than expected, but more on that later.
So, on to Hagastravaganza itself – the festival is spread across the brewery’s indoor and outdoor spaces, with both tented and full-sun picnic tables. We were in the sun, and it did get a bit warm, but luckily we brought plenty of sunscreen with us, and we kept topping that up. Given that this is Ireland, in most circumstances it would be unseemly to complain about the sunny weather (though as I write this, I’m struggling to recall what rain is like), and it was by no means quite as hot as it has been here in Dublin, but it would have been an easy day to get a bad sunburn and/or get very dehydrated, so I’m glad we planned ahead in that regard.
Rather than being an all-you-can-consume for a single entry fee festival like Fidelity, Hagastravaganza gives you tokens for your entry, which you exchange for beer and food, and it was very simple to top up tokens later; I’ve been to some US festivals run this way that end up having very, very long queues to get more tokens, but this was not an issue at all. I had an amazingly good toastie – is there a more perfect food for any festival? – and good pizza, too; for an all-day beer festival, having these sorts of substantial options was essential (although again, we did bring along snacks, both for the festival and the train, since it’s still not possible to buy food onboard – but that’s another story).
And so, on to the beer set-up: most of the options were poured from a 30-odd tap bar, with a special barrel-aged room off to the side. Water – for both rinsing and staying hydrated – was just outside the main bar. If I had a minor quibble or suggestion, it would be to have had a second water station near the other end of the brewery, but I did quickly develop a rinse/hydrate/queue routine that worked perfectly well. And there were some very exciting beers indeed – I would have bought tickets just to have Green Cheek and Maui Brewing beers in any instance, since they aren’t typically available here, and they did not disappoint, even if the Maui beers were ‘old faves’ vs new oddities – no complaints in that regard, though I am always missing their top-notch Pueo Pale Ale – but it was a perfect day for Pineapple Mana Wheat, which I last had by a pool in Hawai’i. I’m hopeful their recent Modern Times Brewing deal means both brands may be more available on this side of the Atlantic in due course…well, we’ll see what happens there.
Other ‘bests of the fest’ for me included the aforementioned Green Cheek from Southern California, but especially their Bier – a gorgeous, clean Helles, ideal for a summer day. Radiant Beauty was also a perfect, old-school West Coast (and, let’s be real, best coast) IPA. I knew nothing of Italy’s Birrificio Vetra, but their Vetra Black was a beautiful dark lager, full of toasty goodness and very refreshing. Locals didn’t miss out on my ‘best of’ listing – Trouble Brewing’s Harry’s Peanut Butter Brown Ale was absolutely delicious. Fun fact: I don’t like peanuts, or peanut better – but I’ve really enjoyed most peanut butter-adjacent beers I’ve tried. This was another, and I’m glad I got to try it, after missing out on it at Fidelity. My ‘thought-I’d-hate-it-but-loved-it’ beer – there always seems to be one at a festival – was Siren’s Caribbean White Chocolate Pancake Stack. Listed as ‘a tropical white stout with cacao and maple,’ I was expecting a sweet, viscous mess (after all, what would an English brewery ‘understand’ about these ingredients?), but it was all perfectly balanced. It’s possible witchcraft was involved.
In both layout and ‘vibe’ (sorry), Hagstravaganza reminded me of Kennett Brewfest (now in its 25th year – good lord), an event we used to regularly attend when we lived on the US Right Coast. This similarity was possibly heightened by the absence of working wifi, so Untappd check-ins in real time were not an option; this was back to old-school notes in the printed program, and I’m not remotely mad about it.
The only thing I am very slightly annoyed about is that I didn’t immediately buy a festival t-shirt when I arrived; they were sold out of all the smaller sizes by the time I tried to snag one later in the afternoon. I’ve more typically seen plenty of leftover smalls and mediums at the festivals I’ve attended over the past two decades, so that was a bit of a surprise, though I did get a ‘normal’ White Hag shirt and a handy bag, so I certainly did not come home empty handed, though there wasn’t the sheer amount of beer mats, stickers and other generally portable swag you sometimes find. I’ll know better for next year.
Finally, the train ride home was very merry indeed, though again, I kept running into people I hadn’t had a chance to see all day, so clearly, we need more festivals! The burning dumpster behind the pub around the corner from our house was a bit of a surprise as we walked home from the train station, but I’m sure those who stayed over in Sligo had more dramatic stories to tell…if they can remember them.
All in all, an excellent event – well done to all who worked behind the scenes to make it come together. Let’s do it again!