My family and I have been going to the Carolina Renaissance Festival near Charlotte for almost as long as it’s been around. Growing up, it was the only place I could really escape from myself and feel like someone else for a while. Part of it was the costume: long skirts, laced bodice, exposed shoulders, and a head wreath with ribbons trailing down my back.
Most of it was the environment. Bartenders who rang a bell and yelled, “Huzzah!” when my parents put money in the tip jar. Low buildings with wooden shingles and intricately painted signs. The dungeon where we learned all about medieval torture devices.
Then, I grew up, and I got used to it. Some years, I decided not to dress up, and once drinking was on the table, my once-innocent experience of the Ren Fest was, well, different. I was also engaged, then married, so I no longer looked for that perfect Ren Fest guy who was my age and preferably in costume, addressing women as “m’lady.”
And then Foothills arrived. It was weird to see the brand name of a beer I knew from back home, and to see it at almost every beverage kiosk was jarring. Who named them king of the Ren Fest?
I saw the same thing later at the BB&T baseball field: Total takeover. I wasn’t sad; I was indignant. Who do they think they are? Are they even craft anymore? According to the Brewers Association definition, they are.
Still, they seemed like sell-outs. I could even go to almost any grocery store in a whatever-mile radius and find their beer bottled.
But then, last year, I admitted to myself and the world that many of their beers are actually really good. Their art ain’t so bad either.
When it comes down to it, isn’t it good that a local brewery has grown and remains consistent and experimental? After all, they do a lot of good for the community.
Which is why I said yes when my parents asked if I wanted to go on the new Ren Fest pub crawl. Spend a morning drinking Foothills beer and being entertained by a couple of Renaissance Men? Sure, why not? Although the tickets are $25 more than the regular priced ones, you get lots of goodies: VIP parking, four seven-ounce pours at four different stops, reserved seating at the first joust, and a “souvenir artisan-crafted chalice,” which was actually really cool.
We set out super early from home, wondering why we agreed to go drinking in the morning when it was freezing outside. Note to self: Go earlier in the year next time. But once we checked in and got in our group, led by the brave Crawl Masters Rowland and Peregrine, we were pleasantly distracted from the cold. After introducing ourselves with our names and our favorite drinks (to make things simple, I said IPAs), we visited the mermaids.
Personally, I would have liked to have gotten our first drink before that point, but I can see how the technicalities wouldn’t have worked out. (Beer in the mermaid tank, anyone?) It was neat, though, to see them before lines started forming, and I was also starting to see the logic — i.e. profit — in having a pub crawl at the Ren Fest: Start on the unpopular side super early in the morning to increase traffic and beer sales, and introduce pub crawlers to some of the entertainers so they’ll be more likely to go to the stages and tip the entertainers.
(I should mention that the reason they’re able to have the pub crawl that early on Sundays, in addition to Saturdays, is because of the Brunch Bill that was passed in 2017, allowing retailers and restaurants to start selling alcohol at 10 a.m. on Sundays, rather than the previous noon. Because church.)
Not a bad business model. From a drinker’s perspective, it was also wonderful. The “games” mentioned on the website included both physical and verbal ones. I got to watch my mom walk with a bottle of water squeezed between her legs and pass it to her teammate, which she actually carried off gracefully, inasmuch as such a game is graceful.
The verbal game was the hardest. My linguistic brain tends to shut off when I drink most of the time (so much for my ambition to be Hemingway), so it was hard trying to think up dirty jokes, although it was funny listening to the Ren Men come up with them.
I managed to unsuccessfully make a sound through a goat’s horn (so much for my flute practices in middle school, Mom), but I totally intimidated the firefighter on the other team before we played the dice game using my mean, scrunched-up game face.
In terms of the beer, we had a couple tried-and-trues: Jade IPA, Pumpkin Ale (formerly Cottonwood). The Malt Shaker amber is a new one I hadn’t tried yet, and I was surprised how much I liked it considering how heavy it is on the malt.
The fourth one, though, took all: a citrus IPA called Night of the Tropics. It was a Charlotte Beer Club homebrewer’s recipe, scaled up by Foothills for the Gambrinus Cup competition. I don’t know who created it, exactly, but damn. Citrusy in all the right ways. It was also not on sale to the public, I noticed — no sign for it anywhere, not even on the tap handle.
In all, I would totally do the pub crawl again, just maybe when it’s still summer weather, or at least fall weather. (Winter does come quickly in North Carolina these days.) At any rate, it will be well met.