World Beer Festival – Raleigh 2013

This won’t be an organized collection of thoughts.

I went to the World Beer Festival put on by All About Beer magazine in Raleigh, NC a couple of weeks ago.  It took a lot to get me to go – it was a very expensive trip, and the drive (one-way) was twice as long as the festival itself.

I’ll say it was an experience. It wasn’t awesome, but it wasn’t terrible either.  Overall, however, I was disappointed that I didn’t get to carry out my mission at a festival of craft beer: talking to brewers and brewery representatives.  I spoke to just a few.  The big guys weren’t really there – New Belgium was so damn busy they were just slinging beer and moving the line.  Same for Mother Earth Brewing, Oskar Blues, and Sierra Nevada.  When I finally discovered that Dogfish Head was there (booth 42), the fest was nearly over and they were out of beer.  One person was at the table packing it up and didn’t seem like a conversationalist.

Pabst Blue Ribbon had a huge booth to sling PBR and sell anything from hats to PBR pajamas.  No kidding.2013-04-13 12.56.14

Most of the booths were staffed with volunteers.  While I don’t mind volunteers (it’s time-consuming and thankless work), it would have been nice to have knowledgeable folks at each booth (preferably from the brewery) to talk to about their beer.

I will say that Sierra Nevada was an exception – they had someone (a fantastic-looking woman) out front to plug their new North Carolina location and how they’re doing it all green and sustainable and tending to the needs of outdoorsy people.  Apparently you’ll be able to visit the new location via kayak.

I got to taste a lot of local-ish beers since they had a North Carolina brewer’s tent.  I knew I’d find a lot there I hadn’t had before since most of them don’t distribute in Georgia.  One memorable brewery was Raleigh Brewing, a downtown production brewery that has an on-site homebrew store.  Their head brewer, John Federal, gave a talk about starting a brewery:2013-04-13 15.19.51_halfsize

I approached him after the talk and told him I loved his House of Clay Rye IPA (one of his own creations).  We spoke briefly about starting a brewpub – something my drinking club is mulling over – and he wished me the best of luck.  It was by far the best interaction with a brewery that I had at the entire festival.  I went back to Raleigh Brewing’s booth and bought that same red shirt you see Mr. Federal wearing above.

I remember it being crowded:

2013-04-13 12.48.25

 

That part I didn’t enjoy.  It was so loud and full of people seemingly on a mission to drink as much beer as they can, even if it was two ounces at a time.  I found very few people interested in the breweries, quality, ingredients, or the brewers themselves.  In short, it was more of a drunk-fest than a quality beer event.

In retrospect, I can’t say I blame anyone for my displeasure except myself. These festivals serve only a couple of intentional purposes, and neither of them have anything to do with Ben on Beer getting one-on-one with breweries:

  1. Breweries want to get out to the market and get their beer in as many hands as they can.
  2. All About Beer magazine wants to generate more interest in craft beer and gain an increase in readership.

This is capitalism, and I am not against it.  I think it would be wonderful for a brewery to come away from the festival with 300 more customers who know the beer is good, and will remember that when they see it in the store.

The challenge is getting that crowd to remember anything after the event.

I guess a decent thing to do would be to list my thoughts here so maybe someone reading will have some direct language to consider:

It was a drunk-fest.  I said it before, and there’s really nothing I can do about it.

The talks were awesome, but if I wanted to attend all of them there would be no time before or after to visit the booths.  I guess I wanted more time, or maybe a separate day for beer nerd talk.

The restroom situation couldn’t have been handled any better.  Hats off to that one.

I can’t carry everything.  No backpacks allowed, but where do I put all my stuff when I have to pee?  I went alone this year.  I collected as many artifacts from the brewers as I could, and ended up loading myself down almost to the point that I couldn’t move about.

Well, that’s it for now.  Maybe if things come back to me I’ll update this post.  I most likely won’t go again unless I move much closer to the Raleigh/Durham area.

Ben on Beer Episode 5 – Publix Knows The Way

In this episode, we chose a new format and had some technical difficulties.  It was an interesting show and we talked about the new grocery store in our small town that somehow provides the most diverse selection of craft beer within 50 miles.  We also discussed Oskar Blues and their new Brevard, NC brewery and restaurant.

Cheers!

Continue reading

Play

New Belgium possibly coming to Asheville NC

New Belgium Brewing Company has announced that they are looking for a location to place a second brewing facility on the East Coast. Rumor has it (so far) that the choices are now between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Asheville, North Carolina. At this time of writing I believe I have read another rumor that a site deemed a great possibility for a brewery is under contract in Asheville, but mum’s the word.

I’ve never been to Asheville, North Carolina or to Philadelphia. I have, however been to Fort Collins, Colorado, the birthplace of New Belgium Brewing. I’ve researched Asheville in the past as a potential place to live and I liked what I saw during my review. A small town in the mountainous region of North Carolina is much more like Fort Collins than Philadelphia is. Asheville has about 83,000 people and at least seven breweries show up on a Google Maps search. That tells me that in addition to being a college town, beer has a great presence and probably drives a lot of the culture there.

I like the state of North Carolina and their support for beer culture. Their laws seem to make it pretty easy to found a brewery and begin distributing. There are more breweries in Asheville than there are in the state of Georgia. My state could learn a thing or two from North Carolina. Anyway, New Belgium and I have a good history together since I discovered Fat Tire in Colorado. The relationship was even further solidified when, after I moved to Georgia, they began distributing here just a few years ago. That being said, any facility they build on the east side of the country should be as close to me as possible. Asheville is so much closer than Philly is – I may could even help build it for a day if they have some sort of community effort!

So there it is: no good reason for New Belgium to choose Asheville other than my own selfishness. Philadelphia just doesn’t fit for the company culture. I’d like to make it a point to visit the new place either way; it will just be easier to visit more often than if it were in Pennsylvania. Congrats to New Belgium, though – it’s exciting to think my favorite brewery is enjoying this much success!

I’ll be sure to update this post as I hear things, whether they’re confirmed or not. I’m on my way to NC next month and quite possibly could make it to the Asheville area. Until I hear something, though…

Cheers!

 

Update: New Belgium made an official announcement on April 5, 2012 regarding the new East coast facility, and it will be in Asheville! It’s seven hours from my house in Georgia and will be an awesome road trip in the coming years. Ground breaking is expected to be sometime in early 2013, with production beginning in 2015. This says a lot for Asheville’s economy and beer culture, and I would only be more excited about it if they were coming to my hometown. I’m glad New Belgium took my advice – I heard that Philly brushed them off.