The Session #130: Create Your Own Beerfest

The SessionThis month’s edition of The Session is hosted by friend and fellow beer writer and blogger Brian Yaeger, recently relocated from Portland, OR to Santa Barbara, CA, who is asking us to Create Our Own Brewfest:

I’m honored to be hosting for the second time, first back in 2009, and not unexpectedly have landed on a topic near’n’dear to my heart: beerfests. Your mission, should you choose to accept it (and please, as someone who’s come back to The Session fold, I’m pushing to get 20+ fellow beer bloggers to participate in December, and onward) is to write about how you would design your dream beer festival. Posts are due Friday, December 1.

There are actually so many regional, local, and niche beer fests these days, we’re hearing a bit about “beerfest fatigue.” And I get that. Can you really hit 52 of ’em a year if you live somewhere near Portland, San Diego, Denver, Chicago, Philly, NYC, etc? As someone who attends more than my fair share, sadly not all are created equal, but one I may not care for is probably someone else’s annual favorite.

Finally, end with a note about why you can see trying to make this fantasy fest a reality or why you’ll never advance this idea of yours beyond the Session post!

In addition to being a beer writer, Brian is a beerfest creator/organizer, so he knows whereof he speaks. You can credit (blame) Brian for such events as the Baker’s Dozen (doughnut plus (coffee) beer pairing), Kriekfest, and Rural Brewer Fest. Myself, other than having a hand in launching the SMaSH Fest for Central Oregon Beer Week (for which I ultimately give credit to Brett Thomas of Sunriver Brewing for suggesting the idea) and long dreaming of a gose-inspired beer festival named “Gosepalooza,” have no real practical experience. And at any rate in this day and age of ultra-niche beer events it seems that any idea I think up has already been covered in some form.

However, ignoring that “already been done” nagging voice of doubt, I think the beer festival I would want to create is probably a pumpkin beer fest. Yes, there are a number of them each year around the country already, with the Elysian Brewing Great Pumpkin Beer Fest being the “big one,” but there are a number of facets or variations I would love to try:

  • A homebrew-only version. I’m the current president of the Central Oregon Homebrewers Organization, so this year homebrewing has been on my mind a lot. I think it would be fun to organize a homebrew festival featuring only homebrewed pumpkin beers, encouraging brewers to be as creative and wild as possible, and let drinkers vote on their favorite in a People’s Choice type competition. And because it’s illegal to sell homebrewed beer, any non-alcohol-related profits would be donated to a local charity. Obviously this would be very local unless you could convince brewers in other parts of the state/region/country to send their homebrews… perhaps incorporating a BJCP-sanctioned judging portion to the event?
  • A regional/local commercial brewer version. Moving more into “regular” brewfest event territory, but in this case it’s as much a promotional tool to get local/regional breweries crafting pumpkin beers that might otherwise not do so. One problem I’ve always wondered about with the big festivals is logistics—shipping kegs of beer across the country, subject to unknown conditions, and ultimately not even knowing how fresh that beer might be. Keeping such a fest regional eliminates a chunk of that carbon footprint and many of those unknowns, as well as promotes your local scene and fresh beer.
  • Homebrew/regional-commercial combo. In this case, combine the previous two ideas, but the winner of the homebrew People’s Choice gets to be commercially brewed with one of the attending breweries. Sort of a Pumpkin Pro-Am.
  • Pumpkin Challenge Fest. Instead of breweries simply brewing whatever pumpkin beer suits them, have some sort of drawing or contest by which brewers are assigned the guidelines they have to brew under. Sort of like the dartboard selection that Cheers to Belgian Beers holds in which brewers throw darts to determine if their contributing beer will be light or dark colored, and strong or sessionable. So for this Pumpkin Challenge, it would be something like a casting of lots for Styles and Spices in some way, I would imagine. Loosely categorized. So a brewer might draw something like “Belgian style, Cinnamon and Caraway,” or “Porter/Stout, Black Pepper and Nutmeg,” or even “English style, No Spices.” Pumpkin is required in all beers, of course.

Needless to say, unless you’re Elysian, I would think this pumpkin fest would be relatively small simply based on the strong feelings folks have towards pumpkin beers in general. It would definitely be small if it were a homebrew-only fest, simply because of logisitics—you’d have some beers in 5-gallon kegs, you’d have bottles of various types, you might even have growlers. Plus, you actually have to convince homebrewers to brew some pumpkin beers…

Of course this event would have to take place in the fall, probably October, although trying for mid-way between Halloween and Thanksgiving could be interesting. But you need to be timely both to the public’s perception of when “pumpkin season” is, and to the brewer’s who (ideally) will be brewing with real pumpkins.

Okay, the more I think about this, the more I like the idea. I’ll have to ruminate on it some more. Thanks Brian.

Bonus: Another festival idea that came to mind as I was thinking about pumkpin is an American Indigenous Beer/Ingredient Fest. Featuring only beers brewed with ingredients indigenous to the region the brewery is located. Which upon reflection is essentially what Beers Made By Walking is. Perhaps this version could ask breweries to imagine what sort of indigenous beer would have developed in their region, and brew that. (Actual indigenous styles such as California Common and Kentucky Common could be included also.) Who wants to take this one on?

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