Ah, the now ubiquitous beerfest! I have been attending these fests for more than 15 years and have watched them evolve into the grandiose events they are today.
When I first began to seek out these once rare events, the promoters were lucky to get 100 to 150 people. Now, they sell out in no time and can fill a room the size of a convention center. Where there was no more than a handful of local beers, there is now a selection of brews from all over the world.
Finding out about these festivals was not easy either. There were few local ones and the internet had not yet reached its prime with all the beer sites that exist today. One had to depend on word of mouth and the few brewspapers that existed then — John Barleycorn, Ale Street News and some local newsletters.
I can remember the festivals they used to hold in York, Pa. A great festival at the time, with the burgeoning local brewery scene making an appearance — Appalachian Brewing Co., Troegs, Independence, etc.
It is there that I met Greg Somers, who took that idea from York in 1997 and carried it back to State College, starting up the State College Microbrewers Expo, which lasted for 11 years. I spent 10 years helping him produce that festival and learned a lot about how such an event runs, which is lot harder than you think.
Of course, after hearing about the granddaddy of them all, The Great American Beer Festival, held every year in Colorado since 1982, I had to make that trek to check it out.
My first GABF was in 1998, and I have been there four more times and will attend this year, too. With more than 450 breweries and more than 2,000 beers to taste, this is one that is on every beer lovers bucket list.
One-ounce samples allow you to stretch your tasting out over the three days of the event. But there are so many other events taking place in Denver that week, one need not ever set foot in the Convention Center, although I would do it at least once to say you did.
Locally, one does not need to travel far for beerfests. The AC Beer Fest held in April has become a huge event and draws people from all over. The Garden State Brewers Guild Fest in June is held on the Battleship New Jersey in Camden and spotlights the members’ best beers.
Of course, Philadelphia hosts hundreds of beer events as well as Philly Beer Week in June with a thousand events over 10 days.
If you’re new to the beer scene, I would opt for a small event, possibly one of the many beer dinners held locally, or a nice food pairing event such as the one at Golden Nugget coming up Sept. 29-30.
Better yet, get together with friends — with each buying a few styles — and sit at home and taste away. There are no crowds or lines sitting in the comfort of your living room, and you can keep the discovery going.
This Saturday, Aug. 4, Jimmy Buffett once again makes an appearance in Atlantic City, and Firewaters at Tropicana Casino and Resort will be hosting a Parrotheads pre-show party at 2 p.m. with beer and drink specials and cheeseburgers in paradise.
Halloween will seem to be coming early this year! Pumpkin beers will be out this month from all the breweries and will probably be gone by the holidays.
Of course, the brewpubs such as Tun Tavern and Iron Hill will be saving their releases for the holidays, so don’t despair. Grab some of the better ones soon and save them for your parties in October and November.
The great ones such as Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin, Brooklyn’s Post Road Pumpkin, Shipyard Pumpkin and Dogfish Head Punkin Ale will hold up for the next few months to be enjoyed.
Look for them at all the local retail outlets: Circle Liquor in Somers Point, Joe Canal’s, White Horse Liquors in Absecon and the better bars such as Firewaters, Goodnight Irene’s Brew Pub in Wildwood, Crest Tavern in Wildwood Crest and Vagabond in Atlantic City. I understand that Southern Tier will be brewing Pumking year-round now.
Keep the beers coming. Till next time, cheers!
Mark Haynie is a craft-beer expert who lives in Somers Point and travels extensively to find new beers. He is a contributor to the Mid-Atlantic Brewing News and is the co-author of the book, "New Jersey Breweries" with Lew Bryson. His column will run every other week.