If Hollywood ever decided to remake that timeless classic in another vein, I would suggest, “pour it and they will come”, and switch the focus of the film from baseball to a brew festival.
OK, not really, but there is a good amount of truth to my flippant statement. Over the past several years, brew festivals have been on the rise in our area. I happened to be cleaning my kitchen a while back and in the corner of a shelf that collects everything I don’t know what to do with at the time, I found evidence to support this; tasting glasses from Kennett Winterfest (only 2 years old) and Wilmingtion Beerfest (only 1 year). On top of that I learned last week that the Historic towns of New Castle and Delaware City will soon be hosting their second annual “River Towns Ride & Festival“, a co-city event and recreational bike ride which is hosting a beer festival in BOTH towns.
The proliferation of these festivals stems in part from event organizers recognizing that at this particular moment, having (or adding) a beer festival to your event is not only a great way to raise money (most beer festivals are associated with non-profit charity or historical organizations), but also a great way to get people to come out and experience first hand what your local area has to offer.
Points that were not lost on event co-organizer Jeremy Hughes when he and his team began the ground work for the Historic Odessa Brewfest as early as August of last year. “The town of Odessa is beautiful, full of amazing 18th century architect but amazingly unknown to many Delawareans, even ones only 20 minutes away”, he relayed to me. “So, to attract more people to the town and to help raise money for the Historic Odessa Foundation we wanted to create an event that would do just that.”
But as Jeremy went on to say, even from that early start they wanted their event to be about more than just beer, “We wanted to create a beer festival that would separate itself from other beer festivals. After attending quite a few of them myself, as well as many other types of festivals and events, I found that a beer festival can’t just be about beer.”
True, and many of them aren’t. For instance, quality food has become a big part of what makes a great beer festival tick, and Jeremy knew he had an distinct advantage in that regard. “Cantwell’s Tavern provided the food utilizing local purveyors and farms like they always do to make sure the patrons were served high quality eats.” Indeed, Chef Dan Sheridan started the Tavern’s farm-to-table philosophy from the minute it opened. And with Cantwell’s located right across the street from the festival grounds and being one of the Historic Houses of Odessa, it was a natural choice. And it doesn’t hurt that your restaurant group owns its own food truck, the Roaming Raven, to help get all that great food out to the people.
(As always click on a photo in each gallery to open that gallery up full sized.)
Of course, the source of the food wasn’t the only advantage Jeremy had, “…we already knew the setting and landscape alone would set us apart.” Indeed, the event was held at the Historic Homes of Odessa, on a field that surrounds their 1790 barn that on this particular day housed some awesome wines (that for some reason we didn’t get inside to try. What we’re we doing all day?), along with Fromage a Cheese Boutique who were serving awesome cheese plates (which Tracey enjoyed greatly), as well as serving as a perfect backdrop for historic brewing educator Rich Wagner.
Despite this being their first year, Odessa hit everything on spot, most likely due to Jeremy’s investigations into other events. The volunteers were quick and friendly as the gates opened to let the crowd in. I was a little worried about parking, but when we arrived for the VIP session we had no problem finding a spot close to the entrance. There was plenty of water to be found in iced buckets around the grounds. The layout was great, and the bands was rocking. All that was needed was a crowd of beer lovers. And we and 1400 other festival lovers were happy to oblige.
We were lucky enough to be joined by Dogs of Beer co-founder Chuck and his wife Kat (aka, the Beer Goddess) for the day, which always makes a beer event that much more fun. Of course once we got inside we quickly surveyed the field to make note of where every one was. Two of my favorite Delaware beers, Twin Lake’s Oktoberfest and Fordham’s Rosie Parks Oyster Stout, had recently been re-released so I was hoping that they’d made their way to the festival. The beer gods were indeed smiling that day, as I was quick to get a taste of Rosie Parks as soon as we walked into the event, and indeed found Oktoberfest a few minutes later.
I finally got a chance to try 3rd Wave Brewing’s Bombora Double IPA (could be one of my new favorite Delaware beers) while talking with owner Lori Clough about the (enviable) problem of juggling multiple events – 3rd Wave was at five different events that day. We soon bumped into Ron from Painted Stave Distillery as he was whipping up a batch of lemon drops using their Silver Screen vodka. Usually I don’t hit the hard stuff that early, but Ron was pretty persuasive (he told me alcohol was going to go to waste if I didn’t drink it. What? Ron wouldn’t lie to me!). I also tried their Time Warp Espresso Vodka which normally isn’t my thing, but it’s named Time Warp – so how could I resist! And as always it’s great to see the DOPS team as they make any event better.
As a beer blogger, one of the great things about festivals is speaking to the people in the industry about what they’re doing now, and more importantly what they may be doing in the future. And to that end it was very nice to see Ron Price and his team from Warlock Brewing, the ink barely dry on his newly signed 5 year lease, and talk to him about his plans for his Smyrna based brewery. And when the subject of “their next beer to be canned” came up at the Mispillion tent, there was quite a lot of support for porter. Just sayin’.
But the wave of the future is that brew festivals are not made of beer alone. A sentiment that Jeremy was quick to echo, “Whatever an event’s main theme is, whether a music festival, beer festival, wine festival, etc., you will always know that there will be a lot of music, beer or wine at said festival. What separates these events from others is all of the other “stuff” that the patrons can enjoy and experience. It’s all about the experience.”
“…To make sure the festival goers weren’t just surrounded by beer, we made sure to bring in some local distilleries, seeing as craft distillers are now becoming just as popular as craft breweries. We invited Fromage (a local cheese boutique from Middletown) and, Guy and Lady Barrel Cigar (a hand rolled cigar company out of Dover) that enforced the ‘Local Craft’ atmosphere we were looking for, and finally we topped it off with Paul Schiffelbein, a local [artisan] of handmade wooden cutting boards from Chesapeake City, MD.”
It’s a nice model – great location, great beers/wines/spirits, great local food, and talented local artisans. It’s a model that has served The Delaware Wine and Beer Festival greatly for many years, and one that future event holders should take note of.
The music for the event was supplied by local favorites Spokey Speaky and Philbilly, whose reggae and country vibes (respectively) supplied an awesome backdrop to the event. When Tracey had had enough beer fun, she claimed a table and sang along.
So what was the verdict? “I believe we had over 1400 attendees, over 45 breweries and over 50 vendors in general”, Jeremy said. “In the end, it was exactly what we wanted and I think all of the festival goers experienced exactly what we wanted them too – a fun, ‘comfortable’, local Brew Fest.”
Jim Sturdivant (of www.4×3.net, the company behind the marketing and the Brewbracket contest) agreed, “Based on feedback at the festival and on Facebook, the event has been perceived very positively. People had a great time and are already looking forward to next year.”
When I asked Jeremy what the future holds, he indicated that they’d already started planning for 2015, “The date has been set for next year, the Saturday after Labor day which is the 12th of September.” Which means…
“The Odessa Brewfest is a fund-raising event for the Historic Odessa Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the legacy of the Historic Houses of Odessa for future generations, through commitment to the preservation of Odessa’s unique historic, architectural, and cultural heritage.”
Jeremy Hughes and Jim Sturdivant would like to thank everyone who helped make the first annual Historic Odessa Brewfest a success, including but not limited to:
Marc Ashby (Director of Operations of Ashby Hospitality Group and business partner).
Debbie Buckson (Historic Odessa Foundation).
Jen Cabell (Historic Odessa foundation).
All the breweries, wineries and distilleries that attended.
The Roaming Raven.
Fromage cheese boutique.
Guy and Lady Barrel Cigar.
The bands Spokey Speak and Philbilly.
And last but not least, “… the volunteers, … and all the beer lovers who came out for a beautiful day in Odessa!”
The author would like to thank Jeremy Hughes and Jim Sturdivant for taking some of their valuable time to talk with me.