Festival review: Noisy, crowded … and air-conditioned
Florida has two seasons – hurricane and tourist. Festivals ordinarily occur during the latter, when the weather is cooler and the population swells from the snowbirds who flock each year to the Sunshine State from frigid northern environs to nest in their winter homes.
But that doesn’t mean year-round residents can’t enjoy a festival during the months when thermometers come close to bursting in a cartoon-like explosion. The secret? Hold it in the air-conditioning, the wonderful invention of Willis Haviland Carrier that made it possible for normal human beings to endure the brutal Florida summer (which lasts approximately 48 months out of the year).
The organizers of the third annual St. Petersburg Craft Beer Expo took this to heart and staged the event in the wonderfully cool St. Petersburg Coliseum, a renovated 1924 ballroom that hearkens to the days of the moonshiners, gangsters and railroad barons who wintered in the Gulf Coast city during Prohibition.
An impressive number of craft and local breweries represented at the expo, most in an oval of tasting tables centered in the massive indoor arena; others tucked into the alcoves surrounding the floor.
Beer lovers crowded the festival, especially during the middle two hours of the four-hour expo. The lines were long, and the echoing babble of thousands of voices made it necessary to hold conversations loudly and close to the ear. At one point, many of the beer tables ran out of suds, but somehow the distributors managed to replenish the stock, and the beery goodness continued.
Many of the usual suspects appeared, such as Stone, Sierra Nevada, Dogfish Head, Rocky Mountain, Chimay, Boulder Beer and even BrewDog, though without any bottles stuffed in taxidermied road kill. There were many more. Cigar City Brewing from Tampa, which Entrepreneur.com recently named as one of the “10 Hot Startups with Future Potential,” poured a variety of their creations, and Cigar City head brewer Wayne Wambles led a cask ale seminar.
Local nanobrewer Little Giant Brewery, based on Anna Maria Island, poured a couple of creations including an incredible tasty IPA. And Swell Beer Co., a microbrewery still under development in Tampa, offered a surprisingly refreshing Creamsicle Wheat.
The biggest “you’ve got to try this” buzz centered on a Cookies and Milk Stout being poured by Tampa homebrew and winemaking supplier Southern Brewing – a milk stout brewed by Ben Romano and filtered through mashed-up Oreo cookies.
Alas, by the time Road Trips for Beer made it by the table, it was all gone.
A FEW CRITIQUES:
- Long lines to enter the Coliseum developed quickly and moved slowly. Some better organization on that part would be nice, especially since the lines were under the blazing late July sun. To be fair, this is the first time the expo has been held in that venue, so perhaps next year those kinks will be worked out.
- Unless you were one of the first 500 people in line, the tasting cup was a flimsy plastic container that some referred to as “thimble-sized.” I haven’t seen an estimate of the crowd, but I would guess it was north of 2,000. At $25 to $30 a ticket, it seems like it would be a good move to provide everybody with a proper sampling cup. Incidentally, the sampling glasses the lucky 500 received were emblazoned with the logo of Bare Knuckle Stout, an AB -InBev product that wasn’t even being served. Organizers should spring for proper tasting cups with an event logo. Many beer enthusiasts like to collect these as souvenirs.
- Kudos to the suppliers for restocking the beer tables after many ran out of beer, but it might be better to anticipate this to keep the lines moving and the crowd flow more manageable during the busiest time.
Other than those quibbles, this was a successful festival with an impressive lineup of brew. If you are road tripping for beer in the Tampa Bay area during the next St. Petersburg Craft Beer Expo, pencil this into your itinerary.
For more photos from the third annual St. Petersburg Craft Beer Expo, click here.
Here’s a few upcoming Florida beer festivals and events. Click on the links for more information.
Aug. 7, 2010: WaZoo, Tampa.
Aug. 14, 2010: Celebration of Brewing, Sarasota.
Aug. 28, 2010: Sarasota Beer Festival.
Sept. 9-10: Emerald Coast Beer Festival, Pensacola.
Sept. 11, 2010: Third annual Treasure Coast Beer Fest, Fort Pierce
Sept. 24-25, Oct. 1-2 and Oct. 8-9: 2010 Oktoberfest, Pinellas Park.