Suwanee Beer Fest Review
Story and photos by Tonya Vots, Correspondent
Bright blue skies and soaring summer temperatures set the stage for the inaugural Suwanee American Craft Beer Fest, held July 23 at Town Center Park in Suwanee, Georgia. Nearly 70 breweries were represented and more than 180 beers were available for sampling.
Because of the 5,000 tickets for sale online and from event sponsors, organizer Matt Dial dares to wish: “We could be the largest beer fest in Atlanta.”
Dial has his finger on the pulse of social activity in Suwanee: He and fest partner Randall Veugeler publish Suwanee Magazine. The duo, along with Veugeler’s wife, Angela, realized the impact craft beer is having in Metro Atlanta and wanted to bring the craft beer fest experience to their city and the people of Gwinnett County.
“Randall is, and I say this lovingly, our ‘beer snob,’ and I’m more of a regular beer drinking guy,” Dial says. “It’s a great balance we have here: we have PBR and Miller Lite, but more so, we have an extensive line of IPAs and other craft beer that’s heavily in demand.”
Volunteers in red “Brew Crew” T-shirts manned tables and booths, pouring local, regional and national favorites. Georgia breweries Wild Heaven, Terrapin, Jailhouse, Sweetwater and Red Brick all featured well known selections. More widely distributed craft beer by Harpoon, Oskar Blues, Port Brewing, Stone, Rouge, 21st Amendment and Tommyknocker, among others, kept attendees satisfied. Though they were present, dark ales were less prevalent as lighter brews, especially pale ales, wheat ales and IPAs, were poured in abundance. Selections of a year round or regular seasonal availability seemed to be the norm while limited edition brews were not to be found, even in the VIP tent.
One of the few ciders on hand, Kopparberg Premium Cider, enjoyed attention from beer fans. Local brand manager Joonas Kohtala was eager to share this crisp imported beverage with the craft beer masses.
“This is new to Georgia and we hope everyone will like it,” Kohtala says. “We’re looking for more stores to carry our product.”
Food prepared with beer was just as much an attraction at some booths. From nearby Flowery Branch, fest sponsor Toasted and Tapped Brewpub handed out samples of beer-braised chicken along with pub crafted brews including Leviathan Baltic Porter and Aestival Wheat. Supermarket giant Kroger sent four chefs who talked with attendees about making summertime dishes with Yuengling brews. Brats with beer braised sauerkraut and apples and Black and Tan nachos were scooped up as fast as the cooks could set them out.
Representatives of other segments of the craft beer community shared their products. Brew Depot of Alpharetta showcased a selection of homebrew supplies and employees talked about the joy of homebrewing with interested passers-by and experienced homebrewers. Rehrig Pacific Co. spotlighted an alternative to stainless steel kegs, the plastic 1/6 barrel PubKeg.
“This is marketed specifically to the craft beer industry,” said John Zelek of Rehrig Pacific. “It’s reusable, recyclable and uses standard connections.” Zelek mentioned that Terrapin uses the PubKeg for distributing its Side Project beers.
Popular local bands kept the festival mood alive as covers of classic and current songs emanated from the park’s amphitheatre. Food trucks shared space with tents to provide meals and snacks to festival goers. Atlanta-based Frozen Pints handed out free samples and sold scoops of its signature craft beer flavored ice cream, undoubtedly popular on this warm day.
Like any first major event, a few bumps were encountered along the way. By 3:30, the ground was saturated with beer and water underneath the large tents. Free water for patrons was widely advertised but ran out quickly. About two dozen umbrella-topped tables were scattered about the fest yard, and they, like any patch of shade cast by ornamental trees, were crowded with attendees seeking relief from the intense sun.
The Suwanee Beer Fest is still learning the ropes, but for a first shot, the organizers very much hit their intended target. And of course, Dial is looking ahead to 2012.
“If it’s good this time, it’s got to be better next time,” he says. “We’re looking for feedback on this fest and hope to expand this festival next year. We may consider a second fest.”
Disclosure: The organizers of the Suwanee American Craft Beer Fest provided passes for the purposes of coverage. The passes were given to our correspondent, who assures us that all opinions are hers alone.