The explosion of interest in craft beer in recent years has resulted in a similar increase in the number and frequency of festivals dedicated to the brewing arts. That abundance behooves one of said festivals to stand out. This is something Drink Craft Beer, the popular brew-focused organization, website and host of this weekend’s Drink Craft Beer Fall to Winter Fest, is mindful of, says co-founder Jeff Wharton.
The group, which launched its first festival in the summer of 2012, has grown in scope, but at a controlled pace, Wharton says. The fest (held at Space 57 at the Revere Hotel) will draw some 1,650 attendees, but at a more manageable 550 drinkers spread out over three sessions, on Friday and Saturday. “We do like to do a more intimate festival, I didn’t want it to get too big,” he says.
It’s one of the things we like, and the audience seems to like. The lines are shorter and they can actually talk to the brewers for a bit.
“There’s a lot of beer fests,” he continues. “It seems there’s a new one popping up every day. There are a few things we’re trying to do that set us apart, that, talking to attendees and brewers, seem to be working.” First, they pay all of the brewers for the beer, he says. “That may sound like it’s obvious, but a lot of festivals don’t, they make brewers donate. So we’re able to get some of the brewers, the smaller guys, who don’t have the need or the ability to donate beer. They’ll work with us more to get special stuff to us.”
That means more fall and winter-themed beers, another thing they stress with each new fest. “Instead of saying ‘Bring whatever, come on down!’ we work closely with every brewer to nail down what they’re bringing, to keep it in line with the theme of the fest.”
Each of the 25 New England breweries and cider-makers, showcasing some 80 offerings between them, will have a style on-hand that showcases fall or winter ingredients. Idle Hands Brewery from Everett, for example, will have a beer made with rosemary and sweet potatoes. Others will have beers using ginger, or smoked malt beers “reminiscent of a fire in a fireplace.” Wormtown Brewery from Worcester will be bringing a hoppy red ale dry-hopped with hops Wharton grew himself on his family’s farm in Hopkington.
Locality is key to the fest as well. “There’s so much amazing local beer and cider being made in New England, the problem we have isn’t finding enough brewers, it’s narrowing it down each fest.”
Which brings up another lesson Wharton has learned along the way, that attendees would do well to keep in mind: Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Grillo’s Pickles, Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, Mei Mei Street Kitchen and Union Square Donuts will be on-hand to help with that. “It helps spread out your drinking a little bit and keeps you from over-serving yourself too quickly, which I can admit I did at some of my first beer fests,” he says. And with sessions lasting 3.5 hours there’s plenty of time to try everything you want to. There’s no need to rush.