Festival of Beers

After a brief hiatus from blog posts while we dedicated time to launching Virginia Beer Co.’s official Facebook page (shameless plug), we are back to VB(log)C-ing! Our first return entry is about a topic that should be quite relevant to everyone’s summer plans:  craft beer festivals! As the summer months are now upon us, it's prime time to enjoy the outdoors...and what better way to do so than surrounded by craft breweries from all over the country?! 

Summer festivals are a great way to try different offerings by many craft breweries in one place. These festivals are not organized in an arsy-varsy manner; quite the opposite, there is input from event organizers, distributors, and participants to help put on an organized affair. Therefore they make for a great environment to try multiple samples from every participating brewery’s portfolio while engaging with brewery staff. These festivals are often arranged by a community organization or private group, so sometimes they may focus exclusively on craft beer and on other occasions the beer may simply be one aspect of a larger event. VBC was stoked to participate in our first ever festival only a couple weeks ago, New Town Summer Fest.

As a brewery participating in an event like this, a very helpful aspect about these types of gatherings is that the distributor your brand is attached to will help with setup and cleanup both before and after the festival. That way in the case your brewery is participating in multiple events in different geographic areas on the same day (I mean, we’re going to be in pretty high demand so we expect this to be the case early and often!), this is a truly helpful aspect of the distributor relationship so that your staff can commit to more than one activity on a given day. At the very least you need folks to man the brewery while others are at the festival! 

Another interesting part of attending a beer festival as part of a brewery is that in most cases there are volunteers brought together by the festival organizers who pour your beer for the attendees. This allows all of the bel esprits who work for your brewery to be available to meet everyone at the event and talk about the brewery and the beers with other craft fans! It makes for a great opportunity to teach others about your beer, to showcase your recipes and flavors, and to give out lots of free swag. If you've ever been interested in collecting brewery stickers, cozies, shirts, and the like, attend a craft beer fest post haste! Technically, Summer Fest wasn't Team VBC’s first craft beer fest – we actually volunteered at the Williamsburg Craft Beer Festival earlier in the year. Volunteering is fun, and sometimes gets you free admission and free tastings, so I highly recommend giving it a try! 

Back to this year's New Town Summer Fest; this was our first time participating in a craft beer event as a brewery. So take everything you read about working with distributors and having volunteers to help – we didn't have any of those luxuries at our disposal. As we are not yet an operating brewery, and we haven’t signed on with a distributor, we were responsible for getting everything together for the day…and that was completely cool with us! We were thrilled to be invited to participate in the festival. Even though we don’t have any beer (that we can legally distribute, at least) the organizers asked us if we’d like to set up in an area alongside the other breweries to introduce ourselves to the community as a new local brewery. Leading up to the event, we worked with a number of local and internet retailers to have VBC merchandise created. We came up with designs for t-shirts, polo shirts, bumper stickers, and glassware. In addition we had a giant banner printed with our logo and website (which we’ll assume was successfully done if you’re reading this now!). And we enlarged a copy of our projected floor plan to show off to the crowd. The VBC Team consisting of me, Chris, Erin, and our head brewer collected all of our goods and set up shop the morning of the festival. While we did have a few consumers disappointed that we weren't pouring beer, we tried to reconcile with everyone by giving away tons of free VBC goods. We received a lot of interest in our plan and fantastic feedback about our location and anticipated beer styles. And who doesn't love free swag?! 

Volunteering at the 2014 Williamsburg Craft Beer Festival!

Volunteering at the 2014 Williamsburg Craft Beer Festival!

Showing off the future plans at the 2014 New Town Summer Fest!

Showing off the future plans at the 2014 New Town Summer Fest!

Meeting the crowd at the 2014 DoG Street Pub Craft Beer Festival!

Meeting the crowd at the 2014 DoG Street Pub Craft Beer Festival!

Whether in planning or in production, these events are a great way for a brewery to network with a wider audience. They also present a wonderful opportunity to introduce your brand to folks who may not otherwise venture into the brewery taproom. As I mentioned earlier, these festivals are not always strictly craft beer events. Often they include arts and crafts, local food and drink vendors, lawn games, and live music. Fans of any of these hobbies show up and it makes for an intricate gathering of good people and good spirits. Isn't that what the summer is all about? 

We’ll spend some additional time talking about what it’s like to participate in a craft beer event when we sign on to pour at one. But after our awesome experience at Summer Fest, we will definitely be working with other festival organizers around Virginia to introduce our brewery to more craft beer enthusiasts around the state; it was a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to finally seeing someone else walking around in a Virginia Beer Co. shirt!

In the meantime, hop online and find out what events are going on near you! Not all events may be the size and scope of the Great American Beer Festival, but that’s a good thing – local events offer an intimate chance to really taste the beer, find out what you like, and talk to the people behind the product. There are “beer weeks” throughout the year and new events are planned all the time because craft beer is the best, so check out a source or two to find one near you. Summertime is by far the best time to find something so get searching. Go out there, volunteer, meet a new brewer, and by all means, have fun! And if I see you rocking a VBC shirt don't be surprised if you see a Burg Beer high five coming your way!