Festival Recap | Augusta Beerfest 2015
The 2nd Annual Augusta Beerfest was full of fun and flavor this year. There were dozens of breweries showcasing their most popular beers. Imbibers had over 100 beers to to sample and enjoy throughout each session. A few vendors were present displaying products and explaining their business concepts to the inquisitive passerby. All-in-all, this was a successful festival that remains the only show in town for the second year running.
This year’s Augusta Beerfest featured over 30 breweries, sampling 3 to 5 brews. There was no shortage of styles to taste from. Well established national brands like Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., New Belgium Brewing Co. and Oscar Blues Brewery were at the festival alongside smaller local and regional breweries like Terrapin Beer Co., Red Hare Brewing Co. and Lonerider Brewing Co. There was even a brand new brewery, not yet distributing, that has set up shop in Athens, GA called Southern Brewing Co. That is a story for another day though. The selection focused on core labels from each brewery like SweetWater Brewing Co.’s 420 Pale ale, Samuel Adams’ Oktoberfest, Highland Brewing Co.’s Gaelic ale and O’Dempsey’s Big Red ale, but with a few gems sprinkled in the mix. Veteran owned, Service Brewing Co. brought their newest addition to their year round line up, a Bohemian style Pilsner called Rally Point. Service Brewing also had literature about their soon-to-be released Oktoberfest called Teufel Hunden, which translates from German to “Devil Dogs”. Southbound Brewing Co. was pouring their newest limited release called Loving Cup, a Saison brewed with Brettanomyces. Pabst Brewing Co.’s reintroduction of Ballantine IPA was being served alongside Small Town Brewing Company’s Not Your Father’s Root Beer (for more on that relationship, click here). All of which were poured by excited and enthusiastic brewery reps and distributors who were eager to talk about their breweries and beers. I spent WAY too much time talking to these guys and barely made it out to the food trucks in time for a bite to eat.
Nearly everything offered was in bottle/can format, unless you were V.I.P. However, there were some exclusive cask ales. I was pleasantly surprised to find these were available everyone on the general admission floor too! Only 4 breweries prepared cask ales and they were REALLY GOOD! Jekyll Brewing featured a cask ale version of their Big Creek Kölsch that was brewed with Thai chili peppers and pears and it was exquisite! Eagle Creek Brewing Co. also had a cask ale that was spiced up a notch pairing Low Country Pale ale with habaneros and grapefruit zest. This one was hopping with personality! Red Hare Brewing did not disappoint either. Their cask ale housed Gangway IPA brewed with pineapple and mango. The only other cask ale present was brewed by Monday Night Brewing and was, by far, my favorite. Monday Night took their Drafty Kilt Scotch ale and brewed it with Orange Blossom honey and vanilla. This was smooth and comforting to drink. The adjuncts, I felt, gave it a stout-like flavor with the light body of a Scotch ale. Monday Night was also the only brewery to alternate their casks between sessions. Their second session offering, that I missed out on, was Eye Patch IPA brewed with orange peel and Simcoe hops.
The best find of the whole festival did not come from a brewery though. This goes to Finch & 5th, a
local restaurant that specializes in hand-crafted ice cream. This laid back Americana Bistro opened its doors back in 2013. What is so special about their ice cream? Well, my fellow imbiber, they take some of your favorite craft beers and make ice cream out of them! Flavors like Highland Mocha Porter ice cream with fudge ribbons, Blue Point Blueberry gelato using Blue Point Brewing’s Blueberry ale and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel ale ice cream with bourbon caramel ribbon and toffee beer nuts. All three were charmingly decadent additions to the festival.
V.I.P. came with exclusive amenities, which included draught pours. Some of the taps were duplicates of what was being poured on the floor, with a handful of others pouring limited edition releases, mostly from Southern Tier Brewing Co. Honestly, that is about as exclusive as the pour list got for V.I.P. The food pairing was more of a small buffet filled with delicious hors d’oeuvres prepared by local growler restaurant, Hive Growler Bar. Items included sweet sausage, gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and their house Cubano. Oh man, that Cubano; I order that sandwich every time I am at The Hive! Those that I interviewed told me the 1 hour early admission and the relaxed space to hang out away from the crowds was what made the V.I.P. experience worth it. The early admission allowed V.I.P. holders the opportunity to meander through the general admission floor and sample all they wanted before the crowds flowed in. At that time, they could retreat to the V.I.P. only section to find relief from the crowd. Other amenities included lounge seating and an Augusta Beerfest t-shirt, which was the only way to acquire one this year.
While the venue was a relief from the blistering summer heat of the south, it was crowded. In fact, the cramped Bell Auditorium, despite its split sessions, was the only obvious downside of the festival. This was an issue that was apparent last year too. The auditorium is just barely big enough for the size of the event, which makes for a packed house and can make lines seem longer than they really are. However, it did not seem to be slowing down participation at all. Nonetheless, the event coordination team seem to be working diligently on a solution for the size dilemma. This year’s event saw the addition of a V.I.P. area which, either purposefully or by happenstance, did alleviate a small portion of the crowd. There is evidence of the coordinators looking to other sites for the next venue, based on the survey that was sent out to Augusta Beerfest attendees from the Bell Auditorium. Either way, we can look forward to a third Augusta Beerfest.
Everyone I talked to was happy to see the return of the Augusta Beerfest. The Garden City has seen a surge in craft beer offerings in the form of better sections in their supermarkets and liquor stores, the rise of growler stations (totaling 4 stations now), exclusively craft beer bars serving only craft or import brews and their very own beer festival. Heck, there might even be an Augusta bred brewery in the works; who knows? What I do know is that Augusta Beerfest is a welcomed addition and a must for next year’s must-see festivals!