Not all beer drinkers care whether a festival includes a beer that isn’t available at the corner pub. But brewers looking to expand understand that festivals are an opportune time to sample potential account owners, distributors and consumers, all gathered in one place for one purpose—to taste beer.
Experienced festival-goers often express gratitude to brewers who incur the expense of sending their beers to untapped territories. Some of the fun in being part of the craft community is the buzz over new releases, the quest to obtain the unobtainable and the possibility that, one day, you’ll try a beer that changes your life. Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot Barleywine may taste like hoppy human waste to one guy, but it could be the Holy Grail for the gal behind him in line.
“I go to festivals in part to try new beers and special releases, and I get super excited if it’s something I can’t get at home,” says Chris Spradley of Redondo Beach, CA, who flies across the country to attend events, often on the hunt for Great Divide Brewing Co.’s Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout. You might call this viewpoint aspirational in the same way that some people longingly read exotic travel magazines or test-drive expensive cars. Or, you could just call it exposure.
“When Mr. Bud Light comes to a festival, he sees a world of opportunity,” says Mike Sandefur, owner of 3-year-old Battered Boar Brewing Co. in Oklahoma City. “It’s our chance to show him and everyone else there’s great beer in Oklahoma. We tell everyone we exist. It’s not supposed to be a secret.”
Sandefur, who says his Facebook fan requests double or triple after a public event, believes so strongly in the power of festivals that he dips deep into his budget to send as many of his employees as possible. Two years ago, he drove his entire seven-person crew to GABF. It’s a reward for their hard work and a way to maximize contact with consumers. He spends a lot of money to do this, but no one expects to make much money on festivals anyway.
“People think we’re very rich,” chuckles Jeannine Marois of Mondial de la Bière. “We’re not rich. It’s a challenge to buy good beer and cover all the very expensive costs like security, salaries and taxes.”
Fox, from Skull Coast, says, “In some states, you’re allowed to sell your beer to the festival, but in others, you have to donate it. Some states or organizers set you up like an exhibitor at a convention and charge you $1,000 to $5,000 to rent a booth or a table.”