Savannah Craft Brew Fest – Good, Bad and Ugly

I had the good fortune of returning to Savannah a month before the first Craft Brew Festival in 2008.  “You have to volunteer for this.” I was told by my good friend Erica.  “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”  So I did.  I remember thinking, “This thing has a lot of potential if it is done right.” “It’s almost a half time break between St. Patrick’s Days and we all know the younger crowd likes to come to Savannah to get their beer on.”

It seemed like a good fit.

Don’t ask me what I had for breakfast yesterday, but I do remember the day of the first Craft Brew Fest #1 Georgia was playing Georgia Southern.  Season opener.  Not a TV in the house.  (ouch).  I remember saying to myself “It’s beer, it’s football season.  Georgia is playing DURING your event.  You’ve got to have a television.”  “At least one.”  Not only that, but the entire event was held outside on the esplanade at the International Trade and Convention Center.  No place to escape the sweltering temps.  I gave the entire event a C grade.  Big, huge props to the folks at Visit Savannah for coming up with something that brought people to Savannah on Labor Day Weekend.  Execution, however, was questionable.

The preceding trip down memory lane has been brought to you by The Present and The Future.  Five years later, Savannah Craft Brew Fest rolls on under new management.  Visit Savannah (who started the event) has sold it off to Red Mountain Entertainment, an entertainment company based in Birmingham.  Red Mountain owns several concert venues around the South and puts on festivals like the Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis, Bayfest in Mobile, Alabama.  Do we see a pattern here?  Visit Savannah’s goal is to build a huge weekend around the Saturday event.  There are already beer pairing dinners, and brunches and other smaller type events, but something tells me this could be pretty huge pretty quickly.

The event itself in 2013?  Much better in many, many ways.  For starters, the indoor space was used more than it had ever been before.  “Where’s the crowd?” I was asked one vendor. “Have you been inside yet?” “The amount of space inside is huge.”  Sure enough, once I did make it inside the convention center, I was pleasantly surprised.  It was a full blown convention hall FULL of people, pouring beer, tasting beer and eating.  The eating part was particularly key.  In the past, temporary concession stands were popped up outside to offer people food.  Now the convention center’s concession stands were used for what they are there for.  Plenty of them were set up and it spread the crowd out quite a bit.  The end result of using so much inside space was a much more free flowing esplanade.  The last couple of years, it was a crush outside to get a taste of anything.  Way too crowded and uncomfortable.  Progress.  Certainly good progress.

Now for some of the bad news.   You can’t have a beer festival without beer, right?  About 2:30pm I was hearing whispers that some vendors were running out of beer.  They were, in fact, pouring less than the two ounces in the sample cups to stretch it out.  Under normal circumstances, you say “Well, they underestimated the number of people.”  Fair enough, but running out of beer 90 minutes into a 4 hour event is not good.  I was told the day before the event that close to 3,000 tickets had been sold and that the number of freebies handed out had been significantly cut down.  There was a pretty good idea what kind of crowd they were going to get, especially when you factor in walk ups.  No excuse for running out of beer.beer_0

The festival ran from 1pm-5pm this year.  Too short.  Certainly I understand the challenges in offering free beer  (after a ticket purchase of course) to a younger crowd for an extended period of time, but 4 hours to sample hundreds of beers is asking a lot.  Of course, no one says you have to taste them all, but one should have the option to do so if you like.  If you are going to taste even a majority of the beers in 4 hours, there isn’t a lot of time to do much else.  Especially if you want to spend a few minutes chatting with a beer maker, learning about what they do and how they do it.  **Disclaimer:  Most people at the Craft Brew Fest are there to drink beer.  I honestly believe that.  Taste?  Meh.  Leave that to the wine crowd.  Sure the popularity of Craft Brews leads to sampling of different things, but not many people at this festival care about the process.  They are far more interested in the result.  Bottom line, 4 hours isn’t enough.  Because…….

Getting to and from the festival has become a challenge.  By the time I walked up to get in line for a ferry over to Hutchinson Island, it was just before 1:00pm.  I waited one hour. Yes, actually slightly over an hour to get off the boat at the Trade Center.   That’s way too long.  An employee with Savannah Belles (Operated by Chatham Area Transit) told me that someone had only hired 2 of the 3 ferry boats for the day.  Ridiculous.  Not only did we wait an hour to get over there, arriving after 2pm, but I made sure I left pretty quickly to avoid a similar line BACK over the River Street.  Once you take the ferry over, there aren’t many options to get back. Add in the fact that some vendors were running out of beer by 2:30pm and…well, yeah, you get it.   Can you imagine a guest at the Westin who had no idea about that event having to wait over an hour to get back to their swimming pool?  No excuse, that needs to be addressed.

This festival is going to grow.  No question.  I’m told for the first time in 5 years, the Westin was sold out Saturday AND Sunday nights over Labor Day weekend.  At the end of the day, heads in beds is the end game here. With Red Mountains experience and access to the music world, it’s not far fetched to thing big name concerts are in it’s future.  That type of event has already been on Savannah’s wish list.  This partnership makes it closer to reality.  I can’t wait.

Cheers

 

Eat It and Like It launched in Savannah, Georgia with television personality Jesse Blanco as the host. His passion for food and travel has made Eat It and Like It a two-time EMMY nominated program about contemporary and traditional Southern food.

5 Comments

  • JoeNoodles@gmail.com' Joe says:

    Good review Jesse and congrats to the Red Mountain folks for a good first effort. Savannah is lucky to have an event like this that is popular among locals and visitors alike. A quick walk around the historic district this weekend showed full hotels, restaurants, shops and tours. Whether its the Music Festival or the Creaft Beer Fest, a busy Savannah is good for all of us. I hope the Craft Brew Fest continues for many years to come.

  • Klittle@blsouth.net' Kim little says:

    How do I volunteer for 2014?

  • lilusa1@yahoo.com' John Doe says:

    It seems that the volunteers working the taps may have not known to or did not have the number they needed to text when beer was running low so when a keg kicked or ran out they just left. I saw that happen first hand. This year the ticket price increased, charged for parking, took forever to get in even if you had a ticket, went from nice glass to plastic tasting cups, venue slow to deliver beer, rinse water for the sample cups ran out, poor communication to the brewery reps and less space, no type of beer tasting competitions professional or home brewers, and they wanted people to tweet their favorite beer….a lot of people don’t use twitter! What was worse they sent out a tweet asking people to tweet their favorite a day later – most likely the reason to get people to tweet was to generate publicity. This year it was run FOR profit..was a lot better when Visit Sav was running it. It seemed those that have attended in years past had a lot of complaints vs first time attendees. I have worked the past three and this year was a big let down. I expected more from company that puts on events all the time. Event profit seemed to be motivator – not bringing people to Sav and far from craft beer.

    • eatit_admin says:

      One would expect, Mr. Doe, that there will be some improvements going into next year. There have to be or this event will fizzle out over the next few years. Glass is necessary. Better movement of visitors over the river is necessary. Proper supplies of beer is obviously necessary. The Twitter vote was a clean easy way to register an opinion. All in all, there was some good, bad and ugly. Let’s hope it is all addressed.

  • paulluth@comcast.net' Paul says:

    This was my 3rd Savaanah Brew Fest andit had all the makings of the best. As it turned out, it was the worst. The plastic glass was the first bad omen. The reduced time (unless you threw down double the money for a VIP ticket) was the second. Having only two servers at the mixology table yet another. The CIder Garden was a train wreck with the brands not matching up the signs and being told to get in the other line, seriuosly! And the thing for which there is no excuse is running out of some beers after an hour and a half. I’ve been to many beer fest around the county, that was a first. Myself, my sisters and brother-in-laws all gave this years event thumbs down. FYI we knew not to use the ferry having been burned at other events. The city and even promoters need to get their acts together.

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