American beer festivals are growing at nearly the same rate as breweries. Festivals such as Chicago’s Beer Under Glass and Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beers used to sell out within hours, but now tickets remain up for grabs day-of. To combat what is being dubbed “festival fatigue” by some, organizers are making creative moves to differentiate their events, whether by gimmick, size or theme. But what can these events really do to stay relevant and be more than just a massive gathering of people who want to get their drink on?
Some fests have sought other offerings such as art to attract craft beer fans. The first-ever Liquid Arts Festival was held this year in Hamilton, Ontario and touted “emerging artists” next to a wide variety of craft beers. Others focus on a specific style, such as Other Half Brewing Co.’s Green City, which revolved around IPAs, or the Pils & Love festival, now in its second year and serving up a wide variety of pilsners.
Another growing trend is slightly more difficult to pull off. Beer festivals typically feature the same big, nationally distributed breweries along with a smattering of local ones. But brewers in other states, and even around the world, are often left out of the conversation. This leaves attendees with a rather familiar line up, which is why fests are starting to offer a broader variety of beers to festival-goers. Shelton Brothers’ The Festival showcases more than 50 international breweries as well as American beers that aren’t widely distributed. OctFest will attempt to do something similar, bringing 90 international breweries to New York City’s Governors Island on September 8 and 9.
This trend of American beer fests going global benefits both the festival and the brewery. Visitors are exposed to styles and breweries outside of the Belgian, German or English beers typically found in the “global” section of liquor stores. These events showcase the flourishing beer scene in Australia, the growing craft beer movement in South Africa, the specialized beers of South America and other global flavors. Why spend money on admission to a beer festival if all of the available beers are also served at your corner bar?
Taiwan’s Taihu Brewing is one of many global breweries featured at the OctFest, and managing partner Peter Huang said the team wouldn’t miss the opportunity to pour for New Yorkers.
“There's a non-stop flight from Taipei to JFK,” says Haung, who hopes that a taste of Taihu's unique beers will stoke interest in a brewery visit. "Shameless plug: Come visit Taiwan! It's Asia's hidden gem,” he says. Taihu is bringing its Wooo May, a riff on a traditional German smoked sour that is inspired by Taiwanese smoked plum tea. Taihu’s other beer is on a different mission. The Black Bear is a 10% ABV barrel-aged stout. With it, Haung wants to prove that Asian breweries can do barrel-aged imperial stouts, too.
Cervejaria Pratinha, out of Brazil, will be pouring a sour beer made with cocoa pulp. “We choose the cocoa pulp for its notes of green and slightly acidic fruits—nothing even close to chocolate flavor,” founder Jose Braghetto says.
Alejandro Manotas, founder of Colombia’s Mela’s Craft Beer, wants to showcase the best of his region to Americans trying his beer for the first time. “We know there is a lot of coffee beer in the USA, but we wanted to show how we make coffee beers in Colombia, the coffee country,” Manotas says. The coffee in Mela’s Beer 4 Breakfast stout comes from the town of Gramalote, Colombia, where it is hand-picked and specially roasted for Mela’s beers.
Cocoa pulp, smoked plums and Colombian coffee may be too adventurous for some, but these international beers are not the only exclusive brews being poured at OctFest. American breweries from Miami, Texas, Massachusetts and Oregon that don’t distribute in New York City will also be in attendance. Live Oak Brewing out of Austin, Texas brews one of the best hefeweizens in the country. The hefe will be pouring alongside three other beers from Live Oak that have never been served in New York. Another brewery serving beer for the first time in New York City is Lamplighter Brewing Co. All three owners are coming down from Cambridge, Massachusetts with a beer aimed at grabbing the attention of new customers.
“Rhapsody is a barrel-aged sour. It’s one of the first beers to come out of our barrel program,” said Lamplighter’s co-founder Cayla Marvil. “It’s [our] favorite beer right now, and we’re excited to share it outside of the taproom.” Lamplighter is just one example of a quickly growing brewery that is off the radar to many craft beer fans. A taste of it—or a Taiwanese-inspired sour, for that matter—should be exactly the sort of experience a curious beer drinker is looking for.