Beer Town: Are local brewpubs the future of beer festivals?

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Max Lager's brewpub. Credit: Becky Stein.
Max Lager's brewpub. Credit: Becky Stein.

Max Lager’s brewpub. Credit: Becky Stein.

Longtime readers will know, I’m not a big fan of growlers. But another thing I’m less than enthusiastic about may be a bit more of a surprise.

Over the years, I’ve become disenchanted with most beer festivals. If you’ve ever been to one of those big, generic, hot pavement drinking fests that are more about imbibing than appreciation, you might agree.

Lately, though, several festivals, such as the 5 Seasons Secret Stash Bash, have brought the focus back to the beer and the brewers who make it. What’s even better, they’re happening at brewpubs, where suddenly you can even buy a growler to bring home.

With its popular Strong Beer and Wild, Wild Beer festivals, Wrecking Bar Brewpub in Inman Park has been a leader in putting together premier tasting events that limit the number of tickets sold and create a convivial, uncrowded atmosphere.

What’s more, because they are judged events with multiple breweries and awards, the emphasis is on educating your palate, rather than filling your gut. And you can even feel good about the ticket price, as a portion of the proceeds go to the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild — the primary organization working for revisions to Georgia’s beer laws.

Coming up in July, Max Lager’s in downtown Atlanta, which is the oldest brewpub in Georgia, debuts its first Old 320 Beer Fest, “celebrating the independent and innovative culture of craft brewing.”

Max Lager’s founder and brewmaster, John Roberts, says the event, featuring breweries from Atlanta, Decatur, Athens, Savannah and more, was inspired in part by the success of the Wrecking Bar festivals.

“Doing this as long as I have, one festival gets to be about like another, but I love the festivals the Wrecking Bar puts on,” Roberts says. “The thing I don’t like about most festivals is they’ve gotten so big. For this one, we’re keeping it small, and we’re trying to get more esoteric beers from all of the breweries.”

Wrecking Bar’s owner and brewer, Bob Sandage, agrees that small is beautiful when it come to beer festivals, and he thinks that brewpubs have unique advantages as a destination.

“Being a brewpub and having everything within your own four walls, you don’t need fences and security guards and port-a-potties,” Sandage says. “The reason why you have these huge, generic festivals in a strip mall parking lot is because they have to have 2,000 people to pay for all that.

“We can make money and have a great festival with 300 people, and we can put money back into the guild. They can’t do that. They would be losing a lot of money.”

TWO BREWPUB BEER FESTS ON JULY 23

Max Lager’s Old 320 Beer Fest, noon-4 p.m. July 23. $40 advance/$50 at the door, includes sampling glass, appetizers, live music and unique beers and cask ales from 20-plus Georgia breweries. 320 Peachtree St., Atlanta. 404-525-4400, freshtix.com/events/old-320-beer-fest.

Cherry Street Beer Fest & Cornhole Tournament, noon-9 p.m. July 23. $30 general/$75 VIP, includes sampling glass, T-shirt and beer, plus extras for VIP. Cherry Street Brewing Cooperative, 5810 Bond St., Cumming. 770-205-5512, xorbia.com/e/cherrystreetbrewing/cherry-street-beer-fest-cornhole-tournament.

MORE:

A taste of food and beer at five Atlanta brewpubs

Three under-the-radar Atlanta brewpubs

A complete list of Georgia brewpubs

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