I’ll admit that upon walking into Sugg Farm Park in Holly Springs on Saturday, Beericana felt like most other beer festivals: good weather, good food, lots of beer tents and, expectedly, lots of beer. But I was wrong. And it only took a couple trips to different tents to figure that out.
Most beer festivals are about beer. Beericana was about the breweries.
It’s a subtle difference, but a big part of appreciating what Beericana stands for, and what the 919 Beer guys are trying to build here in the Triangle and around the state.
Beericana was their first full-sized festival, but it was really just an extension of what they’ve been doing for a while on a smaller scale. The 919 Beer group — you can read about them here — works with nonprofits, develops events to feature local breweries and their work, and connects people around the Triangle who like to socialize and maybe even learn about craft brews and the businesses that help drive local economies. (One of their main recurring events — “Taste the Triangle”, a monthly get-together that leaves all of the profits at whatever brewery they meet at — is perfect to get into if you missed Beericana.)
“We’d like to turn a profit one day,” Adam Eshbaugh told me. “But that’s not really the goal. We’ll never stop working with nonprofits. As long as we keep connecting brewers and breweries and people, we’ll be fine.”
Eshbaugh just recently launched a beer-centric podcast with 99.9 The Fan talk show host Joe Ovies where they discuss — SPOILER ALERT — beer. It isn’t like what you might think, though. There are no snobby industry terms, no lectures on which sugars break down the fastest. They talk events, local beer culture, their best finds that week. It’s stuff anyone can get into, beer experts or newcomers.
It’s an open-minded approach to an industry that hasn’t always been known as such. Let’s face it, craft beer can be intimidating to the novice. But, again, Beericana was different. I walked into a few tents expecting to use my relative ignorance as a good angle for a story, but the conversations there took the same turns as other food & drink events I’ve covered: how they’re connecting local economies and businesses, educating interested patrons, and just plain giving people fun, social stuff to do in their own backyards — with world-class craftsmanship wrapped into the mix for good measure.
I asked a more experienced beer writer than myself — Greg Barbera, beer columnist for INDY Week and former editor at All About Beer magazine — if this community-oriented approach was more of the norm these days. He said yes. “There does seem to be a trend to focus more on the brewers at these events. Makes sense, too. Could you imagine going to a farmers market and buying okra from a hottie in a skimpy tank top?”
The beer reps, brewmasters and pourers knew their stuff. We’re talkin’ just fantastic beer here, no sales pitches or gimmicks.
There were over 60 breweries present at Beericana, and a couple local artisans and craftsman mixed in. A few highlights:
Deep River’s “Double D’s Watermelon Lager” (Summer Seasonal) — No fruit extract; let’s clear that up front — just the real thing. I didn’t expect much but it left an impression on me for sure. Brewed with real local Johnston County watermelon fresh off the farm, it’s light, and with just enough but not too much fruity flavor to make the list of things I had to mention.
Lonerider Brewing Company’s “Red Spur” — Phenomenal. I’ve never tasted an amber ale that was so crisp and clean. This was the first keg to go dry at the festival and it’s no surprise why. They’re tough to find, no bottles, but they’re around Raleigh right now.
Natty Greene’s “Smoked IPA” — I learned at the Natty tent that their “Bunker” in Greensboro is open on Thursdays and Fridays, and it’s one of the only places to find this drink. They described it as “a take on Lexington BBQ with peach” and I don’t think I could do any better.
Brice’s Brewing — These guys are from Benson and are so new they couldn’t even pour at Beericana. But they’ll be at Raleigh Brewing Company on December 6th. Tell Kris with a “K” that RaleighCo sent you.
Sonnyboy’s Sauces — I’ll be honest, I think I drank more of this than beer. And it was worth it. Do yourself a favor and order some ASAP. Mr. Sonnyboy (I have a feeling that isn’t his real name) started making this in his kitchen and his friends convinced him to go big-time. Thank God. No HFCS, no preservatives, vegan, gluten-free, no cholesterol, and the number one ingredient is olive oil. It is fantastic. The first thing I did when I got home from Beericana was start cooking so I could use some. Order. This. Stuff.
Front Street Brewery “Scottish Ale” — These guys are from Wilmington and had the best Sott I’ve ever tried. Crisp, not too heavy or earthy; really well-suited for someone who wants to throw down a full brew, but also more than one.
Beer Army Combat Brewery “Rebellious Patriot American Ale” — Made by former Marines in Trenton, NC. ‘Nuff said.
In the end, Beericana didn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but they didn’t have to. They just brought in great products and talent and let fate do the rest. It worked. Here’s hoping for next year, and check out 919 Beer while you’re at it. They’re doing great stuff all the time.