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July 12, 2012
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Beer me!

By Amber Williams

Click here to view our electronic edition of the Brewfest 2012 Official Guide.

Sample as many as 450 beers, rain or shine this Saturday, July 14 from 3-7 p.m.

Imagine. Poor Augustus Gloop — Willy Wonka’s infamous portly glutton — touring the daunting Chocolate Factory: Long since having digested the morning’s belt-buster breakfast, his stomach growls and churns with anticipation, while oompa loompas fill the atmosphere with the torturous sweet and salty smells of the day’s fresh batches of goodies. Gloop anxiously follows his quirky candy-making god, Mr. Wonka, down the long corridors of the factory, brimming with ravenous intent… about to burst!

Then, Wonka finally finishes his song-and-dance spiel and throws open the doors to the colorful candy garden — a stellar scene from Gloop’s wettest dream, topped with the illustrious creamy, chocolate river. Gloop’s overwhelming excitement sends him in circles like a kid who forgot his daily Ritalin dose — oh, where to begin?

That is how Brewfest-goers feel when the gates finally open at Principal Park, allowing the long line of patiently-waiting patrons inside for a beer sampling event that remains unmatched in the metro. The sampling is so vast, and comes with so many amenities, organizers soon learned that an admission ticket would have to come with a commemorative tote that people could hang from their backs in order to free both hands for a day of double-fisting.

A birthday celebration

Brewfest attendees take the massive beer sampling seriously. Some make pretzel necklaces which serve three functions: clearing the palate between samples, filling the belly to control the buzz and, obviously, because they are so fun and fashionable.

This year marks Cityview’s 20th anniversary as a locally-owned independent publication, which gives us even more reason to hold another alcohol-infused celebration, according to publisher Shane Goodman. Like Cityview, Brewfest is a celebration of local products and services coupled with the power of making and maintaining good local relationships, a tradition Goodman intends to nourish.

“Cityview’s Brewfest started as a result of a phone call from a company called SRO Productions out of Minneapolis that puts on beer festivals across the nation,” Goodman explained. “The guy we worked with was from Ames originally, and he really wanted to have a beer festival in Des Moines.”

Meanwhile, Cityview was also looking for a unique way to celebrate its 15th anniversary. Goodman knew he wanted to throw a party, but no vomit-inducing, Rufilin spiked, beer-bonging frat party would suffice. This birthday party had to be cool and unique with a splash of class.

“We had a discussion with Jeff Bruning of Full Court Press, who was also looking into starting a similar event. We decided to work together, along with Melinda Toyne of In Any Event, and for the past few years, with our friends at the Iowa Cubs, most recently Nate Teut,” Goodman said. “Working together is what makes this a success, as we each bring something to the table to make this a phenomenal event. So, the people and what they offer make it special.

“There are a lot of beer festivals across the Midwest that people can attend, but this one is put on by local companies, all with strong local ties to the community,” Goodman added. “We constantly tout local ownership, and this is a perfect example of the types of things we can do. We don’t need corporate approval to enjoy great beer with our readers.”

Amen, to that. But, as any party host knows, throwing a shindig — especially an event with as many facets and as much attendance as this one — comes with the stress of liabilities and the risk of it being a flop. Goodman admits, he had his concerns going into 2007’s inaugural Brewfest party. But, as usual, our readers made us proud.

“The first year, I expected more of a kegger-type atmosphere with a lot of young people and mass consumption of alcohol. I was worried about that from a liability standpoint,” Goodman said. “But what we found were attendees who truly have an appreciation for beer, swirling around samples in their mouths and taking notes. People of all ages, all backgrounds come to Cityview’s Brewfest, and that in itself makes it unique.”

Although Goodman asserts he never intended Cityview to be in the event business, he and much of the Cityview gang like to party, and he knows most of his readers like to party, too — especially in times of celebration. So, why fight what comes so natural? And what Cityview and its readers are apparently so damn good at. As a result, Goodman admits successful events such as Brewfest, Martini Fest and the Best Of Des Moines party carved out an event-holding niche Cityview can’t help but fill. And Brewfest has grown into a well-anticipated event that readers and brewers have come to expect.

“In terms of turnout, Brewfest is our largest event,” Goodman said. “With a few years under our belt, we have learned a great deal. We know how to throw a beer festival that draws bigger and better crowds every year. And that’s what this is all about — a celebration of beer.”

Celebrate beer

Sometimes numbers say it best: 250, 300, 375, 400. We’re talking beer. That’s how many different beer varieties were featured at the Brewfests of the past — from 2007 to 2010, respectively. It’s apparent that everything about this event grows and improves significantly every year.

Every Brewfest ticket-holder will receive a commemorative tote filled with scorecards, items from sponsors and various supplemental materials offered by vendors.

In the first year, it became immediately clear that if 250 different beer samples could draw 700 guests to a quaint parking lot at el Bait Shop, there was potential for this event to mature into one with staunch staying power. This year, it’s anticipated that as many as 3,000 people will attend Brewfest, according to Bruning.

“What’s happening at Brewfest matters to me,” Bruning asserted. “I spend the whole year thinking about what we’re going to do. Brewfest started at el Bait Shop, and it was really small, and it was outdoors in the elements. The flood of 2008 changed the venue, and we almost cancelled the event entirely.”

Cancel Brewfest? And disappoint the greedy beer-drinking Augustus Gloops in us all? Neither Bruning nor Goodman would have that. After all, it’s beer that keeps many of us afloat. Without the love of beer, Cityview and its supporters like Full Court Press might not have much to celebrate. Beer is an element deserving of our appreciation: beer, beer makers, beer drinkers, beer slingers. Beer!

“I’m pretty much the beer guy,” Bruning said. “I run the operations out of ‘beer central,’ el Bait Shop, and these marriages are intimately involved.”

Among its several bars throughout the city, Full Court Press has about 150 unique draft lines companywide, Bruning said, but it’s el Bait Shop that boasts the most and is famous in Des Moines for its vast selection.

“Our beer menus come to life in this event,” Bruning said. “Eighty percent of the Brewfest beers we sell in some way, shape or form at our places. But Brewfest will include some specialty beers that are only available for a limited time, if at all.”

About 430 unique flavors will officially be available for sampling this year at Brewfest, but Bruning said every year brewers bring stuff that’s not on the list. That way, future buyers get to sample the product even during the developmental phase, making the buyer/seller dialogue significant to both parties. About 140 different breweries will be showcased by five major distributors, each featuring 150-200 different beers, which amounts to as many as three beers from each brewery, Bruning said.

“Nearly every continent is represented… maybe not Africa, and obviously not Antarctica, but you get the point,” Bruning said. “Imports are mostly European with a sprinkling of other countries and continents — from all corners of the earth and in between.”

And Bruning has tried them all.

“I’m excited to have them all together,” he said. “Toppling Goliath is returning this year with more flavors, and Keg Creek from western Iowa is a new addition this year. I’m truly excited about our Iowa breweries.”

About 20 Iowa breweries will vending at Brewfest. In fact, the whole second floor of the I-Cubs concourse will be comprised of Iowa brands, including two Des Moines breweries that haven’t even opened yet: Confluence and Exile Brewing Companies are slated to open later this year.

“We do not have our brewers’ license yet, so I don’t think we will be serving any beer at the event, but we will be there to tell everyone about Confluence Brewing Company and get the word out,” said John Martin of Confluence Brewing Company. “We are excited to be part of Brewfest this year. Iowans’ awareness and appreciation for craft beer is stronger than ever. We can’t wait to be part of the Iowa Craft Beer scene.”

Nothing compares

While the Iowa State Fair is popular among local brewers for its Iowa Craft Beer tent, and the Iowa Craft Beer Festival in June was a pretty big hit despite the rain, Brewfest stands alone in central Iowa.

“This is something that’s completely outside the norm. We don’t have anything like this anywhere else in Iowa,” Bruning said. “The Craft Brew event down on the bridge a few weeks ago, well if you like that, Brewfest is three times as big, which means more to choose from. And the second floor is 100 percent Iowa products, so just the second floor of Brewfest is like a mini version of what they did on the bridge.”

Cityview’s Brewfest stands apart regionally as well. The Milwaukee Firkin Craft Beer Festival only boasts about 100 beers; the Michigan’s Brewers Guild is celebrating its 15-year anniversary with a two-day festival that offers the same number of varietals as Brewfest this year (and they call themselves “The Great Beer State”); and the Great Nebraska Beer Fest doesn’t include any brands from abroad.

Considering its growth and evolution, and with the networking and teamwork of all involved, Brewfest is poised for greatness in the beer world for brewers and consumers alike.

Brewfest evolved

With each passing year, Goodman, Bruning, Toyne and I-Cubs account executive Nate Teut, are learning what works, what doesn’t and what the event and its attendees need.

“Jeff (Bruning) has great relationships with the beer vendors. Melinda (Toyne) is a fantastic event planner. Nate (Teut) offers the best facility to have an event like this,” Goodman said. “And we at Cityview know how to promote and reach mass numbers of people through our publications, our websites, social media, our relationships with other media and good, old-fashioned word of mouth. We work well together and have developed friendships that make this more fun than work, and that’s exactly what we wanted to have happen.”

The first noticeable need was more space. That’s why the sampling area moved from the el Bait Shop parking lot to Principal Park. And this year, the area has grown again, making use of most of the concourse and the seating area in the stands for a relaxed, scenic alternative to the crowded concourse.

“When we first started, people just crammed in; there were groups of people back to back with other groups of people, and it was so congested,” Bruning recalled. “It was basically mindless beer pouring, and it turns into a beer drinking game rather than a beer experience. This year, there will be breaks in the action with other options, which helps to break up the crowd and spread the crowd out.

“I encourage attendees to talk to the people pouring their beers,” Bruning advised. “These people are pros, and they earn a living on beer — on people liking beer. They can answer any and all questions people might have, plus there will be some home brewers there who can help out, too — people who really know their craft. Talk to them.”

The second and third things Brewfest needed were shelter to keep people out of the weather elements and parking. Both were solved three years ago when the event moved to Principal Park where there’s plenty of free parking and a covered structure.

“Rain or shine, hot or cold, we can accommodate all situations at Principal Park and keep the beer flowing,” Goodman said. “If you like beer, there’s no better place to be. Where else can you sample 450 varieties to find out what you like? With the event running from 3-7 p.m., attendees can still get out and enjoy Saturday night. And we encourage people to do that by going out for dinner afterwards or attending any number of great establishments to keep the party going.”

This year, Brewfest is offering more than just beer samples, too. Local blues band Fruition will rock the house to a point where Augustus Gloop himself might glance up from his grazing to bob his head and tap his toe. Also, Bruning said beer merchandise will be on sale, the I-Cubs food vendors will be open and the proceeds will go to the I-Cubs’ favorite local charity again this year.

“The most important thing — even more important than the beer and the brewing industry — is the charity that benefits from Brewfest year after year, the Miracle League, which receives proceeds and awareness from the event,” Bruning said. “This year, Miracle League will get even more exposure for themselves. More tickets sold means more proceeds for them.”

Save on tickets

With more than enough incentives to join the party, Brewfest goers must first buy tickets. Goodman recommends getting them in advance at: Central City Liquors, 1460 Second Ave.; Ingersoll Wine and Spirits, 3500 Ingersoll Ave.; and Tequila’s Liquors, 1434 Des Moines St., in Des Moines; and Ingersoll Wine Merchants, 1300 50th St. in West Des Moines. Or, go online to Advance tickets save attendees $5 and a long wait in line.

“Even at full price ($28), it’s a good deal,” Bruning said. “Especially considering the prices of these kinds of beers.”

And for those who don’t particularly care for the taste of beer, Toyne asserts, “This is a great way to get your toes wet.”

“Brewfest has grown from a niche, beer-lovers’ event to have a broader appeal to people who don’t order beer as their first choice,” she said. “This is a new opportunity for them to broaden their horizons and be more adventurous with the palate. Find out what you really like so you can get comfortable with ordering beer next time you go out.

“It’s also an opportunity for people to have a relationship and make intimate connections with local producers.”

Brewfest may not have a waterfall of beer, like Wonka’s factory had for his candy connoisseurs, but with 450 different flavors, the beer will be flowing like a river. You don’t have to find a golden ticket to get in, and everyone gets a goody bag of prizes no matter how gluttonous they get in four hours of drinking… or “sampling,” that is. CV

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