There’s a lot of talk these days about craft beer sales declining. These claims have rose to the surface of conversation amidst new breweries opening across the country just about every day on average and more bars and restaurants adopting craft beer for their taps in lieu of domestic light lagers, thus making the claims seem silly and unfounded.
Yet, there’s an enormous aspect of craft beer culture that accounts for transforming beer drinkers into loyal product and brand advocates and also points to where those hard-earned dollars are going: festivals. Seemingly every weekend, there are events centered around the great beer offerings now available in our town. They provide an opportunity to raise money for charities, help communities in need, or simply give you an opportunity to sample many different beers under one roof…potentially broadening your horizons and introducing a new beer style, brewery, or both, to your world.
Once upon a time, beer festivals only happened a few times a year, making them special and something everyone anticipated. Today, craft beer is center stage and large-scale events designed to showcase these beers are as well. Given the volume of these events, it’s not possible to make it to every one as some run side by side on the same day, each executed in different fashion and delivering a different experience to Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Beerdrinker.
With so many festivals to choose from, it’s easy for both brewery representatives and beer enthusiasts alike to suffer from what’s been dubbed ‘festival fatigue.’ Are there too many big events trying to capitalize on the growing popularity of craft beer and, thus, watering down the festival market? When is too much ‘too much?’ The answer to this is as subjective as your favorite brewery’s new IPA, but it’s certainly a subject worth investigating.
A couple years ago, my brother-in-law asked me if I felt there were too many festivals. At that point, my answer was ‘not at all.’ Today, my answer has changed…but not to the tune that we have too many festivals, but more so to the fact that we don’t have enough unique beer festivals. Point of difference is a huge factor and certain elements must stand out in order to capture audiences and deliver the most bang for your entertainment buck.
Without question, when I look at the most unique beer festival to hit the scenes in Pittsburgh in recent times, I look no further than Brewtal Beer Fest. Brewtal wrapped up its second successful event on Saturday, September 9th at Mr. Smalls Theater in Millvale and grew exponentially from its first go-round in 2016. Festival creators Meg and James Evans combined two of their biggest passions, beer and metal music, into one epic, day-long event celebrating both genres and showcasing the parallels existing between the two. Together with a like-minded crew of organizers, Brewtal unfolded with 10 metal bands playing on two stages throughout the day combined with collaboration beers created by said bands in tandem with craft breweries.
Totally into metal music? Sweet. 10 bands on two stages absolutely blew the roof off from start to finish, with Baroness wrapping things up on the main stage at the end of the evening. Implementing two stages meant you didn’t have to wait in silence between sets as you could venture to the Funhouse upstairs to hear more. Plus, bands transitioning on stage provided ample time to sample more unique beers – some of which will never be poured outside of this particular festival.
According to Meg, Mr. Smalls served as the perfect stage for Brewtal.
“The venue worked perfectly,” Meg proclaimed. “We had bands bouncing from stage to stage which made turnover smooth, but also guests always had something to see. There was never a moment of waiting for the next band. And even if you were, you could try some killer beer to fill the void! We also set up the venue to allow guests to flow throughout and always find something to check out.”
Not into metal music? Fair enough. It’s certainly an acquired taste. But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t enjoy yourself in other ways. You could hang out on the Funhouse level where breweries, vendors, and others were stationed. Or, you could venture to the lower level of Mr. Smalls where Pittsburgh Retro Gaming and Black Forge Coffee had a full bank of video games set up for your enjoyment. There was also outdoor space where you could enjoy the beautiful Fall day with your beer sample of choice.
And, of course, don’t rule out the fact you may hear a band you like before the end of the day.
In other words, Brewtal offers something for everybody. And that point of difference is huge. It attracted everyone from beer lovers to metal heads and everyone in between.
“What I love about this festival is that we have a unique variety of guests,” Meg said. “It gives us an opportunity to create new beer drinkers, but also new fans of the music we feature at the festival. We learned last year that our guests aren’t only there for the beer, but the lineup of bands is key for our guests, too. We responded to that while planning this year, but also made sure that we brought killer breweries to the table. The combination made for a memorable event.”
The work that goes into planning events of this magnitude cannot be understated. There are tireless days, sleepless nights, and plans on top of plans on top of plans that go array. For those of us who attend these festivals, it’s important to realize that a lot of effort went into making it all come together. We owe a debt to those who bring us these events and, personally, my thanks goes out to everyone who focuses on delivering something new, something unique, and something different for enthusiasts to enjoy.
It’s safe to say Brewtal delivered on all these fronts.
“The biggest takeaway I get from putting on an event like this is getting to see how happy and excited everyone is to be there, be part of it, and see some killer music,” Meg reflected. “All the effort, stress, and tired days make it all worth it.”
“I am blown away by all the effort our brewers and bands put into Brewtal,” Meg continued. “It’s humbling to see so many people excited about what you’re doing to the point that they will dress up as Shrek to make a killer video for your festival. We have the best people at Brewtal Beer Fest!”
Beer festivals will continue to serve as showcases for what our craft beer scene has to offer. For those planning these events, always look for a point of difference in your event and determine what’s ultimately going to make people check out what you’re offering. And for those in attendance, always remember the hard work that took place behind the scenes that allowed you to add this experience to your life. A combination of hard work from organizers and support from enthusiasts will lead to some truly epic times for us all and make festival fatigue a dead issue.
A huge shout out to the entire crew behind Brewtal: Meg Evans, James Evans, Brian Howe, Chad Koza, Nick Miller, Stacey Stockdill, Tom Klingensmith, Joshua Bakaitus, all the sponsors, all the bands, all the breweries, and all the vendors who came out to make Brewtal one truly unique, kick-ass day!