Hope Springs Beer Eternal – Suwanee Beer Fest

The weather in Suwanee GA last Saturday was pretty much the antithesis of what we experienced in Charleston for Brewvival. The temperature was set to perfect and the sunshine was the only thing more plentiful than the beer. And thus we begin my third review in as many years of Suwanee Beer Fest 2013.

Because it was a terrific day punctuated by great beer, good music and a perfect forecast. 

The Crowd

Once again this festival grew by leaps and bounds. If you're familiar with the Suwanee Town Center, the line to get in wrapped around it from the entrance across from Mellow Mushroom all the way around the sidewalk to the stoplight behind the amphitheater stage. This in and of itself almost makes the VIP upgrade worth the price to avoid the line, not to mention getting in an hour earlier. But really, once the gates opened the line moved pretty quickly.

Of course, since it was March 16th, many patrons were all decked out in green. And everyone was ready to drink beer. The lines were generally long to refill the sample glasses, but they moved quickly and having over 300 beers ready and spread out across the grassy expanse of the park made the festival less congested than anticipated.

The attendance estimate was around 5000 people for the sold out event. Walking away from the first annual Suwanee Beer Fest, if you had asked me if that many people would grind the fun and drinking to a halt I would've answered "Yes! Absolutely." But the truth is this beer fest has handled the large numbers well. I suppose if you absolutely hate standing in any line you would have nothing but misery on your hands. But there was enough beer to make the lines move quickly and for the most part the choices were displayed well so that people had their minds made up by the time they got to the front. I'm not saying I hope the thing grows by another couple thousand, but the large numbers certainly were not a turnoff.

Since the local area has seen a nice turn towards craft beer in the last few years, the gathering of thirsty patrons was a more knowledgeable and eager crowd than a couple years ago. Knowledgeable in that local growler shops and better selection on shelves and restaurant menus have expanded both palates and tastes. And eager in that they wanted to learn more about what they were drinking. I heard more questions being asked – "Where can I get this?" and "Where's this brewery located?" – to gain a better understanding of the beer they were enjoying instead of just going through the motions of getting another refill to gulp down.

The Beer

Over 100 breweries were represented and the over 300 beers from them also helped make for a great afternoon. The list of participating breweries has grown in both quantity and quality for sure in the three years of Suwanee Beer Fest. This certainly led to a wide and varied experience for all on hand.

Geographically you had beer from as nearby as Atlanta and as far away as Hawaii, with just about everything in between. It was nice to see some newcomers to the area such as Lone Rider and Sixpoint join other heavy hitters like Left Hand and Stone. The Atlanta area is such a melting pot for people around the nation I'm sure any "transplant" could find something that was close to home.

Speaking of close to home, it was especially cool to see so many new breweries to our area represented. The trail that Sweetwater and Terrapin blazed for so long has lead to (by my count) eight other Georgia breweries on tap for this festival. And that doesn't include Jekyll Brewing which was represented there even though they have yet to produce a beer.

Of course, with so many beers, you also had a wide spectrum of tastes and styles available. It was more than enough to satisfy each and every craft beer lover. My personal favorite was Mother Earth's Silent Night which I had not had before. I also got to try Terrapin's new Treehugger which I believe is going into their first canning line soon. More honorable mentions: Strawn Brothers Scottish 80 Ale, Thomas Creek's Chocolate Orange IPA and as always Monday Night's Eye Patch.

One additional thought, it was a great idea to have The Beer Growler (one of the event's sponsors) to set up a tap station. This is where the longest lines were because they were offering a wide variety of beer, but because they had so many people working the taps it moved quickly and people got to try some beer that might otherwise not have been represented.

The Atmosphere

More bragging about Georgia's delightful weather this time of year aside, it was a hard afternoon to spoil. But the music, the food and the area itself really did a good job of supporting the festival and complementing the main focus – drinking good beer. The music spanned from rock-and-roll to '80s pop with the help of Ful Kinetic, The Daniels Brothers Band and Outatime. The amphitheater allowed guests to rest a bit and relax in the sun with that nice beer buzz. Meanwhile the food trucks provided a variety of carbs and meats to soak up some of that digesting beer and make more room.

As it fits into the feel of the beer fest and the craft beer movement in general, I'd like to share part of what Rick wrote on the front of the VIP booklet to piggy back off of a local PBS special "Craft Beer: The New Wine." I think this summarizes the evolving view of craft beer quite well.

…A good bottle of wine can run you anywhere from $20 to $500 and beyond. You can enjoy a unique, regionally crafted beer or even an obscure import from between $4 and $12. In this economic situation, that's a huge plus. There's also the simple fact that the microbrew is growing in popularity and production…Sensing consumer interest, bars are putting faith in local breweries, and offering a local brew from Atlanta and look it is right next to the Budweiser tap. For better or worse, beer selection is becoming a status symbol, just like wine already is.

So as expected, Suwanee Beer Fest is evolving right along with its area clientele and the nation as a whole. As the beer drinkers in Gwinnett County (specifically) and Atlanta (more generally) become more focused on good craft beer, this festival gladly obliges in kind.

Until next year y'all….Cheers!