Armed with a new name and bigger setting, this month’s Charleston Beer Fest has emerged as one of the Lowcountry's largest craft beer festivals.
But with craft beer more available than ever, how much does a one-day event still matter?
When the festival, originally called Charleston Beer Garden, started in 2012, following the lead of Brewvival, the Charleston area was home to five breweries. And, overall access to craft beer was limited here, says Chris Winn of Tradesman Brewing Company.
“Probably one of the things that has changed most in this town is that beer festivals used to be your main access point to good craft beer,” he said. “It was a lot harder to get your hands on craft beer around town back then."
Now, craft beer is in stock at local breweries, bars and grocery stores. In other words, beer festivals no longer serve as the sole gateway to a bunch of craft beer made near and far. Organizers of Brewvival, previously one of the largest beer events in town, pointed to the rising number of breweries as a reason for the event's cancellation in 2018.
Still, breweries aren't just looking to make simple introductions. Local producers credit festivals with giving them an opportunity to impress drinkers in search of something different.
The goal is to bring beer "that's going to catch people's attention," said Rick Rice of Palmetto Brewing.
More than 3,000 people attended the event last year, when it was called Charleston Beer Garden and held at the Grove in Mount Pleasant. When it was clear the fest had outgrown that space, Kirk said a name change followed suit.
In its eighth year, the beer fest will bring 41 Carolina breweries, 22 of which are based in the Charleston area, to North Charleston’s Riverfront Park on Saturday, May 18. Participating breweries will collectively be pouring more than 80 styles of beer.
“You’re not going to feature — I hate to use the words 'boring beer' — but one of those that’s perfect to watch a football game with," Rice says. "And you're probably not going to bring your core beers that people already know,” he said. “You’re going to bring something unique. You're going to need to stand out and be remembered.”
With so many local breweries in the mix, Rice said festivals offer a chance to snag new regular customers.
“As a brewery, we’re always excited about people trying our beer for the first time,” Rice said. “Really, this is the only way to do that in mass numbers. Thousands of people may try our beer that never have before.”
And, for those who haven't explored the local beer scene recently, Winn says the fest will offer a glimpse into "what all of the hype is about."
"It's a good time for beer in Charleston," he said. "If you've been wondering what’s going on with all these new breweries, this is a good time to see for yourself."