IT'S TIME once again for Savannah's favorite Labor Day weekend event that doesn't involve the Georgia Bulldogs: the Savannah Craft Brew Festival.
Those who have attended before know the drill: You get wristbanded at the entrance of the Trade Center; you enter and pick up your branded, take-home tasting glass along with a handy brewer scoring guide and pencil; and you enter the outdoor/indoor tasting space, enjoying the hand-served two-ounce pours at your pleasure and leisure.
Yes, food is available at extra cost onsite.
(Note: Due to expected heavy rain on set-up day Friday, the entire Fest will be indoors at the Trade Center.)
The usual crowd favorites return this year: the Silent Disco, Photo Booth, Cornhole Tournament, Mead Garden, Mixology Garden, and Import Garden.
There will be a couple of new wrinkles for 2016, the Orpheus Beer & Cheese Pairing and the New Belgium Karaoke.
"For the beer & cheese pairing, this will be setup in a classroom style setting —similar to the Brew University—and patrons will be able to learn why certain beer styles pair best with specific cheeses," says Alex Colee of Red Mountain Entertainment, the company that runs the Fest.
And yes, New Belgium Karaoke is exactly what it sounds like.
"We have recently introduced karaoke to our line of beer festivals and it has been so much fun to watch patrons pick their favorite songs and sing with their friends."
But it's not all about tasting. It's also about education, such as the Mixology Garden.
"World of Beer has outdone themselves with this year's Mixology Garden," Colee says. "Their genius bartenders will be on site mixing up two or three beers together to make a whole new beer! They're going to be amazing."
The Craft Brew Fest was created for a specific reason, other than just to offer quality craft beer to Savannah.
"This event was created because for whatever reason we discovered the Labor Day weekend was a little bit of a hole in our tourism calendar. It was typically a low occupancy weekend," says Joe Marinelli, president of Visit Savannah.
"At the time our team got together and did research on what was popular and what we could create to maybe help drive some hotel room sales for that long holiday weekend."
That was in 2008, as the craft brew trend was really exploding. So, guess what the research uncovered was the hottest attraction?
"I always laugh about that, because I don't drink beer. But I had to make the call," says Marinelli.
Visit Savannah managed the festival for its first five years, always with the intent of eventually handing it off to another organization.
"Along came Red Mountain, and they've done a nice job of it," says Marinelli.
What makes the event special, Marinelli says, is the level of creativity in keeping the event unique and relevant, with lots of interaction with brewery representatives and a focus on educating about the beer.
Since this weekend usually marks the kickoff of the all-important college football season in earnest, festival organizers wanted to make sure the event wouldn't compete with enjoyment of the games, but would enhance it.
"We originally thought we'd want to keep football at arms's length. We were originally not interested in mixing college football with craft brew tasting," says Marinelli. "But Red Mountain embraced the idea of saying, we want people to be able to look over their shoulder and see what's going on with the game. Innovations like that have been popular."
Marinelli says the event has been a strategic success in that Labor Day Weekend experiences a higher occupancy rate than in years past, with the addition of new hotels in Savannah helping to serve the increased visitation and attendance.
"It's a good thing," he say simply.