Brewfest-crowd
Some suspect this year’s Louisville Brewfest had a record turnout, but thorughout the event, there was plenty of room to sip safely. Photo by Steve Coomes

Attendance numbers aren’t yet in, but organizers suspect Saturday’s fifth annual Louisville Brewfest might have been its biggest.

In years prior, the event was held during the peak of summer at the Mellwood Arts Center. Sweaty cheek-to-jowl crowds forced the event be rescheduled for the fall (in tandem with Louisville Craft Beer Week) and to the concourse at Slugger Field last year — where the crowd only swelled to fill that space.

This year, the Louisville Independent Business Alliance, which organizes the Brewfest, convinced Slugger Field to open the entire concourse and include beer and food stops all along a loop around the entire field.

“Last year we didn’t go out beyond the roof (first and third bases) at all and we had fewer brewers than last year,” said LIBA president Jennifer Rubenstein. “It’s also a growing process with Slugger Field: They were willing to allow us to have more space, and the layout change really let us get our groove on.”

Not only did that mean vastly more lebensraum, it kept beer lines short throughout the entire event. Food lines were a bit longer, but not problematic.

Brewfest-advisor
Knowledgeable and helpful “Beer Advisors” were located throughout the concourse. Photo by Steve Coomes

Saturday’s weather was also so spectacularly “fall in Kentucky”: dry air, cerulean skies, a gentle breeze and temps in the low 70s — no way to improve upon that — and some suspect that might have nudged attendance past last year’s 6,000 total. No one knows for sure until, as Rubenstein said, the full count is tallied later this week.

Brewfest’s first attempt at VIP ticket sales ($35 each for a maximum of 500 guests who got an hour’s private access to the kegs, a great Silipint cup, nine beer tickets each and larger pours throughout the event) didn’t sell out. But Rubenstein said that may be partially due to competition with the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown and area football games.

Just ‘cause we’re in the press and LIBA is generous, we were admitted to the VIP hour (3-4 p.m.), which was almost too roomy in the massive space.

Not that we’re complaining it was too easy to get beer and food, but it only seemed a bit less party-like with only a few hundred folks spread ‘round the stadium. (It didn’t even feel slightly crowded until about 6, when the masses arrived, and by 8 p.m., the joint was rockin’!)

And perhaps lower admission prices (all available after 4 p.m.) were a greater incentive. For example:

  • General Admission: $5, which includes a souvenir cup. Purchase food/bev tickets for $1 each (full pours = 3 tickets, 3 oz. samples = 1 ticket)
  • Craft Brewbie Package: $15, which includes admission, souvenir mug or wine cup and 10 tickets
  • Local Fanatic Package: $20, which includes admission, souvenir mug or wine cup and 15 tickets.
  • Master of Brew Package: $25, which includes admission, souvenir mug or wine cup and 20 tickets.
Brewfest-beer-bidet
Cumberland Brewing’s “beer bidet,” used to wash out attendees’ glasses, got a workout that afternoon.  Photo by Steve Coomes

Honestly, while the Silipint — a firm, rubber pint glass — was way cool and indestructible, if the option is available next year, I’d choose the Craft Brewbie. It’s $20 less than the VIP, and if you want more tastes, you can buy tickets throughout the event. Plus, as I said, if you show up at 4 p.m. with 1,000 of your closest friends, you’ll still nearly have the place to yourself for more than an hour.

Our group’s lone quibble was beer selection: By late in the evening, we’d either sampled all made available by each of 14 brewers, or we’d had them at their breweries.

(All had two styles on tap at their booths, and most had another brew on a rotating tap in the centerfield concourse. We figured we’d sampled about 20 beers each, which equates to three to four imperial pints spread over five hours. Not a ton, but enough to lead us to cease consumption at 8 p.m. and head out for dinner, where we drank water only.)

When I shared that point with Paul Young, owner of My Old Kentucky Homebrew and one of the event’s co-organizers, he kindly set me straight.

“What those breweries brought to the event reflects what they can actually produce,” Young began. “They’re small breweries, and they can only make so much, have the space to store it and then get that supply to their regular customers. Plus, they all do festivals like this during the year.”

Fair point. I stand corrected.

To better serve the sudsy masses, LIBA reached out to Lore Brewing from Danville, Ky., West Sixth Brewing and Country Boy Brewing (its Shotgun Wedding brown ale was my favorite of the day) from Lexington, Upland Brewing from Bloomington, Ind., and Rivertown Brewing from Cincinnati.

And judging by the crowd, it appears there’s still room for more breweries to join.

“Ultimately we need more breweries in Louisville and Kentucky to meet the demand that’s now there,” said Young. “We tried to have the festival focus on breweries just here and in Southern Indiana. But as you saw, we needed to reach out to others further away.”

Which wasn’t a bad thing. At all.

Final note: I don’t recall ever enjoying a group of volunteers as much as the people who put on this event. Funny, friendly, engaging, informative, helpful … you name it, a show of Louisville hospitality at its best. And Rubenstein said the vast majority were not even LIBA members, “Just people wanted to be part of the event and believe in craft beer.”

As if that weren’t good enough, guests had their choice of a paper event map or a beer festival smartphone app (Findmytap) that showed the location of every brewer and the beers they served.

About the only thing they could have done to make finding a good brew easier was to deliver it to our hands.

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Steve Coomes
Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 24-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Louisville magazine, Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass and Food & Dining Magazine. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.

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