I had it all typed up and ready to go, but something was keeping me from pulling the trigger…
Now that World Beer Festival Richmond has been canceled for 2011, I don’t know if it’s even worth posting. I’ll let you be the judge of that.
In 2009, All About Beer magazine announced, somewhat furtively, that they would be bringing their renowned World Beer Festival to Richmond that summer. When I heard the news, I drifted back to my time wandering the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, enjoying rare beers at timed tappings and soaking up all the information I could, a truly unforgettable experience. The excitement in Richmond was palpable. The small but growing beer scene around town became electric with the thought of rows upon rows of stands offering exotic and interesting brews from faraway lands. And all this, right in our own backyard.
We had arrived.
Naturally, we set up a tasting to celebrate. It was originally planned to coincide with the festival. The idea, aside from bringing together the usual suspects from around town, was that the tasting would have also served the purpose of offering out-of-town participants and the All About Beer crew a chance to join us and see what Richmond’s beer scene was truly all about: homebrewers, commercial brewers, distributors, retailers, beer lovers, and weirdos. An eclectic cast, to say the least.
However, All About Beer’s support for the inaugural festival seemed to be, shall we say, less than adequate. The festival was ultimately postponed for the summer of 2010. The reason given? It was stated that the festival organizers needed more time to plan something truly spectacular, and they didn’t want to rush putting on an event that wouldn’t live up to the standards that World Beer Festival is known for.
I get that. Why put on a half-assed festival? That’d be bad for everyone involved. Disappointed festival goers, injured reputation for World Beer Festival, and a bowl of sour grapes for everyone.
They did, however, send their main man and festival organizer to the tasting. He passed out some plastic tasting glasses from Columbia’s recent staging of World Beer Festival, and some t-shirts with logos, then he was gone. It looked like positive outreach to the Richmond beer community, despite the festival having been put off a year.
So in 2010, All About Beer planned to do it right. They teamed up with a local charity, and an alternative weekly newspaper in town. They offered a tasting at Capital Ale House reserved for members of the media, hoping to educate them, and thus, their readers, about the variety and wonders of beer. They took out ads announcing the festival. Daniel Bradford even made it to Richmond once or twice to say hello.
I worked that year’s festival, pouring sips of beer for patrons at a furious pace, all the while babbling about styles, attenuation, brewery history, and whatever else beer-related that came to mind. I met a host of local people I’d never seen before, raving about beers they had tried or just raving in general. Overall, working the festival was a great experience, albeit a grueling one.
The response to last year’s World Beer Festival in Richmond was a mixed bag. Many newcomers to the beer fold seemed satisfied, their tickets to one session (or both) helping them reach or exceed their desired level of intoxication. But the VIPs, the guys shelling out an extra $35, seemed underwhelmed by most everything except the air-conditioned bathrooms. Some said the festival opened doors to them that they didn’t know existed, while others said they’d seen it all before. There were also grumblings among certain industry types that the festival was poorly organized, and that mismanagement of the event caused them a lot of grief.
Fast-forward to 2011. Less than two months before the festival, there’s been little effort on All About Beer’s part to make the public aware. No one is in the loop on what they’ve got planned; distributors don’t know what’s going on, the public doesn’t know what breweries will be on hand, and it doesn’t seem like many movers and shakers have been contacted to help make it all happen. They’ve also hired new guns tasked with organizing the whole thing. Though they haven’t had much of a presence in town, they’re now making their rounds to either gauge or try to ratchet up the level of support. They talk to distributors, bloggers, and seemingly anybody willing to grant them an audience.
It appears to have minimal effect. The reaction is neutral to cold. The support network just isn’t there this time around. Why?
Why, with a growing army of beer lovers pledging their allegiance and paychecks to “craft” beer, attending the ubiquitous beer dinners and tastings that were, only years earlier, a thing of lore… why is there a lack of support for this festival in Richmond?
You might not be able to find anyone that will openly admit it, but for various reasons, this year’s festival was met with a lot of skepticism from industry types in this town. This may be inching out on the bough of speculation, but I’m willing to bet that most of it stems from feeling cheated, the feeling that All About Beer is bringing their festival to Richmond, playing by their rules, and when they’re done, they just pack up and leave.
So anyway, there I am, at the end of April, sitting at Mekong with the gents from All About Beer, imbibing our favorite beverage and discussing the upcoming festival. These guys want to know how they can make this year’s festival better than last year’s, ways they can improve the overall experience. They’ve invited several bloggers (and perhaps other online media types) to join, but only a few actually assemble. Their PR person doesn’t show. Tacitly, they would also like support from the local online community in promoting the festival.
It was openly admitted by the organizers of World Beer Festival that they sometimes have difficulty getting involvement from breweries. That’s not the first time I’d heard this refrain thrown around regarding the festivals. Now, I can’t say for sure, but it could be the demands and requirements that breweries must meet to dole out samples of their products to the public under the auspices of All About Beer. Some individuals more knowledgeable than myself may be able to speak to that.
Regardless, we offer our advice over the course of the conversation, outlining concerns to the representatives from All About Beer along the way. The main issue I raised was the lack of overt and year-round support for the roughly-defined Richmond beer scene. It’s all fine and dandy to shake hands and kiss babies at Mekong every once in a while, but anyone can do that. Some folks, specifically in the savvy beer market, are smart enough to realize when they’re being reeled in.
In short, it would require a true, sweeping commitment to Richmond as a beer town. But how can you help a town that can’t seem to help itself? With the quick demise of the Shockoe Craft Beer Festival, and a much-rumored but yet-to-be-announced homegrown festival to take its place as the River City’s premier beer event, what’s Richmond to do?
The point is, there are several possibilities as to why we’re not having World Beer Festival in Richmond this year. Whatever the reason(s), the festival has been canceled just days after announcing tickets were available for purchase.
So, now that you’ve gotten your refund, what are you up to June 18th?