What to do to Make a Killer Beer Festival Experience

As the summer heat kicks in, pop-up tents and jockey boxes will begin to flow more and more beer, and with pandemic concerns easing that can mean more festival and event opportunities for your brewery.

Being discerning in what festivals are best for your brand, what to bring, and who to bring it are key thoughts to plan for.

When The Empourium first opened, co-owner Sara Fetzer said the Denver brewery looked to attend festivals that mainly paid for the beer that was provided.

“(Those kinds of fests) are few and far between and typically don’t pay much but it was hard at first to justify giving away product when we were so young and looking to recoup costs,” she said. “As time goes on, we’ve become more selective with which festivals we attend and the thought of being paid for the beer hasn’t been such a main priority.”

Sarah Young, Executive Vice President of Wild Heaven said that the veteran Georgia brewery has developed a solid set of rules for festival and event participation.

“We want to make sure that the right brands are participating, that we’ll be amongst our peers,” she explained, saying that Wild Heaven won’t typically join a brand new festival or event unless they know and like the individuals running the event.

A few parts of the early checklist include:

• ​ ​​The festival organizers must always be properly licensed and purchase product through the distributor.

• ​ ​​​If the event proceeds benefit a charity, Young said that Wild Heaven is fine with donation but it must be a properly licensed event and go through proper channels.

• ​ ​​​“If it’s a really large festival with a ton of brands/non-beer options, we typically will supply beer but not provide a rep for the brand if it’s not required,” she added.

Fetzer added that The Empourium team will try to make sure that they pick festivals that are somewhat close to its location.

“Festivals are about getting your brand out there and hopefully gaining a few new customers,” she said. “If you’re too far away from your location then chances are you will never see any of these folks in your taproom.”

Also, she added, they look at what the purpose of the festival is.

“Are they raising awareness for a particular organization, idea, or group of people? Or does it seem more like a reason for people to just come, drink too much and not remember any of the beers that they tried,” she asked. “We like to align festivals that we attend with our company values and goals.”

Holidaily is a gluten-free brewery that has a wider distribution. Kaitlyn Gipple, the Golden, Colorado brewery’s Marketing Director said they will ask staff after a fest is over if they were able to get relationships made with possible new accounts.

“Either breweries or liquor store buyers that were there or something along those lines,” she said.

Gipple said that Holidaily realized that along with all the other breweries, it would get so many requests to participate in festivals every single year.

“We both have kind of developed our own system of how to determine if it is a festival worth doing,” she said. “Once we decide ‘yes,’ how do we get the most out of it? How do we make sure that it’s not just a fun thing that we’re going out and doing, but that is actually bringing in, whether that’s bringing people into the taproom, or for us, it’s really getting more sales out and distribution. The whole premise of how we decide which festivals we want to participate in and then how to take into consideration all of the costs that go into it.”

Planning a Lineup:

Catering a lineup depends on the event, said Mother Road Brewing’s Stephanie Henderson.

“We have maintained four core brands with little specialty presence for most of our existence, so there isn’t much to reel back on,” she said for the Flagstaff, Arizona brewery. “That said, we’ll push one or two of our four based on what we believe needs more visibility in that specific market.”

Fetzer said it typically depends on the festival itself.

“Where is the location, what is the weather going to be like, are the organizers looking for any particular styles,” she asked as things to inquire about before the event. “If there is an option to bring two styles then we like to bring one core beer to showcase a brand that is always available, as well as something fun and seasonal that we hope sticks out among the sea of delicious brews at the fest.

“If only one style is needed then we try to bring our favorite seasonal that fits the event best to try and capture the most attention from the audience we have that day.”

Looking Good!

Just like a good label design, standing out in the crowd can be important as well. That can go from who is there representing your brand; what your space looks like; what you are pouring and even what is available for consumers to remember you by.

Branding can be everything and it’s important for The Empourium.

“Every piece of equipment or marketing material we bring will have our logo on it,” Fetzer said. “Our tent, jockey box, tap handle, table cover, and such. If we show up to a festival, our goal is for every attendee to know that we’re there. Not only does it look much cleaner, professional, and Instagramable it helps people remember us and that’s the whole point.”

She said stickers are a must because everyone loves to take home a memento and think of something like BOGO cards for those attendees that most likely will show their face back in your taproom.

Crooked Stave’s custom, reclaimed wood jockey box cover usually accompanies the Colorado brewery’s jockey box to any festival where they are used.

”We also have a custom can/ice bin made from an old barrel if we are pouring packaged beer instead of draught,” said Jennifer Wolinski, Marketing Manager.

When possible Wolinski said Crooked Stave likes to offer koozies, extra labels, and stickers.

Personnel Decisions

Crooked Stave makes a point to educate and train all staff members with well-rounded knowledge to represent the company and brand in the best way possible at any given moment.

Staff for festivals is chosen on a case-by-case basis and is based on the structure of the event and what the brewery can anticipate that an attendee is looking to get out of the experience.

Depending on the event, a sales representative, taproom staff, or a member of the brewery’s marketing team might be the best choice.

“Conversely, the owner, a brewer, cellarman, or lab tech may serve as a better option if the festival is more industry-focused,” Wolinski pointed out.

Henderson said Mother Road takes pride in the robust training employees receive about the company’s culture, history, and values before hitting a beer event on their own.

“That is an important piece for event representatives,” she said, adding that employees are up to date with beers and recipes by offering weekly sensory to the entire crew to better familiarize themselves with the product.

Owners or a taproom manager are typically the ones in attendance for The Empourium.

“We have a small team so that’s usually an easy feat to accomplish,” Fetzer said. “This also gives us the best chance to make a great first impression. Most people in attendance might not know who we are, where they are located, or know what we are known for.

“This enables us to answer all those initial questions eloquently and accurately to give them the best idea of who we are and what we do.”

Outlining the responsibilities are key as well.

Wild Heaven has a part-time event marketing rep who has worked for the Georgia brand since they opened and helps in coordinating the festival/event calendar with the company’s sales reps and taproom staff.

“[He] is dividing the events up between all of them so not one person is overloaded with weeknight and weekend events,” explained Wild Heaven Executive VP, Sarah Young. “They are responsible for coordinating some of the logistics leading up to the event: working with management to select beers, providing event info to marketing for cross-promotion, confirming event equipment is prepped and ready, ensuring product is picked up or delivered, and actual event execution.”

As in many states, reps cannot legally pour beer samples during events so their role at the event is to make sure the event staff is trained on the beers Wild Heaven is featuring while making sure that the space looks on-brand, while interacting with consumers, and answering questions about the beers and the brewery locations.

Regardless of who is sent to a beer event by Mother Road, Henderson said they want to ensure the employee is comfortable discussing both flavors and the culture of the company so the experience is both fun and educational.

“As for their responsibilities, besides assisting our distributor with set up and tear down, we expect them to operate within liquor laws and ensure to provide radical hospitality,” Henderson said.

Whoever is a representative at the festival will hand out cards there that offer a consumer a free beer in the brewery’s Denver tasting rooms.

Holidaily also has a form that asks staff that worked the festival to fill out after. Some of the questions include new relationships developed with potential accounts or any placement. Another is how well organized the festival was, was it fun, and were there any gluten-free consumers there that were excited about the fest and Holidaily being there.

“It’s just different ways that we can gauge whether it was a success for us and whether we want to do it again next year,” Gipple said.

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