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Saturday April 19th 2014

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Raise a (Tasting) Glass

by Jessica Forbes

Beer lovers, rejoice. It’s that magical time of year again:  Pensacola’s Emerald Coast Beer Festival is upon us. For one evening, the area in and around Seville Quarter will become a smorgasbord of brews from across the region and country, including those from multiple home- and micro-brew operations.

This year will be the 13th annual festival, a joint production of the Escambia Bay Homebrewers (EBH) and Seville Quarter.

Jim Martin has been with EBH for over 22 years and has seen the festival grow to include over 60 breweries, brewpubs, vineyards, and homebrew clubs participating either independently or through their respective distributors.

“We pick up more homebrew clubs every year,” Martin said of the festival’s growth and one of its more unique aspects. “We’re one of the few beer festivals that have homebrew.”

The small brew clubs are the heart of the festival, which originally began a reunion of sorts for microbrewers.

Martin says Steve Fried, the first brewmaster at McGuire’s, began the original gathering that became EBH’s festival. “He started it with Chan’s so that local brewers from mostly Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida could get together after the summer season and have a party, and it’s evolved from that,” remembered Martin.

Buck Mitchell oversees Special Events and Marketing for Seville Quarter where the festival has been held each of its 13 years. Mitchell identifies Seville’s role as more operational. “We’re an integral part of the logistics,” he said.

Between VIP and regular admission attendees, Seville hosts approximately 2,700 guests in less than four hours during the festival. “People wise, at one time, before 10 o’clock, it is the biggest single day [for Seville],” Mitchell said. “It’s a very, very impressive sight to see the street full and every single room inside Seville full.”

For Seville Quarter, the festival involves a six-month planning process, including Responsible Vendor training for all servers. “We mandate that all the beer servers take our course, just like our normal staff would take. We try to make sure everybody has a great time, but a safe time,” said Mitchell. “It is a lot of beer.”

Mitchell reports that everyone in the Seville family works the festival, from security to servers. “It is 100 percent all hands on deck,” said Mitchell. “When you’re dealing with that many people, everybody is here.”

On the Thursday before the tasting, Seville also hosts a Beer Pairing Dinner, which is limited to 90 seats and typically sells out early. “We’ve had a waiting list for the past two weeks,” said Mitchell. “It’s a very coveted ticket.”

The annual dinner features a representative from a brewery of Seville’s choice—this year’s being Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma, Calif.—and Seville’s Executive Chef Brandon Melton puts a menu together based on the brewery’s offerings.

Planning an event of this size takes time and a lot of connections. EBH begins their efforts in June. “There’s about six or seven of us involved from the beginning and as we get things together we bring more and more in,” said Martin. June is also typically the time EBH attends the WYES Beer Festival in New Orleans, the only other beer fest in which the club participates, and where they often make connections with new Emerald Coast Beer Festival vendors.

“Right now, we have 25 five-gallon kegs of beer, cider, and wine to serve,” Martin stated of what EBH prepares for their booth, where the club serves brews that members have made and donated. EBH is, at present, one of 65 booths registered for the festival. “Some are serving cider, most are serving beer,” Martin said, adding that both bottled and keg beers are permitted.

In addition to brewers, food vendors, including the Happy Pig, will also be on premises along with live entertainment. For those who are either designated drivers or not beer fans, non-taster wristbands are available for $10.

“It’s not a huge money-maker for Seville per se. It does do a lot of good for the charities that we raise the money for,” said Mitchell. “And we would do it probably for nothing just because it’s that great of an event.”

Proceeds from the tasting support Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida and the Seville Rotary Club, groups that the EBH support and partner with throughout the year.

Mitchell points out that several of the festival beers are available year-round at Seville, but adds a possible perk for the venue, also a hope of every beer fan in attendance. “We might find some new stuff,” Mitchell stated, enthusiastically. “We might luck up on a new beer.”

EMERALD COAST BEER FESTIVAL
WHEN: 6 – 8:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6
WHERE: Seville Quarter, 130 E. Government St.
COST: 21+ event. Beer Tasting $25 in advance, $30 day of, and $55 for Advance VIP
DETAILS: emeraldcoastbeerfest.com