Have you found yourself in a beer rut, ordering up the same old go-to brews again and again? Maybe you’re just out to try a few new craft brews for the thrill of it, or are interested in learning a bit about the art of craft beer production. Whatever your beer-related motivation may be, the Emerald Coast Beer Festival (ECBF) provides an excellent opportunity to savor new flavors from craft beer operations brewing locally and throughout the U.S.
Held each year at Seville Quarter, the Escambia Bay Homebrewers (EBH) coordinates the event, a much-anticipated occasion for beer fans in Pensacola and the surrounding region. This year, EBH expects around 300 beers to be on hand, supplied by over 50 participating microbreweries, brew pubs, and homebrew clubs.
Several of the brews are extremely limited quantities provided by homebrewers, an aspect of the festival that makes it distinct from many other beer tasting events.
“Typically what happens amongst homebrewers is they really do save some of their best stuff for this beer festival,” said Derrell Winowich, owner of Chattahoochee Brewing Company in Phenix City, Alabama and founder of The Hopheads, a homebrew club also in Phenix City.
“The number one reason I keep coming back is that they have always been inclusive of the homebrew clubs and homebrewers on equal footing with commercial breweries,” he stated.
Winowich attends six beer festivals throughout the year in the Southeast. He began brewing beer at home in 1998, which was also the first year he attended the early incarnation of the ECBF; he hasn’t missed a year of the festival since either as a homebrewer or, as of February 2013, a microbrewery owner.
“Even though I own a commercial brewery now, as a homebrewer when I started, they treated everybody the same and that’s extremely unique in the brew festival world,” Winowich said.
This is the 14th year that Seville Quarter has hosted and EBH has organized the festival, which the Florida Brewer’s Guild began several years earlier as an end of summer reunion for brewers from throughout the Southeast.
The festival has grown to include dozens of participating craft breweries—such as Sweetwater, Lagunitas, Terrapin, and Back Forty among others—and distributors who work with craft and microbreweries across the country.
“For me personally, attending the Emerald Coast Beer Festival about seven years ago is what really got me into craft beer,” stated April King, who now serves as the secretary of EBH. “Before this festival, I just thought there were just the macro brands, nothing really special. I found out there are so many different styles—you can do practically anything with beer.”
King reported that EBH’s Brewer’s Guild—a sub-group of the club that meet to hone skills and participate in the “Style of the Month” program—will serve a variety of small-batch beers, as will other general members. The EBH’s newly formed “Winos,” group, which focuses on wine, cider, and mead, will bring small quantities of those beverages to the fest for tasting as well.
The EBH stays true to the craft brew ethos of contributing to the local community by donating the proceeds from the festival to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida and the Seville Rotary Club. Volunteers from those groups, as well as from the military and the EBH’s membership of over 100 help set up the event, which usually draws over 2,100 people and spans the entirety of the Seville Quarter complex.
“A lot of the same guys have been involved in it for a while, so it’s a well-oiled machine,” said Bill Carlson, Purchasing Manager at Seville Quarter. “I always say that the beer dinner and the beer festival are the two best back-to-back days at Seville Quarter—the two that are the most fun.”
Carlson organizes the tasting’s Thursday Beer Pairing Dinner—this year featuring Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing—that sold out weeks in advance. Carlson encourages interested beer fans to purchase tickets ahead of time for the Friday tasting event, which also typically sells out.
Tickets are available for presale both online, through homebrew club members, or at Gary’s Homebrew Supply, Pensacola Bay Brewery, Seville Quarter and The Shady Lady. A limited number of VIP tickets are available, which grants access to a buffet and separate tasting area in Seville Quarter’s Heritage Hall.
“If you don’t know much about beer, it’s definitely a great way to learn a lot really quickly if you’re paying attention,” Winowich said, who added that participating in the home-and mircro-brew community is the main draw for him.
As his Chattahoochee Brewing Company microbrews aren’t distributed in Florida or South Alabama, him pouring at the beer festival is really his way to connect with old friends and new beer fans.
“I enjoy it—being in Pensacola, being at the beach, meeting up with all of the acquaintances that you see every year,” Winowich said.
“If I stop coming to the Emerald Coast Beer Festival, something bad has happened,” he joked. “I haven’t gotten too old not to make it.”
EMERALD COAST BEER FESTIVAL
WHEN: 5:30-8:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5
WHERE: Seville Quarter, 130 E. Government St.
COST: 21+ event. Beer Tasting $30 in advance, $40 day of, and $55 for Advance VIP. Non-taster/designated driver wristbands are available for $10.