As nice as a wine tasting is, with the fancy cheeses and the knowledgeable, yet condescending sommelier, sometimes all you want is an ice cold brewski.
And that is why the Escambia Bay Homebrewers started the Emerald Coast Beer Festival, to teach the public about the fine alcoholic beverage that sometimes goes unappreciated.
“Too many people are still living as though beer is a single beverage and you either like it or you don’t,” said Pat Johnson, president of Escambia Bay Homebrewers, in an e-mail interview. “We beer enthusiasts view beer differently. We think of it like we do food. You may have a favorite food, but you wouldn’t eat it at every meal and every day. We want to expose everyone to the fact that all beers are not created equal, and that it’s by design not accident.”
The Emerald Coast Beer Festival will begin Thursday, Sept. 8 with a beer pairing dinner in Apple Annie’s at Seville Quarter starting at 7 p.m. The cost is $55, and only 80 tickets are available. The beer for the dinner will be provided by Rogue of Newport, Ore. Just like a wine dinner, different beers are paired with each course.
“It’s one more example of how good, varied and complex today’s beers are,” Johnson said. “Different beers are better with certain foods, when it’s colder or hotter outside, when you just finished mowing the yard, when you are watching football or when you just feel like a change.”
The real party is Friday, Sept. 9 starting at 5:15 p.m. for VIP ticket holders and ending at 8 p.m. The beer tasting takes over all of Seville Quarter and includes live bands and food. Advance tickets from a homebrewer member or by mail are $20 and advance tickets from a ticket outlet such as Pensacola Bay Brewery or Seville Quarter are $25. On the day of the event tickets are $30, and VIP tickets are $50.
The beers featured at the event will come from all over the United States from as far away as New York. There will also be 11 homebrew clubs from around the Southeast. The festival is a great way to show people that homebrew isn’t just moonshine from an old jelly jar. You might even find a homebrew that you love.
“Many folks think of homebrewers as inferior or lower-quality beers, but I like to remind them that nearly every craft beer in the world began as a homebrew,” Johnson said. “A good example is the Pensacola Bay Brewery, which was opened last year by two members of the Escambia Bay Homebrewers. These home-brewed beers may be the next “best beer” in the market and are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so definitely make it a point to try them while at the festival. It’s kind of like seeing the Beatles before they became famous.”
For those steeling themselves for the festival, remember to go into the festival with a plan. Johnson suggests starting with a light or lower alcohol beer and working your way to the darker hues. And it’s quality, not quantity, although there are designated driver services available.
“Don’t just start holding your glass out to every tap down the line, or your palate will be fried before you get to the third or fourth booth,” Johnson said. “The idea is to taste and try some good beers—not to consume mass quantities. Enjoy yourself and drink responsibly.”
The Escambia Bay Homebrewers are homebrewers that care. The organization collaborates with local charities, giving them the chance to sell tickets and raise funds.
One charity that has benefited for the past five years is Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida. By purchasing your $25 ticket from the charity you are helping children in need meet positive mentors. Big Brothers Big Sisters gets to keep 100 percent of profits made.
“With every $1,000 a child can be served,” said Paula Shell, President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida. “The money raised will go into our general revenue fund so that we can serve single-parent families, grandparents raising their grandchildren, and children with incarcerated parents.”
For the homebrewers, helping charities seemed like the natural thing to do.
“Our goal is not monetary gain, and we are not in it for the money, so we choose to give the bulk of the money to charity,” Johnson said. “There are lots of great charitable organizations, and we choose different charities occasionally, but Big Brothers Big Sisters is one of those charities that benefits our youth, and that ranks high on our priority list.”
The Seville Rotary Club is another community organization that was recognized by the Escambia Bay Homebrewers.
“The Seville Rotary is made up of mostly young professionals, and we want to help them in an effort to show them we recognize and appreciate that they are giving their time, money and talents to help others,” Johnson said. “Too many folks in today’s society are takers and not enough are givers. We want to help those that are helping others, and the Seville Rotary surely falls into that group.”
It’s good brew and good food, and if you bought your tickets from a local charity the buzz lasts even longer. At the Emerald Coast Beer Festival you can brew your beer and drink it too.
“You can always buy the other beers at Hopjacks Pizza Kitchen & Taproom, Seville Quarter or one of the other craft-beer-friendly pubs around town, but you’ll likely never have another opportunity to try the one-time, home-brewed beers that will be available at our festival,” Johnson said. “Don’t miss that opportunity.”
EMERALD COAST BEER FESTIVAL
WHEN: Beer Pairing 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 8; Beer Tasting 5:15-8:30 p.m. VIP, 6-8:30 p.m. General Admission, Friday, Sept. 9
WHERE: Seville Quarter, 130 E. Government St.
COST: $20-25 in advance, $30 on the day of the event, and $50 for VIP tickets