Escambia Bay Homebrewers Club Hosts Festival In Its 15th Year
by Bradley “Beej” Davis, Jr.
Quite possibly a beer drinker’s nirvana, The Emerald Coast Beer Festival this weekend will be satisfying the palates of the craft connoisseur and general draft drinker alike. For the past decade, the 75-member Escambia Bay Homebrewers Club has hosted this festival, which will sample over 300 brews offered by more than 35 breweries and distributors from around the country. It will feature mainstream brews as well as a healthy selection from local, regional and national microbreweries; however, the selection process of this event is methodic.
“There are hundreds of beer fests around the country, and all the breweries try to promote their beers at as many beer fests as possible,” said Homebrewers Club president Pat Johnson. “It is not possible to do them all, so they are generally selective as to which ones they attend. Our festival continues to attract a lot of breweries because they recognize that the opportunity to promote their beer is much better at a quality festival like ours than at other, more commercially-oriented festivals where it’s all about the money.
“Bottom line—it’s first come, first serve. When and if we run out of space, we would have to simply turn away registrations from that point forward.”
The festival began about 15 years ago on Pensacola Beach, and after being hosted by several organizations, the Homebrewers Club took control and moved the festival to Seville Quarter.
“The venue we use accommodates the current number (of breweries) well,” said Johnson. “We expanded into the street last year because the attendance had increased to the point where it was wall-to-wall with little room to move. ClosiXng off the street made a huge difference and everyone acknowledged the improvement.”
Johnson explained that there is steady growth of the festival; however, it’s not the quantity of beer that is important, but rather the quality of the selection. “We want to offer a value to the attendees,” he said. “No one can sample 300 beers, and adding more does not necessarily mean the experience gets better.”
Johnson also explained that there has been an increased interest in homebrewing since the late 1970s when President Jimmy Carter signed a bill allowing the practice. “It’s really only been since the Jimmy Carter era—remember Billy Beer?—that craft beers have become available,” said Johnson.
“At that time, there were only a handful of mega-breweries, and the only way to get craft beer was to brew it yourself. We can thank Jimmy Carter for making it legal to brew at home—probably at his brother Billy’s prodding. I’ll bet you can’t name two IPAs (India Pale Ale) or porter beers from your daddy’s era. Basically, craft beer is a budding industry and is only now beginning to mature.”
Pensacola is no different with the city’s recognition of homebrewing. In addition to this wildly-popular festival, Johnson is excited to announce the city’s first local brewery.
“The Pensacola Bay Brewery is scheduled to open in the next couple of months and has already registered as a brewery in the festival,” he said. “The new brewery is located in downtown Pensacola and will be advertising their grand opening soon. The owners/brewers are both members of the Escambia Bay Homebrewers Club and are homebrewers.”
Johnson added that most microbreweries start off as small operations before they flourish into household, or “barhold,” names.
“Dogfish Head, Sierra Nevada, Sweetwater, (and) Stone…were all homebrewers that went commercial,” he said. He added that there is sometimes a tradeoff when those microbrews become popular. “Good beers are crafted by artisans with a passion for brewing and often lose something if it becomes a mega-enterprise,” he said.
Each year, festival organizers choose a handful of local charities that will benefit from ticket sales of the festival. Belmont Arts & Cultural Center, The Independence Fund and Big Brothers Big Sisters of NWFL were chosen as the recipient organizations this year.
“It shows that the organization (the Homebrewers Club) believes wholeheartedly in giving back to the community,” said Big Brothers Big Sisters executive director Paula Shell. “To us, it makes a huge difference because every bit they give impacts a child’s life.”
Members of the local art community will also benefit from the festival.
“The opportunity for the Belmont Arts Center to continue our working relationship with the Homebrewers at this year’s Beer Festival is another example of how local organizations can help each other thrive,” said Belmont president David Bailey.
“This is exactly the kind of relationship that builds great communities. Pensacola is fortunate to have a long history of raising money for good causes while also having a good time.”
Local beer enthusiasts and brother-sister tandem Dave and Kim McLean have been attending the festival for several years and don’t plan to make this year any different.
“The thing I enjoy about the Beer Festival is the fact that it gives me the opportunity to try multiple types of beer that I normally wouldn’t drink or that I haven’t even heard of,” said Kim, 33. “Plus, it draws a great crowd of people and brings business to downtown. I look forward to it every year.”
Her older brother Dave immediately recognizes the uniqueness and importance of this festival for Pensacola. “It’s not uncommon to see beer festivals of this size in larger cities—Atlanta, San Diego, Denver. I’m impressed as this festival grows every year and gains more and more recognition,” he said.
“The Escambia Bay Homebrewers Club puts Pensacola in a positive spotlight by hosting this event and bringing attention to our town that is normally reserved for much larger towns.”
EMERALD COAST BEER FESTIVAL
WHEN: 6-8:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10
WHERE: Seville Quarter, 130 E. Government St.
COST: $25 in advance; $30 day of festival