FLORENCE, Ala. — Craft beer enthusiasts from across the Southeast will soon gather in downtown Florence to celebrate Alabama breweries.

In its second year, the Alabama Craft Beer Festival begins at 1 p.m. Saturday on Mobile Plaza. An estimated 500 people attended the 2016 festival. Festival organizer Jackie Hendrix said ticket sales are on track this year to exceed that number.

“It will be bigger this year,” Hendrix said. “I hope it’s even bigger next year — I hope to grow it to 750 (in attendance.) Last year, there were 14 breweries and 107 beers entered. This year, we have 20 breweries and 148 beers.”

The festival, in conjunction with the Alabama Craft Beer State Championship, features brews from Avondale, Back Forty, Big Beach, Cahaba Brewing, Cheaha, Druid City, Goat Island, Mad Malts, Red Clay, Rocket Republic, Salty Nut, Singin’ River, Straight to Ale, Trim Tab, Yellowhammer, Blue Water, Green Bus Hop, Good People and Old Black Bear.

Of the 148 brews entered in the Alabama Craft Beer State Championship, 51 medaled.

“The way it works is, we bring in BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) judges or higher,” Hendrix explained. “We name a judge coordinator through the state, and they look for as many out-of-state judges as they can find. This year, we had the top judge out of Louisiana — their highest ranked judge. He’s actually judging at the World Beer Cup this year.”

Judging took place Aug. 19, with the winners being announced during an awards ceremony Saturday during the festival.

“There’s a scoring system of 60 to 100,” Hendrix said. “In order to medal, they have to score 85 points or higher. Out of the 20 breweries, 17 of them medaled — that’s a really high ratio.”

VIP festival passes are $75 and include access to the awards ceremony and penny beer garden. Penny beer garden tickets are $40 and designated driver tickets are $10. For complete ticket information, go to alabamacraftbeerfestival.com.

This year’s penny beer garden opens at 1 p.m. for VIP passes with general admission being 2-5 p.m. Both VIP and general admission tickets include a keepsake 6-ounce glass used to taste the wares in 2-to-3-ounce increments at one penny per sample.

“Last year, we had 60 beers. This year, we have 75,” Hendrix said. “All the medal winners (with inventory that we could get our hands on) will be showcased. There will be dump buckets — if you don’t like it, you can dump it.”

Each tap will have the manufacturer, the city where it’s located, the name of the beer, the type of beer, its ABV (alcohol by volume percent) and, if it medaled, what medal it won.

“So there will be 75 taps with a sign on each with everything you need to know about it,” Hendrix said. “Plus, you’ll get a beer guide where they’re listed by style. So if you only want to try IPAs, you’ll know where to find them.”

Hendrix said both the Alabama Craft Beer State Championship and the Alabama Craft Beer Festival are about helping to create economic development opportunities for the state’s breweries.

“For example, last year, two of the new breweries in the state were local,” he said. “Blue Water entered three beers and medaled one of them. Singin’ River entered 10 beers and medaled six. What that does is help them compete for shelf space. Or, it helps them get on tap in pubs across the state. Now, they can go to their distributor as medal winners.”

Hendrix said when the average beer drinker sees an award-winning state beer on tap, it gives them an incentive to try it.

“If I saw a ribbon on a beer, I know I would ask, ‘what’s that all about?'” he said. “So now, more people are tasting these products. It’s up to the breweries to take advantage of those marketing opportunities. Some are doing a really good job with it and others are still figuring it out.”

This year, the festival has partnered with Florence Main Street’s Downtown Bacon Crawl. Whereas Alabama Craft Beer Festival tickets include access to several bacon-themed food vendors, tickets to the entire bacon crawl are $10 and sold separately at the Florence Main Street office on Pine Street.


Information from: TimesDaily, http://www.timesdaily.com/