Beer enthusiasts held a collective breath ahead of the Utah Brew Fest. Many weren’t sure what to expect. Event organizers, after all, promoted a public craft beer (and spirits) festival unlike anything Utah’s seen before.
“I think people were really excited. All of our vendors were really happy, ” says Susan Welland, Utah Brew Fest founder. “It was a ton of fun and I think everyone handled it very well and appropriately.”
Turnout matched or exceeded organizers’ expectations (a few hundred attendees).
While paid attendance numbers were unavailable, the event cycled through at least two iterations of taster glasses. The latest of the latecomers sampled beverages from plastic cups.
For the Utah Brew Fest agenda, a list of participating breweries, and more, read our preview — Utah Brew Fest: A Unique Way to Experience Craft Beer
Utah Brew Fest: A Success
Brewers I talked to generally were pleased with the turnout and run of show. A few attendees suggested areas where better planning/organization could have helped limit some confusion.
Two places I noticed: Additional signage, especially for for workshops, food, and the VIP area, and clarity on how to sample/judge available homebrew.
- Some were left guessing as to which conference room held which workshop (the sign I saw listed all workshops in one room). And food, for me at least, proved relatively hard to find and get to.
- Billed as Utah’s first event in which homebrew would be available for tasting and judging, the homemade beers didn’t seem to be a focal point for tasting. And an out-of-the-way room upstairs hosted the judging. For the record: First place went to Jared Young (Old Ale), second place to Tom Anderson (Mead), and third place to Troy Robinson (American IPA).
But these are minor quibbles for an otherwise strong event. A small, yet talented team of volunteers pulled off the ambitious affair remarkably well.
I believe it’s a format that could revolutionize public beer events in Utah.
For its first year, the Utah Brew Fest brought a lot to the table. I’m excited to see it grow and become an established annual event.
I sampled only a few beers on the night (coupled with High West whiskey samples as part of the distillery’s sensory workshop):
- RoHa Brewing Project: Maltese Cross Red Ale
- Shades Brewing: Aphrodite Belgian Blonde Ale
- SaltFire Brewing Co.: 12 Monkeys Double IPA (the brewery took home People’s Choice honors)
- Kiitos Brewing: Coconut Stout
Utah Brew Fest: Hits & Misses
HIT: Vibrant Venue Space
Utah Brew Fest utilized three floors of Impact Hub Salt Lake, a shared office space downtown.
The main floor — home to the majority of brewers — provided plenty of opportunity to mix, mingle, and sample. While full, it never felt too crowded to me.
The second floor held the workshops, as well as space for homebrew clubs, cigar and wine enterprises, and a variety of other vendors.
A VIP lounge occupied the third floor (more on that below). I enjoyed the cocktail-party vibe. Not so loud you couldn’t carry on a conversation, yet enough background noise to maintain a nice energy.
MISS: Overlapping Seminars/Speakers
But the back-to-back timing left little wiggle room for speakers who ran long or workshops that required setup time. I think organizers tried to rectify this on the fly by opening a second conference room.
Next year, I’d love to see half-hour (or even hour-long) workshops and 30-minute buffers between sessions. I liked the casual main stage on which brewery reps spoke. It’s unfortunate many of the speakers were competing with ongoing workshops. A handout with seminar descriptions, speaker bios, etc. would be helpful as well.
HIT: Expert-Led Workshops
That said, for me, the workshops were worth the price of admission. Heavy hitters led the hour-long (ish) seminars. Lead distillers, head brewers, award-winning mead makers, and more — attendees learned from the best.
The workshops hit all the right notes for those interested in learning more about craft beer and spirits. I learned a ton about the technical side of whiskey thanks to the High West Sensory Workshop led by Isaac Winter.
Well-prepared and engaging presenters all around provided great value. Workshops were largely filled to capacity.
“I was worried that people were having so much fun downstairs that they would forget about the workshops,” Welland says. “I was really excited to see how engaged our community is in learning.”
HIT: Focus on Local Business
Going in, organizers told me the event aimed to do whatever it could to support small businesses. It appeared to deliver.
Utah Brew Fest highlighted several of the state’s up-and-coming breweries. It gave space to a handful of Utah’s homebrew clubs (ZZ Hops brought a table full of honey samples). And it welcomed a variety of other small, boozy (or booze-adjacent, i.e. Beehive Cigars) businesses.
“My hope is it will generate a lot of business for these different companies,” Welland says.
MISS: VIP Lounge
A VIP ticket — nearly twice the price of general admission — advertised “unique beer tastings, libations, a mixologist, swag bags, water bottles, storage of personal items, and hors d’oeuvres.”
Technically, I understand those items were available within the third-floor VIP lounge (though I didn’t see the unique beer tastings and wasn’t offered a swag bag).
However, it just didn’t have a VIP feel to it, especially considering the price tag. Wristbands weren’t checked at the door, meaning anyone could access the area. (Some confusion on wristband assignments at the main entrance contributed to this).
“For next year I don’t want an exclusive VIP area unless it’s a very small lounge,” Welland says.
Despite the unlimited access, it didn’t seem to turn into a free-for-all. The lounge remained relatively quiet (despite a DJ) much of the night. I popped in a handful of times throughout the evening just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything.
To be fair, inside the lounge, Dented Brick Distillery mixed some cool holiday-themed cocktails. And Curry in a Hurry provided a sampling of tasty hors d’oeuvres.
Plans are already in the works for next year’s Utah Brew Fest, Welland says.
Ideas are spinning as we speak: From a kombucha workshop to a sanctioned Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) homebrewing event to early access for VIPs.
Welland plans to meet with her team — David McGee, Taylor Millet, Lisa Curtis, and James Kingsley — this week to discuss the event and map out a plan for next year.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Welland says. “But the fact that everyone had a good time as far as I know, I’m really happy about that.”
Utah Beer News received a complimentary VIP Media Pass to the Utah Brew Fest.