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VOL. 125 | NO. 17 | Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Two New Beer Fests On Tap for Aficionados

By Eric Smith

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A waitress carries beer mugs during the opening ceremony of Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. The Bluff City will get a taste of its own beer festivals when two new ones are added this spring. -- Photo: Jan Pitman/AP

Anyone looking to try a good ale, stout, lager or porter should raise their pint glasses to a pair of inaugural beer-tasting festivals being introduced in Memphis this spring.

The River City Brewer’s Festival will be held March 13 at Handy Park on Beale Street and the Memphis Brewfest will be held April 24 at AutoZone Park. Both events are fundraisers for charities and will feature hundreds of brews from dozens of brewers.

The two festivals join the semiannual ZooBrew and annual Art on Tap on the beer-tasting calendar, giving thirsty Memphians plenty of opportunities to sample suds from around the country and the world.

The River City Brewers’ Festival, www.rivercitybrewersfestival.com, will have two sessions: one from noon to 4 p.m. and one from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., followed by an after-party at Primetime Sports Bar.

The event was the brainchild of Jim LoSapio, director of operations for River City Management Group, the company that operates such Downtown bars and restaurants as Primetime, the Mesquite Chop House, Pa Pa Pia’s, Rum Boogie Café, King’s Palace Café, Spindini and Pig on Beale.

LoSapio said he has seen increased demand for handcrafted local beers at his restaurants from locals and tourists alike. The way he sees it, Memphians’ thirst for good beer is growing, making the beer-tasting festival a timely event.

“People are definitely moving in that direction,” he said.

For what ales you

LoSapio said some of the biggest names in breweries will be attending, from Sierra Nevada in California to New Belgium in Colorado to Samuel Adams in Massachusetts. Local breweries Ghost River Brewing and Bosco’s also will be participating.

With more than 45 beers already slated for the event – a number that is growing every day with hopes of reaching 65 – LoSapio said companies from around the country are buying in to the idea of finding a new audience for their craft brews.

“We’re selling to these brewers as, ‘Hey, you’re going to hopefully get in front of 3,000 people and get them to sample your beer for the first time in this market and hopefully create a loyal customer,’” he said.

LoSapio said he had been planning this festival for about a year, but he had trouble pinpointing a featured charity for event proceeds. But last December, when LoSapio attended a breakfast before the St. Jude Memphis Marathon, he decided on St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

The event, modeled after Nashville’s Music City Brewers Festival, is expected to draw 1,500 people per session. The large crowd and the local flavor of the festival were big draws for Ghost River co-owner Chuck Skypeck, who gets invited to participate in numerous beer festivals every year.

He said this one should be better than most because the people who make the beer – not just the salespeople who distribute it – will be pouring samples for festival goers.

“Who’s participating is breweries, not just distributors,” Skypeck said. “You get to talk to brewers, really see people from the brewery. I think that adds a lot of value to the festival for the person that’s coming there to learn about beer and try different beers.”

Consumer’s paradise

Although Martin Daniel has lived in Knoxville for a year and a half, he was born and raised in Memphis, so he knows the city well. One thing he discovered through events like ZooBrew was people are willing to spend $20 or so for a couple of hours sampling good beer.

“We felt like there was a need, so to speak, for this kind of thing,” he said. “From what I’ve read, I get the impression that the population generally wants to try different kinds of beers. There’s a lot more interest in beers these days.”

Daniel got the idea to launch a beer festival while frequenting beer-tasting events over the years, which is why he’s bringing the Memphis Brewfest, www.memphisbrewfest.com, to town in April. But this isn’t just any event for Daniel, a lawyer and owner of an outdoor advertising business.

When his 2-year-old son, Matthew, was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy last year, Daniel came up with the idea of having a fundraiser to fight the disease.

He said doctors and researchers are close to finding a treatment or a cure for the disorder, and 100 percent of the proceeds will go to charity – most of it for Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, plus some money going to the Redbirds Foundation.

While the festivals’ most important contributions will be the money they raise to fight childhood diseases, they also will introduce more Memphians to quality beer, an industry that has blossomed with the rise of microbreweries and craft brewers throughout the U.S.

“We’ve been trying to get people to drink better beer since 1992. And it has been nothing but an upward curve,” Skypeck said. “It’s still an uphill battle, so anytime you can take a step forward … events like this really do help in terms of making people realize that craft beer is really the new American beer.”

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