Bringing in the brew bucks

This year’s 14th annual Great Smokies Craft Brewers Brewgrass Festival may not bring as many people to Asheville as that other local fest (Bele Chere), but Brewgrass does deliver bucks.

About half of the folks attending the sold-out event travel here to do so — spending cash on hotel rooms, restaurants, shops and, of course, local beer.

The fest takes place this Saturday, Sept. 18, from noon to 7 p.m., at Martin Luther King Jr. Park.

“Downtown hotels are booked pretty solid for the weekend,” says Jimi Rentz, Brewgrass co-organizer and owner of Barley’s Taproom & Pizza. “We’re trying to pump lots of sales tax dollars into the local economy.”

Beer lovers from as far away as Seattle, Miami and even the U.K. will attend this year’s sudsy gathering. Plus, large contingents of folks from nearby cities, such as Atlanta, Columbia, Raleigh and Charlotte pilgrimage to what’s become one of the Southeast’s beer festival Meccas.

At least 45 breweries will be pouring tastes of more than 200 different brews this year. Most breweries bring teams of four or five staff, including brewers, to work the festival, and many of them stay for a long weekend (see sidebar for other noteworthy beer happenings the nights before Brewgrass). In fact, festival organizers spend about $9,000 annually purchasing local hotel rooms to put up the out-of-town brewers.

“The brewers are the rock stars, and we try to treat them that way,” Rentz says, adding that, in addition to providing board, organizers Rentz, Danny McClinton and Eddie Dewey host a party for the brewers on Friday night.

Part of the appeal for brew aficionados is the relatively small size of Brewgrass, which gives festival-goers a chance to interact one-on-one with brewers. There also will be beer education tours at various times during the day led by members of Mountain Ale and Lager Tasters (and this writer). See side bar for that schedule.

And yes, there is a second part to that portmanteau word: the “grass” part. This year’s bluegrass music lineup includes The Infamous Stringdusters, Buncombe Turnpike, The Virginia Dare Devils and The Whistle Pigs. European pickers G2 are coming all the way from their native Sweden to play.

Brewgrass is the granddaddy of local beer fests, but there’s still room for other beer festivals to bring in the bucks, such as Oktoberfest, Winter Warmer and Beer City Fest.

The folks at Asheville’s Downtown Association are closely following the influx and economic impact of Brewgrass and these other younger beer fests.

“We believe there is an opportunity here, just like Napa Valley is to wine, for Asheville to solidify its beer reputation,” says Adrian Vassallo, Asheville Downtown Association’s treasurer. “We want to continue to focus on the craft beer enthusiasts who are taking their discretionary dollars and planning trips to Asheville.”

Anne Fitten Glenn writes the biweekly Brews News for Mountain Xpress.

what: The Great Smokies Craft Brewers Brewgrass Festival
where: Martin Luther King Jr. Park
when: Saturday, September 18 (noon to 7 p.m. Sold out for the fifth year in a row. Benefits Big Brothers/ Big Sisters. Important info: Bring your I.D. and ticket print-out. Rain or shine. No one under 18 without adult. No coolers. No pets. No tents. No Frisbees.
when: Sunday, Aug. 29, from 1 to 9 p.m. ($10 suggested donation. Info: westvillepub.com or 225-9782.)

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