Carolina Beer Guy: Beer festivals make changes for 2018

CLASS ACT: Attendees listen to a panel discussion at the 2017 AVL Beer Expo. The event returns for a third year on Feb. 24 and will move to the Masonic Temple. Tickets went on sale Dec. 15.
CLASS ACT: Attendees listen to a panel discussion at the 2017 AVL Beer Expo. The event returns for a third year on Feb. 24 and will move to the Masonic Temple. Tickets went on sale Dec. 15. Photo courtesy of the Asheville Brewers Alliance

For the past 10 years, the Asheville Winter Warmer Beer Festival has helped melt away the icy cold and snow with a lineup of robust and sturdy brews. But local beer drinkers will need to find a new way to do that this January.

The festival will not happen in 2018, founder and producer Mark Lyons has confirmed. Lyons moved from Asheville to Oregon six years ago when he took a job with Deschutes Brewery, and until now, he has continued to return each year to manage Winter Warmer.

But recently, tired of the Oregon winters and wanting to be closer to family, he and his wife, Trish, relocated to Naples, Fla. Lyons says that while he plans to spend this winter getting settled into his new community, he also wants to rethink the Winter Warmer with a goal of bringing it back in 2019.

“It gives us time to look at what improvements we want to make,” he says. “I think it’s a good festival, but in today’s climate, that’s not quite enough.”

Winter Warmer has remained popular with beer drinkers, with 2017 attendance totaling 1,200 to 1,300. “It was well-attended but not crowded,” Lyons says. “A couple hundred more people would have made it a little more profitable. ”

A boom in local beer festivals and events has also made it more challenging to do festivals, he says. The scene has grown dramatically since the 1990s, when Asheville’s big Brewgrass festival was almost the only show in town. Now there are more events, and consumers can pick which ones to attend. Nonetheless, Lyons thinks Winter Warmer could return, even in a busy market. “We created a following,” he says.

Meanwhile, the wintertime AVL Beer Expo will return for a third year on Saturday, Feb. 24, but is moving to the Masonic Temple on Broadway. The expo, presented by the Asheville Brewers Alliance trade group, is a smaller event, says ABA Executive Director Kendra Penland. It also includes a series of panel discussions about local beer, a component not found at other festivals.

Besides changing the location, the expo will offer just one session, 2-7 p.m., rather than the two it has done previously. Tickets are $30 and available online.

“There are festivals all the time,” Penland says. “That doesn’t mean there are too many. There are still opportunities to provide a great craft beer experiences for people. You have to make sure they are distinct and unique.”

Penland says the expo’s lineup of breweries is still coming together, but there should be the usual 30 or more taking part, each bringing one beer. Last year’s attendance was roughly 500 across the two sessions. Only 600 tickets will be sold for this year’s event.

The 2018 Beer City Festival — to be held Saturday, June 2, at Roger McGuire Green downtown and organized by the ABA — is also making a change. One form of admission will still include unlimited pours, but Penland says that for those who want to drink less, another ticket will be lower-priced with attendees buying tokens to exchange for beers. Beer City attendance was 2,200 to 2,300 last year.

Elsewhere, New Belgium Brewing Co. spokesman Michael Craft says its Asheville brewery will do a big event on Earth Day, and Oskar Blues Brewery aims to build on the success of its most recent Burning Can festival. More than 3,000 people attended in 2017 to enjoy live music and beers from canning breweries.

“We’re looking forward to making it even bigger in 2018 on Aug. 10-11,” says brewery spokesman Aaron Baker. “We try to cram as much into a single weekend as we can.”

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About Tony Kiss
Tony Kiss covers brewing news for the Xpress. He has been reporting on the Carolina beer scene since 1994. He's also covered distilling and cider making and spent 30 years reporting on area entertainment. Follow me @BeerguyTK

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One thought on “Carolina Beer Guy: Beer festivals make changes for 2018

  1. Jason

    Most of the people that I’d go to brewgrass with years back; wouldn’t even think about paying what these beer festivals charge now…. there are half the breweries pouring with 3 time’s the attendants…: the lines are insane..:We were spoiled 10 years ago..:: now, I wouldn’t even think about going
    Having said that; winter warmer was our favorite.

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