First Draft with East Atlanta Beer Fest's Jelena Crawford and Lauren Leschper 

Organizers talk about the festival's growth and their hopes for the community

East Atlanta Beer Fest has come a long way since its relatively humble beginnings nine years ago when a group of neighbors managed to get a thousand people together to help benefit their community (and have some tasty brews while doing so). This year's festival, which will be held on Sat., May 19, and is calling Brownwood Park home for the third year in a row, is expecting 4,000 attendees. EABF will raise money for the East Atlanta Foundation, which supports myriad organizations and initiatives in the EAV area. East Atlanta Foundation President Jelena Crawford and Marketing Chair Lauren Leschper spoke with Creative Loafing about some of their favorite beers and what they hope for the future of East Atlanta.

Describe your first beer experience.

Lauren Leschper: My beer journey really started in college. Like any good UGA student, I had my fair share of Bud Light from a keg while tailgating. I remember traveling to Ireland during that time and barely drinking that heavy and awful-at-the-time-to-me Guinness at their Dublin brewery. My, how things have changed.

What is your favorite beer style, and why? An ideal pairing for that style?

Jelena Crawford: You'll find me ordering great IPAs like Bell's Two Hearted or Lagunitas IPA, which pair best with patios and summertime. Or my ever-favorite stouts — Left-Hand Nitro Milk Stout is a year-round staple in my world.

Can you talk about some of the ways the money you raise will benefit EAV this year?

Crawford: This year's grant funds helped Neighbor in Need complete plumbing and/or roofing projects on four homes as they continue their mission of helping neighbors with emergency home repairs. One of our farmers market grants funds East Atlanta Village Farmers Market's EBT program, which provides $2 for every $1 of food stamps spent. EAVFM is one of only three farmers markets in Atlanta offering this program to make locally produced, organic food more accessible to all citizens.

The Atlanta beer drinker's life has gotten increasingly great in recent years, to the point where there is seemingly a new beer festival every couple weeks. How do you plan to remain a destination with so much competition?

Leschper: Our fest is committed to continuous improvement. Two years ago, we moved to shady Brownwood Park. We combine a broad slate of craft-beer offerings with unique entertainment — from bands to performance art to beer-bear antics — and continue to retain the beloved pint glass as our attendee gift. This year is no exception, as we are expanding our footprint in the park substantially to include more shady grass and are adding food trucks.

Next: Atlanta's best beer events in May

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