"It's virtually impossible to hit a Saturday where there's not a beer festival," Alan Raines says while sipping a Rosa Gose in Wrecking Bar's beer garden. "If you stretch 'em out and don't duplicate 'em, there's a festival about every four days within 25 miles of downtown. We have more beer festivals than any city in the country."
Indeed, there are more festivals every year, and those festivals are getting better at what they do. But along with the long-running Classic City Brew Fest in Athens and the Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting at 5 Seasons/Taco Mac Prado, Raines and Tryon Rosser's HOToberfest is one of the few that prioritizes truly rare beers.
"We're picky about the beer we have and we wanna have a great selection," Rosser says. "We feel like we're almost duplicating things [with regards to all the other festivals]. The few I've gone to, I've seen great improvement in their lists. It's pretty impressive."
So, what do you do when you pride yourself on doing something different but everyone is starting to do that "different" thing similarly? If you're Raines and Rosser, you refocus. The bad news? HOToberfest isn't happening this year. The good news? It will return in a new form in 2015.
I featured HOToberfest founders Raines and Tryon Rosser in my First Draft column last fall because they're doing something special in a city filled with beer festivals. If I may quote myself:
"After starting the East Atlanta Beer Festival in 2003, when neighboring competition was next to nothing ('We just kinda did it because we thought there should be another beer festival besides Decatur,' Raines says.), Raines and Rosser spent a few years developing HOToberfest before launching in 2008. 'We came with the perspective of wanting it to be a beer festival that beer drinkers would want to attend,' Raines says. 'To make it a little bit different. We don't want to just put out beer that anyone can go to the store and get any day.'"
For beer-geek types like Raines and Rosser, HOToberfest's rare-beer draw was its VIP cask tent. Last year's VIP section featured around 50 different barrel-aged beers from both national - Oskar Blues, Green Flash, Stone - and local - Three Taverns, Wrecking Bar, Burnt Hickory - that were rare offerings, many of them one-offs. But the size of Historic Fourth Ward Park festival (3,000 or so people, in public, with all the costs and paperwork that accompany an event of this size), including its large general admission area, ensured that very little of the money raised (Raines, Rosser and Rosser's wife put up $50,000 up front) made it into the hands of charities. Time for a reboot, then.
"Our VIP area is the best one there is, I think, of any beer festival, honestly," Raines says. "So we're going to shed the general admission, let that fade away, let the other festivals pick up that slack. Then we'll come back with just the VIP area. It will be much smaller."
Bringing the festival's size down closer to 1,000 will allow the currently unnamed new event (one working name they're considering: HOToberfest Presents The Whiskey Barrel Ball) to be held on private property, ideally at a venue with restrooms and a roof, making it more comfortable for attendees and more weatherproof against the elements. Without the general admission beer entries, the new festival will be barrel-aged only, a first for Georgia. They've got some other barrel-related ideas knocking around as well, but aren't ready to talk about them just yet. The overall idea is that it will be smaller and better, resulting in more money for the nonprofits they support, less lines for attendees, and only truly exciting beer selections.
"We want to distill it down to the core of what we're about, which is increasing awareness and elevating craft beer in Georgia," Raines says. "We think we've done that the last six years. Every year, we've tried to elevate that. That's what we're about.'"
But will it definitely happen next year? "Oh, it will be back [in 2015]," Rosser says. "We put way too much of our souls into this to let it go away."
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