By Jeff Maisey
As Karen Scherberger recalls, the Virginia Beer Festival (scheduled May 21-22 at Town Point Park, Norfolk) got its start long before the current popularity of craft beer saw organizations big and small scrambling to produce a brew centric festival in the Commonwealth.
The year was 2002. Scherberger, the executive director of Festevents, a non-profit programmer of events in Norfolk, and Rob Cross, the executive director of the Virginia Arts Festival, decided to co-produce a beer festival on the banks of the historic Elizabeth River at Town Point Park.
As often happens when traveling, Cross experienced a beer festival and thought such an event would be a hit back home.
“I was actually in Colorado to play Music of Led Zeppelin with Denver Symphony Orchestra and happened upon one of the largest beer festivals in the country,” Cross said. “As I was walking around, I said, ‘We need this, so I called Karen on the spot since they are pros with this type of Festival… and here we are 15 years later.”
The first festival featured 19 breweries with a total of 40 taps. Three of those breweries were from Virginia. This year – May 21-22 – the Virginia Beer Festival will include some 20 breweries from Virginia with another 40+ national and international brands.
To learn more, I recently asked Rob Cross a few questions.
How have you seen the festival evolve in recent years with the popularity of craft beer made in Virginia?
When we first started the Virginia Beer Festival, the local beer scene didn’t even exist… now, we have numerous award-winning breweries in our backyard!
I think this passion for craft beer and brewing has definitely led to more attendees of the festival, we have had the chance to grow from a one day festival to two days! We also have access to more and more great beers to offer, especially those of our Virginia breweries. We are looking forward to partnering in the future with the Coastal VA Beer Trail (www.covabeertrail.com) in order to provide packages to both locals and visitors so that they can not only visit the Beer Festival, but also use the weekend to explore the many breweries in this area.
Why is it important to have an educational component to the festival?
Rather than just having the ability to taste amazing beers from all over the world, we wanted to create a conversation. The craft beer scene is becoming a dominant industry within our culture and through our “Brew School” we can provide the opportunity to meet and talk with brewers, beer enthusiasts and brewery owners about this important trend in our economy. Virginia Craft Beer Magazine has stepped up in this area to help us to schedule speakers and topics that are relevant to the beer world.
What’s new this year?
We are constantly trying to keep up with the newest beers in the market. This year, we are really looking to expand our Virginia Beers and to include some of the newer breweries in the area like Pleasure House Brewing, Coelacanth, Seven Arrows, James River Brewing, and others while still including past favorites like O’Connor, Smartmouth and St. George. Since we have over 160 taps available for tasting, it provides us with more of an ability to have something for everyone (from ciders, to porters, and IPA’s, to lambics).
Any additional thoughts?
Most people probably do not realize that in addition to being this amazing beer festival, it also serves as a fundraiser to the Virginia Arts Festival, supporting bringing world-class arts to this area year after year. For our 20th season, we have actually partnered with O’Connor Brewing Company to create the Music & Might Scotch Ale in honor of our Virginia International Tattoo, which will be available for tastings at the Festival!
Brew School @ Virginia Beer Festival
Presented by Virginia Craft Beer Magazine
Saturday, May 21
2:30 – Pleasure House Brewing Company
3:30 – Coelacanth Brewing Company
4:30 – Aaron M Allen, Co-Owner / Brewmaster, Seven Arrows Brewing Company
Sunday, May 22
2:30 – Jonathan, Head Brewer, The Virginia Beer Co.
3:30 – Kane Wille, Brewer, O’Connor Brewing Company
4:30 – Commonwealth Brewing Company