The Brewers Association bills its Savor event as “an American craft beer and food experience,” and now, having just completed its fifth Washington, D.C.-based edition last month, it’s clear that the “experience” of it extends beyond its 3.5-hour duration (on each of two nights) and the four walls of the stately digs in which its mounted.
Since its inaugural outing in 2008, Savor’s significance has evolved past its face-value as a grand—yet almost paradoxically intimate-feeling and laid-back, especially for a beer festival—brew-and-food pairing event. For one, the days leading up to the event—now spread across Friday and Saturday night in two separate sessions at The National Building Museum—has become a local beer week in its own right.
“There’s more demand than supply right now,” Julia Herz, craft beer program director at the Brewers Association, told i>Beverage World during Savor’s Saturday evening, June 9 session. “All these brewers are pulled in so many different directions and getting them in a room like this just doesn’t happen every day.”
Those brewers’ offerings, both flagship and rare, are paired with a range of small bites under the guidance of renowned San Francisco-based chef Adam Dulye.
The fact that Savor has been in the Nation’s Capital for the past five editions has raised the craft segment’s clout in the eyes of federal lawmakers. Among the pre-Savor events was an official Capitol Hill Climb on June 7 when craft brewers met with members of Congress and Congressional staffers.
“Small brewers have a voice and their voice is heard locally and nationally and this type of week has become an expansion of that,” Herz said. “It’s what happens when you have a solid event: There seems to be this ripple effect.”
Savor’s popularity has consistently made it a sellout event, within minutes of the ticket sale. Competition’s also pretty fierce among brewers to get in. Breweries—those not among a small circle of supporting partners and sponsors—typically have to enter a lottery to get one of about 60 sampling tables at the event.
Natty Greene’s Brewing Co. (Greensboro, N.C.) was among those selected this year. “What’s always sort of the problem with beer festivals is [attendees] are generally happy and excited and it’s hard to get a good read,” offered Sebastian Wolfrum, director of brewing operations at Natty Greene’s. “But here, it’s nice that the brewers walk around as well and they’re more honest.”
Cans are playing a more pronounced role in the event, just as they are in the craft segment at large. Manhattan, Kan.-based Tall Grass Brewing Co. was among the aluminum devout in attendance, sampling its Velvet Rooster Belgian-style tripel from a can. “People like to see, in our case, a Belgian Tripel in a can,” says Rob Shellman, Upper Midwest rep for the brewer. “We’re kind of breaking the mold a bit.”
For many brewers, Savor could be the only time some attendees get to try their beers. “It’s weird because D.C. is not remotely our market at all,” says Caleb Staton, head brewer at Bloomington, Ind.-based Upland Brewing Co. “It’s neat for us to get our beer onto the palates of people who normally wouldn’t get it at all. That’s the fun side of what’s going on here.”