In Foam at the Dome, Charleston recently experienced its biggest-ever craft beer event. Given a couple of weeks to digest its successes, it becomes evident that this festival scored well on multiple fronts.
With 2,500 people in attendance, Foam was right up there with last year’s Rails & Ales Festival (Huntington) vying for the title of highest attendance at a craft beer activity in West Virginia.
The sold-out festival graphically demonstrates the pent-up demand (or should I say thirst) for better beer in West Virginia. Now that a decent selection of major craft brands are available in the state, Foam proved that Charleston adults will gladly queue-up, en masse, to shell out their hard-earned cash for little samples of high quality beer. Through Foam at the Dome, Charleston residents finally got to experience a showcase for the breadth of America’s beer market—a market so sublimely awesome.
Something else you couldn’t help but notice: this crowd didn’t look a thing like the normal senior-laden Charleston event gathering. It was two thousand or so active adults, mostly 20s, 30s, and 40s, mostly looking physically fit, enjoying an evening of food, beverage, and camaraderie. The thought occurred: If we could only clone this hive and replicate it several times, we might have West Virginia headed toward one heck of a brighter future.
Beer as a community development strategy
The cool thing about Foam was that it was a clear indicator of the direction active and younger adults want for Charleston’s future. Sure people came out for better beer, but maybe more importantly, they also came to support a better community.
Charleston residents Missy Menefee and Eric Kinder were two attendees who exemplified this attitude. They loved what the festival added to their city. They were there as much to participate in community as they were for beer.
“I think it’s important to support an event like this in our city,” said Menefee. “I’m looking forward to learning more about the quality and quantity of new beers that we now get in West Virginia.”
Kinder feels Foam is valuable to Charleston because it provides an option for a really cool social activity that is also good for the economy.
“It’s something interesting to do,” he said. “It makes people happy and introduces people to some good local businesses.”
The sentiments of Menefee and Kinder indicate that festival sponsor Charleston Main Streets hit the bullseye with its community and business development objectives for the festival.
The city’s Main Street program focuses solely on economic development for the city’s East End and West Side neighborhoods. Executive Director Rick Cavender was certainly correct in his assessment that the festival was “extremely beneficial to Charleston.”
“We couldn’t be happier with it,” he said, as he surveyed the large crowd of blissful beer fans.
Cavender is justifiably proud of the festival’s success in its first year.
Distributor support makes big difference
From a beer perspective, one big thing that made Foam stand out was the high level of cooperation from all the parties involved. Success on this front was really a breakthrough of sorts.
Josh Nibert, chair of the festival committee, said, historically, most every beer event in the area had been sponsored by a single beer distributor.
“Capitol Beverage would sponsor one thing,” says Nibert, “and Proud Eagle would sponsor another. I think it’s significant that we brought together all the distributors serving the Charleston market.”
Festival committee member Rob Absten says he found the distributors were ready to jump in and support the concept.
“We’ve had great cooperation from all of them,” he said. “We’ve got the Eagle family, Capitol Beverage, North Central, and Atomic.”
The distributor reps in attendance also seemed excited about this new event and appreciated the distinct difference the cooperative atmosphere created.
“I think, with this festival, it will put Charleston on the map,” said Robbie Cline, on-premise manager for Capitol Beverage Company. “We need one central craft beer event for Charleston, and I think this will get bigger in years to come.”
At the festival, Capitol Beverage featured Samuel Adams’ new nitro line, and introduced New Belgium’s Heull Melon and Rogue’s 4 Hop, 6 Hop, 7 Hop, and 8 Hop brews.
Cline also brought the West Virginia breweries he represents: Morgantown Brewing and Greenbrier Valley Brewing.
“We’ve really hit the craft beer market hard,” said Cline. “All of our sales reps are Cicerone trained, so they’re able to discuss craft beer and talk about the different styles.”
Proud Eagle Distributing’s market manager Todd Moore agreed that cooperation helped the festival step up to a higher level. He said it didn’t happen without a ton of effort.
“It’s a lot of work,” he said, “but it gets people out to try new things that they haven’t had, which will expose them to the whole craft scene.”
It was Proud Eagle’s work that obtained brewery representatives from Oskar Blues, Country Boy, and Devils Backbone breweries. Having representatives from the breweries in attendance boosts a festival’s credibility. Moore put a wood-aged Kilt Flasher Scotch Ale from Devil’s Backbone and Ten Fidy from Oscar Blues in the VIP tent.
North Central Distributors’ Michael Folio says he too was more than pleased to participate in the inaugural Foam at the Dome.
“I just want everyone to have a good time and enjoy themselves,” he said.
To help kick off the fun, Folio and his and his ace sales rep Nicole Dent Lowther posed for a picture as promoters of Weihenstephan German beer. North Central’s booth featured the Weihenstephaner 1516 Kellerbier, a beer that commemorates the 500th anniversary of Reinheitgebot (the German beer purity law).
Folio also brought brews from Sierra Nevada, Ommegang, Duvel, Sea Dog and more.
John Peters, of Atomic Distributing, said they loved being a part of the inaugural event. He brought a nice selection of Belgian beer from Global Brands for the VIP tent. The Wittekerke Wild, Silly Sour, and Barista Chocolate Quad were all big hits.
“It’s something different and not mainstream,” he said. “A lot of the new styles being brewed by American craft brewers have been being brewed by the Belgians for a couple of hundred years.”
West Virginia breweries come out for Foam
Another success of Foam at the Dome was the participation by West Virginia breweries, new and old alike.
It’s always great to see the state’s more mature craft brewers out enjoying another festival. The industry here owes so much to the guys from Mountain State, Bridge Brew Works, Morgantown Brewing, and the like.
It is equally pleasurable to see the enthusiasm of the state’s newer breweries.
West Virginia’s largest brewer, Mountain State Brewing Company of Thomas, was represented at Foam by marketing director Stephen Dilettoso. He wants to keep the brand in front of the Charleston market while the brewery is in a holding pattern as it completes a major expansion project.
“This summer we are moving from a 7-barrel brewhouse to a 30-barrel brewhouse,” he said. “We want to keep our current fan base, and once the expansion is finished, we’ll be ready to start adding some new accounts.”
Ken Linch, co-founder of Fayetteville’s Bridge Brew Works, brought their popular Moxxee Coffee Stout, Black Diamond Schwartzbier, Long Point Lager and Mountain Mama Pale Ale. Linch said he was there to reinforce the point that Bridge Brew is a local small brewery.
“While the term craft beer can mean pretty much anything today,” he said, “I think we hold true to the original meaning of craft beer being small and local. We put our heart and soul into it, so we hope people enjoy it.”
Ryan Heastings, head brewer at Charleston Brewing Company, had a little different perspective on the festival than the other brewery reps.
“It’s fun to be the local hometown boy,” he said about representing Charleston’s only brewery.
“My sense is that most of the people here have had our beer. The cool thing is that they get to talk to us—to meet the people behind the beer. That’s more important to us than just them getting to try Raj or 304, which they can get other places around town.”
After the festival, Heastings got to host the other brewers over at his brewery and pour for them some of the beers that never make it out of Charleston.
“It’s nice to showcase with your colleagues,” he added.
Dave Kucera of Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company was at the festival because he likes to come out and personally meet his customers.
“We’re highlighting Devil Anse IPA, which showcases the Galaxy hop,” he said, noting that Galaxy is one of those hops that is becoming hard to get these days.
“Luckily, we’ve contracted for it for about five years out” he added.
Sam Mauzy, partner and sales manager for Big Timber Brewing Company, Elkins, said his brewery actually has a huge following in Charleston.
“I’ve been distributing down here for now for two years,” he said. “This is one of our bigger markets behind Morgantown and Huntington. We’re getting a real strong following in Charleston.”
Mauzy brought the brand new Broken Axe Brown, a small-batch India Brown Ale. He also featured Double Bit Double IPA and the spring seasonal Sluice Stout.
“One-on-one interaction is extremely important,” he added. “I want people to try our beer and then go out and buy our cans.”
Steve Redden, brewmaster at Dobra Zupas in Beckley, announced that his brewery has recently expanded its self-distribution to Charleston. They now have five accounts in the Capitol City selling his IPA and Coffee Stout.
He said he wants people to experience that, in the world of beer, bigger isn’t always better.
“Small scale breweries are where it’s at,” he says.
Several WV breweries in attendance were those that do not normally distribute in the Charleston market.
Lincoln Wilkins, proprietor/brewer of Blackwater Brewing in Davis, said he loves bringing his beer down from the mountains to Charleston.
“I hope they’ll enjoy our niche products, the European-style session beers we do,” he said.
Of note, Wilkins brought his Wood Hick Porter, a seasonal which incorporates locally-sourced maple syrup. He said his brewery expansion project is still moving along, and once completed, we may see more of his brews showing up in the Charleston market.
Josh Taylor, assistant brewer at Chestnut Brew Works in Morgantown, said they try to participate in anything that’s involved with West Virginia craft beer. He brought their some of the brewery’s’ more popular brews, including the sales leading Halleck Pale Ale.
“I want to show Charleston folks that we make the best beer in the state,” he said.
Roger Johnson, owner/brewer at Screech Owl Brewing near Bruceton Mills, holds the distinction of being the state’s newest and smallest commercial brewer.
Johnson was a truck driver for 21 years who wanted to get off the road and stay closer to home. Starting a brewery was just the ticket he needed.
“We’re small,” he said. “If I make a 100 gallons or I make 1,000 gallons, I don’t really care.”
He says his emphasis is on quality not quantity. To prove it, he brought a nice small-batch Bold Blonde Ale and his Threshing Floor American-style Wheat Ale.
“I sell my beer to people based on the product, not on advertising,” he added.
Regional breweries show support for Charleston
Having representative on hand from some major out-of-state craft breweries is always a plus for a beer festival. These reps bring lots of product information, anecdotes and schwag. Foam at the Dome had some good ones.
Brian Coe, regional manager for Devils Backbone Brewing Company, Lexington, Virginia, was back in Charleston with their flagship beers plus a limited-release Wood-aged Kilt Flasher Scotch Ale. This beer was aged on bourbon barrel wood from Belmont Farms Distillery in Culpepper Virginia. Coe also introduced Charleston beer fans to DBBC Ginger Brau, a ginger-infused lager.
Buoyed by the sales volume they are getting here, Coe said the brewery will soon announce the hiring of a sales rep for the West Virginia market.
Daniel “Sink” Sinkhorn, the supercharged ambassador for Country Boy Brewing of Lexington, Kentucky, was making a repeat Charleston visit too. He showed off the range of beer his brewery offers in Charleston.
Sinkhorn believes getting out in the market is a very important part of Country Boy’s sales strategy success.
“We want to try to be out,” he said, “get our face in front of the people, let them see us, and see our personality come through in the beer.
“I love seeing people’s reactions when they try our beer. That’s one of the biggest things for me.”
He got plenty of positive reactions from Country Boy’s Ghost Gose, a kettle-soured wheat beer brewed with coriander and sea salt. It was the beer’s first appearance in Charleston.
John Gartner, regional sales manager for Oskar Blues Brewery of Brevard, NC, was pleased about getting to be a part of Charleston’s first big craft beer festival. Oskar Blues entered the Charleston market last September.
Gartner’s impressions of the market have been quite positive.
“Our cans have been well-received,” he said. “My goal is to shine more light on the other beers the brewery makes beyond our flagship Dale’s Pale Ale.”
In that light he brought Ten Fidy Imperial Stout, Pinner Session IPA, and more.
Food, art, and more
As a community & economic development event, Foam provided ample space for food vendors, artists, and other small businesses to participate. These vendors came from across the Charleston Main Streets service territory.
Lines were busy all evening for the delicious food options. Dem Two Brothers food stand was swamped for hours with barbecue lovers. From the looks of things, all food vendors had to be very pleased with the business.
“We pretty much sold out everything we brought,” said Chef Greg Bess of B&D Gastropub.
A special treat was finding beer-inspired art for sale. It would be wonderful to see this expand in future years.
Charleston artist Kelly Bryant brought her brightly colored pastels and stained glass.
Melanie Walker, proprietor of Resistor Rags and Wares, offered one of the more unusual crafts: handmade pillows embroidered with the molecular representation of humulone, an alpha acid component of hops.
A great music line up
The music line-up included several of the area’s very best bands. Main stage performers Ona, Country Store, and Qiet are each major draws in their own right. The bluegrass oriented group Total Meltdown kept the VIP tent hopping.
TIPS for success at Foam at the Dome
Foam at the Dome offered TIPS training to its volunteers. The TIPS program is an industry leader in responsible alcohol server and seller training. To show the importance given to this aspect of the operation, volunteers who completed the training received a Certified Beer Pourer T-shirt.
This kind of training emphasis is important because a festival needs to be a responsible member of its community. Foam did the right thing, and that is another reason for the festival’s success.
Overall, Foam at the Dome was a very successful on multiple fronts.
- As a beer event, it showcased well the current variety of craft beer available in the Charleston market and also brought in some brews that you don’t normally see here.
- As a business event, it was probably the largest fundraiser ever for Charleston Main Streets. It also allowed 20 or so food and artisanal product vendors to share in the enthusiasm.
- As a community development project, the festival definitely added enthusiasm for Charleston, WV. People had a great time. It gave the largely millennial, active-adult crowd something they long for. It reinforced the Hip in the Charleston CVB’s Hip-Historic slogan.
Economically speaking, Charleston Main Streets was a huge beneficiary of the festival. The use of all-volunteer labor at a sold-out festival allowed the sponsor to walk away with a substantial profit. Good for them. It’s great to see a forward-thinking organization prove it can make a real difference to community and economic development in our area. They will put the profits to good use.
Since the festival pays distributors and breweries for the beer it serves, it also helps out the craft brewing economy. More important to the brewing economy, however, is the enthusiasm for better beer that a festival of this size creates. Foam at the Dome is now a vital part of the movement to improve the beer scene in Charleston. It’s already having a major impact.
Here’s looking forward to Foam-2.