The Classic City Brew Fest is the oldest craft beer festival in the Southeast, and over the years it’s grown to include a full week of suds-soaked events, including a Five & Ten dinner with beer pairings from local breweries, brewery tours and special taps at local bars. Founder Owen Ogletree talked to Flagpole about how the festival has evolved and what to expect this year; check out classiccitybrew.com for more information.
Flagpole: The festival is 21 this year. What changes have you seen in the craft beer scene in Athens over the years?
Owen Ogletree: It’s just insane. I never would’ve dreamed craft beer would’ve taken off so quickly. Back when I started the festival, I had to convince people to come. They’d say “Why are you doing a craft beer festival? It has weird colors, weird flavors.” Now it’s the mainstream. There are so many breweries now, I can’t keep track of them. Even in Athens, with Southern Brewing Co., Creature Comforts and Terrapin all releasing new things all the time, it’s quite a challenge to keep up with everything, but it’s a good challenge to have.
FP: The events around Brew Fest seem to grow every year. How did Beer Week come about?
OO: Terrapin premiered their beers at the Classic City Brew Fest years ago, so that’s kind of their anniversary/birthday weekend. They always did a big carnival on the Saturday before Brew Fest. It kind of became a trend for people to come in from out of town and go to Terrapin on Saturday and Brew Fest on Sunday. Then other breweries and bars decided they wanted to come and do something that week to celebrate craft beer as well. This year we have a lot more Athens Beer Week events going on than last year, about twice as many.
FP: Any beers in particular that people ought to look out for?
OO: Creature Comforts is debuting a couple new beers. Terrapin’s Anniversary Ale is a sour red Flemish ale that’s been soured in a kettle. They have a setup at the brewery where they can sour beer in a kettle, then boil it to kill all the microorganisms they don’t want to let loose in the brewery. It’s kind of exciting that Terrapin’s now putting out sour beers. Creature Comforts has been doing it since day one.
I don’t know if it’s luck or what, but all three of the Athens breweries have gotten their start premiering their stuff at the Brew Fest. Southern Brewing barely squeaked in last year, Creature Comforts the year before. [This year] Southern Brewing’s gonna have a cask of a special session IPA that I collaborated with them on, and they’ll have probably 10 different beers showcased there—the wild-fermented beers made with wild yeast from flowers in Georgia all the way up to their new stout and Irish red ale. Southern Brewing has a big variety right now.
We’ve got some Kentucky Breakfast Stout from Founders, which is one of the top 10 beers in the world. We’ve got Bourbon County Stout from Goose Island, which is also considered to be super-rare and top-notch.
And every year breweries release special things. A lot of people think the cask ale pavilion is the coolest place in the festival because they’ve got special ingredients, special processes, some of them are wood-aged. Every one of them is unique because when you put beers in a cask with microbes that carbonate it and ferment it in the cask, it’s gonna take on a completely different flavor than a keg or bottle version.
FP: A lot of those cask ales are pretty strong. How do people pace themselves and make it through the whole day?
OO: If you just hold your glass out, they’re going to pour you about three ounces. You can always say “Just give me an ounce” or ask for a taste. A lot of people do that because they don’t want to get too tipsy too fast, and they want to try more things.
FP: What advice can you offer to people who are coming for the first time?
OO: The biggest advice would just be to come. You will learn so much about craft beer. Unlike other festivals where the lines are super-long and you’ve got to get a beer and immediately jump into the back of a long line and wait to get your next sip of beer, we keep this festival very low-key. Tickets are very limited. There are a lot of people there, but it’s very easy to talk to the brewers, to get a beer without spending a long time in line. And I would say read your program book, because it has lots of good descriptions of beer in there. If you can try an ounce of all the casks, that’s pretty doable. We also have an app where you can vote for your favorite one.
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