Now in its fourth year, the Riverside Craft Beer Festival presented by the Riverside Rotary Club continues its tradition of raising funds for worthy charitable causes. This year the event will benefit Community PedsCare® a nationally recognized program of Community Hospice which provides comfort, care, and support for children with life-threatening conditions, as well as the charitable causes of the Riverside Rotary Foundation. Last year the event raised nearly $95,000.
The event began several years ago, when Chris Croft, then the president of the Riverside Rotary Club, noted that the golf tournament they had been sponsoring to raise funds was becoming stale. He tossed out the idea of a beer festival and enlisted the help of Ben Davis, a member of the club and owner of Intuition Ale Works. The idea began to grow and the club approached the organizers of the Riverside Arts Market (RAM) about using their space under the Fuller Warren Bridge as a venue for the event. RAM officials liked the idea and agreed to allowing the festival to set up under the bridge.
“In the first year,” Co-Chairperson of the festival Matt McLauchlin explained. “We only had half the space and poured the beer ourselves because the festival was an unknown quantity. Now we have all the local distributors on board.”
Over the years, the format of the festival has changed. In the first few years, guests had to purchase beer tickets. This year, for the first time, the festival is going to a one price format that allows attendees to sample as many beers as they would like for a single price. General admission tickets purchased online before the day of the event are just $36 plus handling charge. If you wait until the day of the event, tickets are $40 at the gate. VIP tickets are also available for $50, but are only sold online and are extremely limited. VIP tickets allow access to all beers an hour before General Admission guests.
“We are ahead in ticket sales this year,” McLauchlin said. “With the weather looking like it is going to be great. It’s almost like a Chamber of Commerce event. We expect to sell out.”
This year the festival has enlisted the help of all the major beer distributors in the Jacksonville area as well as some smaller distributors and entities. According to McLauchlin, there will be more than 150 beers available to festival guests for sampling. And, as capacity warrants, more may be put on tap.
“We were talking about it the other day,” said Croft, Co-Chairperson of the event. “Our event has grown to the point that is on the radar of distributors when they are planning out their year.”
What that means is that when ordering beers throughout the year, distributors are keeping the Riverside Beer Festival in mind.
“It has become a real thing,” Croft said.
Beer at the event this year ranges from hyper-nano brews from up-and-coming local breweries like Hyperion Brewing Company and Main & Six Brewing Company to imports like Delirium Nocturnum and Straffe Hendrik. For non-beer drinkers, Harris Meadery will be at the event serving their delicious mead along with several craft hard ciders.
“There are a lot of Bourbon Barrel Aged beers this year,” Croft said. “One I am particularly excited about is Boulevard Collaboration No. 6. It’s a collaboration blended beer between Boulevard and Firestone Walker with Boulevard’s Bourbon Barrel Quad and Imperial X Stout mixed with Firestone Walker Stickee Monkee and Velvet Merkin.”
In addition to great beer, the festival will feature music from Grandpa’s Cough Medicine making a return to Jacksonville from their new home in Asheville, N.C. The band’s first set is scheduled to begin at 3:00 p.m.
To help with the inevitable beer fest munchies, several of the area’s best food trucks will be on hand serving some of their best dishes.
“I think we are in sort of a golden age of craft beer right now.” McLauchlin said. “I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I think the event has staying power.”
The Riverside Craft Beer Festival takes place Saturday, February 25. The event opens to VIP ticket holders at 3:00 p.m. and General Admission guests at 4:00 p.m. Tickets are $36 plus handling charge online and $40 at the gate for General admission. VIP tickets are only available online and are $50 plus handling charge. Online tickets can be purchased through the event website at www.riversidecraftbeerfestival.com. The event ends at 7:00 p.m.