Question: What little town in the good ol’ U.S. of A. throws an 80-kegger, family-friendly beer tasting festival just to benefit their local food bank?
Joel Rea is wearing a chicken hat. His hat isn’t just any plain old chicken; it’s dressed up in lederhosen and clutching a frothy beer mug in its wing.
Rea swills homemade root beer poured from a tap in the side of his baby-blue Corvallis Brewing Supply truck. He’s owned the local brew store since 1997.
A little girl steps towards him, shy. She’s holding an empty plastic cup, and Rea fills it with thick, creamy root beer.
The girl leaves, turning towards a large crowd with her father. Rea looks around and laughs.
“This weekend I threw an 80-kegger,” he says.
Children run and play underfoot; parents, families and friends wander the grassy-green lawn, pints of beer sloshing in their hands. Tents and trucks encircle the crowd, each with rows of silver spouts pouring out the good stuff.
The 80-kegger is in full swing.
Rea is a leading member of a team of 150 volunteers who gathered in Avery Park Saturday, Sept. 10, to throw Corvallis’ ninth annual Septembeerfest.
Organized by Heart of the Valley Homebrewers (HOTV), a local non-profit American Homebrewers Association, Septembeerfest donates its proceeds to several charities, including Linn-Benton Food Share (LBFS) and the Heart of the Valley Homebrewers Endowment at Oregon State University for scholarships in fermentation science. In 2015 the event donated $20,000 to charities with 3,500 people in attendance.
This year’s attendance was more moderate than last’s, but a similar amount is expected to be raised. Final numbers have not been calculated.
“We’re a 501c4 non-profit raising monies to give to other nonprofits and we try to keep it local,” said Armand Schoppy, a Septembeerfest coordinator.
Schoppy has worked with nonprofits for 11 years and currently works with Community Services Consortium, the parent organization to LBFS.
“There’s less and less money for nonprofits,” said Schoppy. “It’s pretty cool what we’re able to give to the Linn-Benton Food Share.”
Well over 2,000 beer-drinkers lined up in four different tents and at four different trailers to indulge in an abundance of microbrews. From a pumpkin porter to a prickly-pear cactus and grapefruit gose, sweet peach mead to spicy chilli beer; beer taps poured variety for every palate.
Thirty-four breweries hauled in kegs of 80 different beers for brew lovers to try. It’s the biggest Septembeerfest lineup so far.
Rea is an active HOTV member and acting draft manager for the 2016 event. He wears many hats, not just the drunken chicken kind; he is a business owner, event organizer and LBCC adjunct for the Benton Center’s Community Education Program. He’s also the man who realized what the HOTV could bring to the community.
Thirty-four years ago, the HOTV organized the longest-running homebrewing competition in the Pacific Northwest, the Oregon Homebrewers Festival. Realizing the competition belonged only to a select set of homebrewers and excluded a community full of beer-lovers, Rea suggested it was time for a change. In 2006 the HOTV expanded the competition to include a microbrew festival.
Septembeerfest was born.
“Ten years ago the amount of commercial breweries in Oregon was around 30. Now it’s over 200,” said Rea. “The craft beer scene has really taken off.”
But this beer festival isn’t just for commercial microbreweries.
The festival was separated from the competition nine years ago, but the HOTV still served-up six different special homebrews at the event.
According to Bill Bartman, brewer for fledgling Portland, Ore., company Barsideous Brewing, Septembeerfest provides unique opportunity for new or unlicensed breweries to sample their wares to the population.
“We put it out there and see what the feedback and the buzz will be,” said Bartman.
This beer festival isn’t just for drinking-aged adults, either.
“I’m always amazed at how family friendly it is, and that’s just so Oregon,” said Ron Eder, Corvallis local and beer enthusiast.
The festival manages to balance adult-only beer drinking with family-friendly fun, including a music stage and three local bands.
“I love the fact that they have kids here,” said Jessica Propeck, first-timer at the festival. “I feel like it’s a great opportunity for families to enjoy together.”
It is widely unusual for such an alcohol-centric event to allow underage youth, but the organizers were well aware the dangers an all-ages beer festival presented.
“It’s challenging because as a beer festival we have legal obligations,” said Rea. “Somebody who is 19 or 20 years old can easily look drinking age.”
Hired security was on scene and beer servers wore bright yellow stickers stating “No band, no beer.” Guests were I.D. checked at the door, and designated drivers encouraged with free root beer. A bike valet and continuous shuttle through downtown Corvallis encouraged alternate transportation. For those needing a full belly to sober up, several local food vendors served their specialties.
Families weren’t the only ones enjoying the festivities. Brewers had a rare a chance to talk with the public and explain the nuances of what they do.
“The best thing is interacting with people,” said Winther, brewer for Corvallis’ Oregon Trail Brewing. “I was a beer drinker long before I was a beer brewer.”
Attendees, volunteers and brewers agreed that the fun an event like this brings to the community is what makes it so worthwhile.
“It’s just beer culture,” said Rea.
Photos and article by Emily Goodykoontz