The Savannah Craft Brew Fest is just around the corner on Sept. 3, but local beer geeks know the real action starts the week before with Savannah Craft Beer Week.
The series of events promotes local craft breweries, homebrew shops, bars and restaurants from Aug. 28-Sept. 4. And with more events than ever, the only way to keep up with what everybody in town is doing that week is to go to www.SAVCraftBeer.com or download the SAVCraft Beer smartphone app. Beer lovers can also follow @savcraftbeer on Twitter and get event information on Facebook.
The website, app and social media sites are curated and maintained by the guys at www.BrewDrinkRun.com. Lee Heidel is a Savannah-based beer columnist and managing editor at BrewDrinkRun, a website and podcast dedicated to brewing beer, drinking craft beer and running off those calories. He is also the creator of SAVCraftBeer.com.
Heidel says there is a lot of new stuff this year.
"The great things about Savannah Craft Beer Week are the sponsors, local retailers and breweries. Every year it gets bigger with more brewery events and added venues.
"One of the new additions this year is Green Truck is hosting an event on Sunday (5-9 p.m. Aug. 28) that's called Sausage Fest. Everyone knows Green Truck for their burgers, but that night they will have an all-sausage menu. It's unique."
They will also offer vegetarian sausages as well and feature beers from locally owned Service Brewing.
"Crystal Beer Parlor is doing several brewery promotion nights and one is with Coastal Empire Brewing. It's a Tiki Night and they will have Coastal's new Coco Pina, which is one of their more tropical beers. The first 100 guests will get to try the new beer in a coconut." The Tiki Night event at Crystal Beer Parlor is from 5-10 p.m. Aug. 31. Everyone is invited to wear their best tiki apparel. Craft brews on tap will be Coastal Empire's Coco Pina, White Caps, Southern Delight Praline, Savannah Brown and Plantation Rum.
"Crystal Beer Parlor is also doing a brunch the day after the Craft Brew Fest and that is new this year, so that's another cool thing as well," he says.
Heidel moves on to the regular events everyone gets excited about each year, like the cool tap takeovers all over the city as well as The Distillery's Night of the Beer Geek 7.0.
"Night of the Beer Geek is that one night each year where you will find the rarest beer in town," he says. "You will see people who travel here each year just for that one event, so it extends outside Savannah as well."
The annual Recovery Run is back this year as well. Heidel says they have a sponsor this year, Green Truck Pub.
"The Recovery Run has always been more informal," he says. "We kept the numbers low for that reason, but with a sponsor we can expand what we do."
The 5K begins and ends at Green Truck and Heidel says they plan to hand out special gift bags with items from sponsors. The race is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 4, and while the run is free, organizers are asking participants who want a gift bag to register for a $5 fee at SAVCraftBeer.com.
"It is a different way to celebrate. People don't really think about doing a run after a beer festival, but it's a fun chance to talk about what we do and why we think it's important. The run is for runners of all levels ... We'll make sure no one is left behind."
Heidel adds that the growth of Savannah Craft Beer Week is due to the fact that the city is really maturing as a craft beer market.
"A couple of days before the celebration starts, Coastal Empire is celebrating their five-year anniversary. Savannah is so lucky to have Moon River here so long to kind of pave the way, too ... The past few years you've seen Coastal Empire grow as well as Southbound and Service Brewing," he says.
"When you have these local people making local beer, the culture changes because you have a different entry way for people to try craft beer ... And when you have people that are a part of the community that are makers, it honestly makes it that much more special."
New guys in town
And while their title sponsor, Service Brewing, is back again, Heidel says they keep adding new sponsors each year. One new sponsor is Bowtie Barbecue Co., which plans to open at the end of the month. Heidel says they have a large focus on craft beer and craft bourbon and whiskey.
Another new sponsor is White Whale Craft Ales, Savannah's newest craft beer store at 1207 Bull St. Owners Jason and Jocelyn Piccolo moved from Atlanta to Savannah about six years ago to take staff positions at Savannah College of Art and Design. During that time, they have worked to open their own shop based on a similar business plan of close friend and business mentor Eddie Holley, owner of Ale Yeah! Craft Beer Market in Atlanta.
Though craft beer drinkers can sometimes come across as beer snobs, Jason says he and his wife want locals to know their new spot is open to all.
"The thing I like about his place is it's simple," he says. "... There are other places where it's almost too much. We want to be a clubhouse for the beer lover."
The duo wants to put people in Savannah in contact with great brewers from all over the country by having "things you can't find anywhere else."
They also want to host events and continue to sponsor other local events. "We want to be a part of the community in any way they will have us."
The new shop will offer growlers, bottles and cans, and based on the name, shoppers can expect to see those hard-to-find craft brews.
"We went with White Whale because it serves two purposes," Jason says. "... It's an aquatic theme and we are near the ocean. And two, in craft beer speak, white whale is the bottle you are always looking for ... We knew beer geeks would appreciate it."
For Savannah Craft Beer Week, Jason offers advice to those beer drinkers who may not be as familiar with craft brew labels.
"I tell people to tell me what they like to drink ... To me there is nothing better than the local option ... The key is trying to find what they are into and go from there."
While the proposed summer opening has been postponed due to red tape, Jason says they already feel like part of the craft beer community here in Savannah.
"Our goal was to be open by May, but that keeps getting extended. We met the guys from BrewDrinkRun.com and they were very supportive and excited for us ... Actually, everyone has been really cool to us. There isn't this sense of competition; it's more like the more the merrier ... When we go to events and see the guys from Coastal Brewing hanging out with the guys from Service Brewing and having a good time, it's a great feeling," he says. "... Everybody understands that they are making cool stuff and they want to be a part of it. I mean, it's beer. We aren't talking stocks and bonds."
Before there were fancy apps and cool websites and podcasts dedicated to Savannah Craft Beer Week, the gang at the Distillery Ale House set out on their own and started an unofficial craft beer week featuring themed nights leading up to the Savannah Craft Brew Fest. While the themes have remained, Distillery Ale House's general manager, Julia Volen, says the options of craft beers have increased so much, she has a hard time selecting the menu each night.
She also says she's seen a trend this past year toward aged beer, but the sour beers are also catching on quickly as well.
"I plan for this week right after the previous year is over," she says. "My mind is always on beer week. We have the reputation for having the best beer, so we have to keep up with that.
"We only use beers from Savannah Distributing; they were so supportive of us in the beginning and took a chance with us, so we want to stay loyal to them for their support ... They have a craft beer manager who does a really good job of bringing us cool things and letting me know what I can have that night, and many of the breweries are really great at finding that special case and sending it over here."
The main event of the week The Distillery is best known for is its Night of the Beer Geek, where they only serve small batch and rare craft beers. It's become so popular that people come to Savannah specifically for this event.
"There is a lot of pressure each year and I'm definitely feeling it this year," Volen says. "I know everyone has big expectations ... But it's not a competition. I feel like anything that supports craft beer is good for the community in general ... I have people come from out of town, from Florida and even other states, and I get emails every year and let them know what they can expect. But I will have a big surprise this year."
Volen says this year's Savannah Craft Beer Week is exactly what she had hoped for in the beginning.
"There at least two or three events in town every night. It's amazing; it's what we wanted in the first place. Everyone has a lot of options.
SAVANNAH CRAFT BEER WEEK SCHEDULE