Labor Day weekend in Savannah can only mean one thing: It's time for the annual Savannah Craft Brew Fest at the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center. And if you've never been, you may not know just how big this festival gets.
Imagine the trade center packed inside and out with more than 150 world-class craft beers from vendors representing some of the best craft breweries around, including cider and mead tastings.
The Savannah Craft Brew Fest takes place from 1-5 p.m. Sept. 3 from 1-5 p.m. General admission includes a 2-ounce sampling souvenir glass, festival guide, unlimited sampling of more than 150 craft beers, live entertainment, games and access to the World of Sam Adams Tent with educational seminars. VIP tickets and VIP designated driver tickets are already sold out.
Red Mountain Entertainment is back again this year to produce the event and according to Red Mountain's Alex Colee, they have a few new happenings to spotlight this year.
"We have karaoke with New Belgium," she says. "Everyone is invited to stop by and sign up. This is the third event where we are doing karaoke, and it's so much fun that some people just stay and spend most of their day there."
Also new this year is a cheese pairing event sponsored by Orpheus Brewing.
"Come by and sit down and listen to conversations on how cheese pairs with beers in perfect ways," she says. "There are specific times to sample beers and cheese and get an education."
At 2 p.m., festival goers can sample Coffee Minotaur, an 8 percent ABV bourbon barrel-aged malty sour aged on local coffee beans, paired with an espresso rind cheese. At 3 p.m., you can sample Wandering Blues, a 6 percent ABV blueberry sour, paired with a funky/pungent blue cheese. And at 4 p.m., they will have Lyric Ale, a 6.5 percent ABV saison, paired with a soft-ripened cheese blended from cow, sheep and goat milk.
But Colee's group knows you don't fix it if it isn't broken, so many of the festival favorites are back again.
The band Souls Harbor, a heavy metal band from Beaufort, S.C., will be back to provide live music. The silent disco and photo booth will return, as well as the cider garden, mead garden and import garden.
"The sports bar is back, too," Colee says. "The Georgia and North Carolina game will be on at 5:30 p.m. ... We'll feature Terrapin (for Georgia) and Foothills (for North Carolina) breweries. There will also be other games showing throughout the day as well."
The World of Sam Adams Tent with educational seminars is back with three sessions: beer and food pairing, nitro beer and the popular stein hoisting event. Session one, "Unleash Your Inner Rebel," begins at 1:30 p.m. and will feature an introduction of IPAs and will showcase three types of Sam Adams Rebels paired with spicy pork, cheese and carrot cake. Session two, "Pop and Pour It," begins at 2:30 p.m. and will feature two of Sam Adams' Nitro beers. Session three, "History of Octoberfest," begins at 3:30 p.m. and will spotlight Sam Adams Octoberfest beer pairings as well as the stein hoisting competition.
Colee says there is a good mix this year of inside events and outside events.
One popular outdoor event is the cornhole competition. Bluffton's Southern Barrel Brewing Co. will give away custom-made cornhole boards to the winners.
This is the first year at the festival for Southern Barrel, and brew master Walter Trifari says they are excited.
"We are a cool destination brewery and manufacturing is our main goal," Trifari says. Their space in Bluffton features a large tap room restaurant that he describes as comfortable and enjoyable. The back side of their facility is a full production craft brewery.
"We have year-round staples on tap ... along with a seasonal selection we add to our menu every couple of months."
Trifari says right now, they have their Wild Bramble Sour Ale, a raspberry sour seasonal, and they are getting ready to serve their Harvester Pumpkin Ale. For the festival, they plan to bring Wild Bramble Sour Ale and their new IPA, Damn Yankee, which is a New England-style IPA. Trifari says they may also bring their Belgian saison, Saison N'On N'On.
And while the guys may be new to the brew scene in the Lowcountry, Trifari says he has been in the craft beer business for about 20 years getting experience working in brew pub settings and microbreweries. His passion as a master brewer is evident when he talks about his newest award and his business.
"We recently won an award for our helles lager called Southern Helles. We are really stoked about it. It was a USBTC (United States Beer Tasting Championship) competition. We won our region ... so we got to compete with other regions and we were named grand champion for this year. We'll bring that to the festival as well."
Trifari and his team bring that same championship-winning spirit to their tap room, too.
"When I came down here to start this place, I knew this place has to have that one-on-one approach to our consumers," he says. "We have our core beers on the market and on tap, but we also have the ability to make small batches, so at any time we have 12 beers on tap. Some are experimental or collaborations with other breweries; we make it a lot of fun ... We want to make sure our regulars always have something new to try when they come by.
"... We also want to be stewards to educate locals about what we are and what beer can be ... All of our bartenders have their Cicerone certification - it's like a wine sommelier, but for beer. All our employees are required to go through the beer server portion, and that ensures that everyone here knows how beer is made, supposed to be served and ... then evaluated.
"We are really excited to get down to Savannah for the festival and hang out with other local breweries. It's a tight community that we are proud to be a part of."