Marchfest5

It might not have been advertised much outside of Santa Fe, but plenty of folks showed up at Buffalo Thunder.

Last Saturday was the second annual Marchfest put on by Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino. Previously, this was an event that many of the Crew had written off due, mostly in part to little to no advertising, except through commercials on the mainstream radio stations (I’d be pretty surprised if the Crew listened to the radio). (We don’t. — S) There was almost no cooperation from the people running the event back then, and from what I did hear from those who attended, most reviews were mixed.

This year, because I’m the new Santa Fe correspondent, I felt it necessary to head out to my “backyard casino” and investigate what could go so wrong with a brewfest. Painful memories of Lions, Tigers, and Beers still bring forth a full-body shudder. Thankfully, for this event, I wasn’t wandering through the woods alone. I had a trusty guide, and I also bumped into Dark Side Bullpen and Los Alamos correspondent, Reid Rivenburgh, at the event. He came with his lovely wife, and this was their second Marchfest. Here were his thoughts on the event:

“We attended the Buffalo Thunder 2014 Beerfest, and as usual, a year later I can really only recall that I was a little “ehhh” about the event. I remember it being quite crowded, for one thing, and it’s never fun to stand in line for five minutes to fill a barely 1-ounce cup. Some friends were planning to go to this year’s event, so we figured we’d give it another chance. We were glad we did! Perhaps the biggest difference was that there weren’t that many attendees, so lines at each table were at worst a few people. It was far from empty, but it still felt comfortable. (And I was also able to catch up with fellow Dark Sider Luke, who I don’t think I had seen since the IPA Challenge.)

“I’m a dedicated IPA fan and will appreciate just about any style of beer, but my wife steers towards the ciders and fruitier/wheatier beers. Well, this was her event. It felt like there were just as many alternative beers as real ones. The makers of her favorite beer, the Pecan from the Pecan Grill and Brewery in Las Cruces, were in attendance. She even found a new favorite, Whiskey Beer. (Too bad we didn’t note who made it despite going back 14 times.) It was a glorious day for her. I certainly had plenty of Real Beers (TM) to try, but it didn’t feel like there were all that many interesting, unusual ones. Still, it was fun, and they were kind enough to offer complimentary sliders and tamale bites, which were much appreciated. And as a final bonus, since the event was at Buffalo Thunder, we were able to go to their buffet after and, ahem, digest our food and drink before driving off. (Plenty of gambling, too, if you’re into that kind of thing.) Overall, two thumbs up!”

My experience was pretty similar, except I was sans significant other this time around. Upon arrival I was greeted by tables full of beer mugs, T-shirts, water bottles, snacks. It felt like somebody had made a brewfest checklist and followed it. Pretzel necklaces, check. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, until one of those items is left unchecked, right?

Inside the main ballroom, it was a very open space full of tents and booths — nothing new, but always a happy sight. The place felt full enough of people, but it certainly wasn’t overcrowded like some Albuquerque venues, cough, BioPark, cough. I never had to wait in line. Not once. The music was mainly bluesy rock, but solid for a fest. The band was called D.U.S.K. (Dirty Urban Sh*t Kickers) and they kept people in the right beer-drinking mood. I can’t taste beer to Death Metal just yet; after all, my Dark Side training is not fully complete. (We have much work to do, clearly. — S)

Marchfest2

D.U.S.K. takes the stage!

Of the breweries, there was a healthy handful. Even La Cumbre showed up, despite previous confusing reports. And only one Marble Brewery showed up, which, if you saw this year’s Marchfest flyer, you’d get the joke. Santa Fe Brewing Co. poured all they’d promised to pour. It was unfortunate not to see more local guys, especially from Santa Fe, but that’s another can of worms I ain’t touchin’. Still, Tractor, Kellys, and Abbey Brewing Co. came to hang out for the day.

It was nice to drink my way from Kannah Creek (Grand Junction, Colo.), to Mother Road Brewing Co. (Flagstaff, Ariz.) ever since our fearless editor came back from his trip out to Flagstaff in June of last year. I ended up with a pint of their Kolsch towards the end. And I’d do it again. Avery, Breckenridge, and Ska were also representing Colorado, so that was nice.

Marchfest4

Some of the sights and beers.

The high-er rollers came out to the casino from the West Coast — Lagunitas, Stone, Deschutes, Sierra Nevada, and Alaskan. They were all welcome sights, as well, and brought some nice offerings and some special stuff. Did I mention Heineken was there? I usually wouldn’t. But, they were touting this crazy new vacuum-suctioned keg contraption that keeps the sunlight and oxidation out of beer. The beer I tasted was nothing like my memories of those dank, smoke-filled pool halls from college. If it could do that for Heineken, imagine the possibilities. Have you ever known a guy who complained about the oxidation in craft brews? I may know a thousand of them. And then there were the weird guys like Montejo and the Traveler Beer Company, both using some curiously odd mixes and mustaches to hide their macro parentage (so that’s where the mustaches came from!). I may have missed some of the breweries, but it was a big room.

As for value, we received a small taster glass with our ticket. Can’t complain about unlimited tastes. But if you wanted the mug and ticket for a “full beer” you had to pay $10 extra. This is a little bit different from NM Brewers Guild events, which, I believe, traditionally comes with a pint glass and ticket for a full pour. I suppose the extra money went to paying all the hotel and casino staff that were working with the brewery staff as additional pourers. Too bad they couldn’t tell you what you were drinking. Not a huge deal. There was at least one person at each booth that could. The total costs came out to what you might expect from a brewfest when you factor in full beers, food, souvenirs, etc. So, no problem there. There was an even a place, off to the side, where you could buy a six packs of all the stuff you liked.

Marchfest1

Look, proof of all the happy people!

Overall, it was a great time. Generally, I go to fests to try new things I’ve never had before, but I was “working,” so I tried a few new things from Mother Road, Stone, Kannah, but I had no problem playing the hits. Happy that Red Ryeot and State Pen Sour Porter were there. But, you see, I suspect it was a different crowd there than we see at ABQ Brew Fest or even Winter Brew. This crowd was very happy to be trying these beers, many of them for the first time. If this was their introduction to non-light macro lagers or Mexican lagers popular around the area, then from the enthusiasm they showed me, it was a huge success. After all, Sierra Nevada doesn’t make for a bad first experience, does it now?

What makes this brewfest worth attending next year? Well, for one thing, it’s a great venue. Come for a brewfest, and stay for a fun night. Drink great beers with your friends, and have a good time. Does every brewfest need to be an Untappd badge raid? I don’t think so. I can’t always go to my favorite brewery and try something new. I go far too often for that. But I go to have fun. And have fun, I did. Everyone had fun. I’m giving the whole experience a B+. The atmosphere was good. The vibe was good. This good time was well worth the price of admission. Let’s see what they can do next year!

Marchfest3

A couple photo IDs amid more attendees: Bullpen writer Reid Rivenburgh and his wife (top right). Event coordinator Emily Brcic (bottom right) is in the red shirt.

After the event I asked Emily Brcic, the event coordinator, a few questions.

DSBC: Overall, how do you think it turned out?

Brcic: I believe that overall the event was a big success, especially for being our second annual Marchfest. We learned many things from the previous year’s event that we applied this year. One example, was that we doubled the size of the room. This allowed more flow through the event, and eliminated crowded walkways and groups of people not being able to go to the booths that they wished to. We ended up having around 2,000 to 2,500 people at the event, which was a great turnout for an event that is still in it’s growing stages!

DSBC: What was the biggest success of this year?

Brcic: I think that our biggest success was the number of vendors/distributors that we had turn out and how great their booths and products looked. They all took a lot of pride in showing their products off to the guests, and I think this translated into a great guest experience. We had over 100 different beers this year, which was an increase from about 60 (I believe) last year, and we hope to increase that by even more for next year!

DSBC: Anything you would do differently next year?

Brcic: If I would change anything for next year’s event, it would be to push the event back a few hours. We struggled both years now with the majority of people not showing up until 1:30 to 2 p.m., when the event starts at noon. If we were to push the start time back, I think this would be beneficial to everyone involved.

* * * * *

All in all, allow me to say, well done Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino. Well done, Emily Brcic, for taking the lessons you learned from the previous event and really putting together something worth coming out for. Everyone I spoke to, and the majority were from Albuquerque (that was surprising), had nothing but positive things to say. I’ll reiterate, everyone had a good time. We can’t always go to Disneyland expecting new rides. Sometimes you just get drunk and ride the teacups, but it’s all good fun in the right place. Stay festy my friends!

Cheers!

— Luke

If you were in attendance, tell us what you thought about Marchfest on our Facebook page.

For more #CraftBeer News and @NMDarkSideBC info, follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro

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