Festival overload is hurting the NM craft brewing scene

Attendance at Guild-sponsored beer festivals was down this year due to the sheer overload in other festivals.
Attendance at Guild-sponsored beer festivals was down this year due to the sheer overload in other festivals.

As the snow falls outside, it currently feels about as far removed from festival season as can be in New Mexico. The period that begins with ABQ Beer Week in May and ends with NM Brew Fest in October saw more festivals than ever this year. That is not a good thing.

Back on Friday I had the chance to talk with Turtle Mountain owner Nico Ortiz about a wide variety of topics. One of the major areas of concern for Nico, who sits on the NM Brewers Guild as the President of the Board of Directors (La Cumbre’s Jeff Erway and Bosque’s Gabe Jensen also sit on the Board), was this year’s festival overload. Particularly from July through October, there seemed to be a different festival every weekend. Not all were centered on beer, but almost all had local craft breweries represented. Why was this a bad thing? Too many festivals forced people to pick and choose. Sadly, they did not pick the most important events.

Every year the NM Brewers Guild relies upon its primary festivals for funding. These funds then go toward helping to push all Guild-related bills through the State Legislature. Fewer event attendees means less revenue; less revenue could make for a struggle when the next legislative session kicks off in January.

For the record, the Guild’s major festivals are WinterBrew in Santa Fe every January, the Blazin’ Brewfest in Las Cruces in May, the multi-round NM IPA Challenge in July, the NM Brew Fest at the State Fairgrounds in October, and this year marked the debut of the Mountain West Brew Fest over Labor Day weekend in Bernalillo. WinterBrew has always been limited by the size of the Santa Fe Farmers Market building, hence it being held over two days instead of one this coming year (Jan. 15 and 16, FYI). While the Blazin’ attendance was fine, and the NMIPAC remained solid, attendance was not up to what the Guild had hoped for Mountain West, and despite being moved to a more comfortable venue along Main Street instead of Villa Hispana this year, attendance at NMBF was down.

At one point, the only other beer-related festivals were Blues & Brews every May and Hopfest every fall. The Guild-sponsored fests and these got along fine. Now there seems to be a dividing line as far as the breweries go in terms of which they attend and which they do not, particularly with the huge influx of new festivals, many created by out-of-state companies with huge amounts of money to spend. Brand-new breweries try to do all of the fests they can to attract business and get their names out there. Packaging breweries, such as Marble, Santa Fe, Sierra Blanca, and Tractor, also attend as many fests as possible. The other breweries primarily focus on attending Guild events at the expense of the rest. And we know, the breweries themselves sometimes don’t do the public any favors when they only bring along their primary house beers and/or packaged beers. Even Nico agreed with that. The more serious beer drinkers may start skipping fests if they feel the beers available are the same they can get at any time visiting the brewery. It would be great to see breweries debuting amazing seasonals and one-offs at fests. But again, with so many fests to attend and the general difficulty in making too many specialty beers during the busiest months of the year (particularly for the packaging breweries), it is not an easy thing to do.

Still, to the general craft beer drinker — Nico discounted the loyal, 200-plus beer geeks like the members of the Crew who show up to almost every beer-centric event — it all becomes a matter of picking and choosing festivals. If they are not overly serious about beer, they might prefer to go to a food truck roundup or another food-centric festival that has craft beer. All of it combines to drop attendance at the events crucial to the Guild. As much as we would like to hope that the casual craft beer drinkers will read this and realize they might need to skip Bacon Fest or Macaroni-and-Cheese Fest or one of the half-dozen or so regional Summer Fests, it may not be that easy.

So once again, rather than simply draw our own conclusions, we want to hear from all of you. What is the best solution to the overload in festivals? How do we get even the casual crowd to put Guild-centric events first? (And let it be know that all of us in the Crew would still like people to support Blues & Brews and Hopfest, both of which donate a lot of revenue to charity.) Let us start up the discussion. The Guild needs our help to keep making life better for our brewing scene.

As per usual, you can comment here, on Facebook, on Twitter (@nmdarksidebc), in person if you see any of us, or send us a direct message on email (nmdarksidebrewcrew@gmail.com).


— Stoutmeister

3 Comments Add yours

  1. 8bithitman says:

    I think the key is educating the masses on which festivals put local priorities first. The guild-involved events are critical to the proliferation of the local brew scene and all the hard work going on in the background with legislation–perhaps the guild should hit the issue head-on with a “keep it local” campaign highlighting the events that matter most. I’m sure the local breweries would see value in this–let the out of town breweries flood to the events created by out of town companies–especially since beer is usually not the main attraction (not saying that local breweries shouldn’t participate, but make these events less priority comparatively-speaking). Perhaps the Guild can capitalize on free local media (I know that the Morning Edge crew has a good connection to the breweries) and in-brewery advertising. On the other hand, as the long list of potential new establishments get up and running, there might be a gradual decline in demand for breweries to attend everything as the market becomes more saturated–but I could be 180 degrees off in my assumption in this; more competition might drive a higher demand for those coveted slots. My personal complaint with the fests is how close they are to each other– spread them out a bit, and there is better opportunity for consumers to go to more. Lots to think about with this issue……

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