California Brewers Festival


The California Beer Festival was held Saturday April 29th, 1995 from 2 to 10 PM at the San Diego Sports Arena. The Great Arizona Beer Festival was held this same weekend, Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 6 PM at the Arizona Center in Phoenix. I believe that a comparison would be helpful to future event organizers and paying customers. First, and possibly most significantly, the Arizona festival was a charity event with all proceeds going to the Radio Reading Charity. The San Diego festival had money generated by the Dunking Booth go to a non-profit foundation, all other revenue went to the organizers, John Thomas and Ian Rosengarten. This situation could explain many things. The San Diego event was one of the most expensive in the country, $25 for a tasting glass and eight tokens. In Phoenix $15 in advance and $18 at the door got you a souvenir glass and 15 sample tickets for healthy 6 ounce pours. In San Diego pourers weren't allowed to pour into your glass but were instead forced to pour into small plastic medicine cups which looked like they held 4 ounces if filled to the rim and about half that when filled rapidly and passed over the counter. Phoenix had roughly 50 microbrewed beers to taste along with homebrew demonstrations, food vendors, a kids carnival and a great outdoor location. Complements were heard from brewers, volunteers and paying customers alike. San Diego was, to put it mildly, the other extreme. The early crowd inside the arena seemed small, possibly due to the great weather outside but the compact layout of the booths made everything seemed cramped and hard to navigate. The first impression of many "quality beer" seekers was the predominance of commercial booths; homebrew suppliers, beer-of-the-month clubs and the Hooter's Girls. It took less than one hour to visit the unique micros on hand and the cost of additional tokens made comfortable sampling impossible. The inhospitable nature of this festival was so strong that at least one local San Diego brewpub sent its beer to Arizona rather than put up with the costs and hassles of supplying beer to this in-town event. Does anyone else see a pattern here ? Even the Great American Beer Festival in Denver with its "beer police" harassing volunteer pourers didn't generate as much negative feedback as did this event in San Diego. I even had local bar owners tell me that this was the most hostile attitude they've ever experienced in trying to bring quality beer to the general public. For the sake of all future successful beer events in Southern California, I hope that we never see a repeat of these disappointing conditions.


Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - April, 1995


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