This April saw the return of the Atlantic City Beer And Music Festival, more commonly referred to as simply “Beerfest,” to the Convention Center in Atlantic City. Now in its 8th year, the festival has grown to be one of the country’s largest celebrations of beer culture––hence its other moniker, the “Celebration Of The Suds.” Beerfest rolled into AC for two days, April 5 and 6, welcoming over 90 different breweries from around the corner and across the country to showcase their unique libations.
The focus of the Beerfest is the promotion of craft beers and the brewers that create them. This event is the perfect opportunity for beer aficionados, beer lovers and the casual beer drinker to speak to company representatives and brewers responsible for some of their favorite brews. It also offers beer enthusiasts the chance to discover and taste new and specialty beers and ales that they might not find elsewhere.
Thousands of eager beer drinkers crowded into the vast open space of the Convention Center in three separate five-hour shifts: one on Friday night, and two more Saturday afternoon and evening. Tickets were sold for $51 in advance and $56 at the door. Those partaking in the festivities were given a four-ounce beer stein (which was only to be filled to the two-ounce pour line) to sample the unlimited beers of their choice for no additional charge. What’s that you say, two-ounces is too small? Yes, I thought the same thing at first. But when you take into consideration that there were over 100 different beers to taste, the two-ounce mug was probably a very smart idea on the part of the festival’s organizers.
Just about any sort of beer or ale you’d have a thirst for was well represented at the show, including brands like Abita, Allagash, Tröegs, Lancaster Brewing Company, Magic Hat, Victory Brewing Company, Brooklyn Brewery, Smuttynose, Flying Dog, Dog Fish Head, Ommegang, and Stone Brewing Company, to name just a few. Also highlighted were some of the Garden State’s best breweries such as Cape May Brewery, River Horse Brewing Co., Flying Fish, Cricket Hill Brewing, New Jersey Brewing Co., Tuckahoe Brewing, Turtle Stone and others.
In fact, the entire festival had a decidedly Jersey-centric flavor to it, with organizations and vendors such as the Garden State Beard & Mustache Society, Lucy The Elephant, True Jersey, NJ Lids hats, AC Surf School, Atlantic City Skateboarding Association, Norml NJ (working to reform marijuana laws), and of course, Weird NJ all in attendance. To show their own Jersey pride and support of the Garden State, festival promoters vowed to donate $1 from every ticket sold toward Hurricane Sandy relief and rebuilding efforts.
But the event wasn’t just about the beer––it’s really a truly fun festival with an atmosphere that’s part Oktoberfest beer bash, part county fare and part carnival midway, complete with sideshow freaks. Many of the attendees came with their own “crew,” donning matching outfits and giving the event a sort of Mardi Gras feeling. Except in this case instead of plastic bead necklaces, the reveler hung strings of pretzels and beef jerky around their necks. There was a wandering group of guys and girls in lederhosen who looked like an oom-pah-pah band who had just arrived from the Bavarian Alps. There was a gang of burly bearded men in denim overalls who appeared to have just ambled in from their moonshine still on the mountain. There was a barbershop quartet serenading partying people in four-part harmony as they strolled the crowded aisles.
In addition to this unique cast of colorful characters, there was some amazing live music to complement the savory suds, performed on a stage set up right in the middle of all the action. Acts like The Bouncing Souls, A Wilhelm Scream, Rusted Root, and Soihadto played to enthusiastic audiences. The highlight for me, though, was the Reverend Horton Heat and his band, who tore through a long blistering set of raucous rockabilly.
Beer experts, speakers, and authors of beer-related books were on hand to educate the masses on the science, the taste and the history of all things barley and hops. Master chefs were there dishing up different tips on cooking with beer as a key ingredient in the recipe. Brewers demonstrated the best ways to make beer in the comfort of your own home. There was even a seminar on how to pair your favorite brew with the proper cigar.
If it could be said that there were any celebrities in attendance, the only one I saw was Howard Stern Show cast member and beer connoisseur, Richard Christy. While perhaps not a true “star” in his own right, Richard’s boisterous beer-fueled antics are legendary on the Stern program and made him a perfect fit for the overall light-hearted and high-spirited tone of the event.
Of course, no beer festival would be complete without some great grub to soak up the suds, and there was certainly no shortage of that to be had. Restaurants and pubs, like local favorites Tony Boloney’s and the Tun Tavern, were cooking on premises, filling the air of cavernous hall with an intoxicating aroma of smoky goodness. A variety of other food vendors offered up beer-friendly cuisine like kielbasa and kraut, hot wings, barbecue, soft pretzels and oyster and mussel bars.
For those who wished to burn off a few calories after consuming vast quantities of beer samples and festival foods, there were several activities that could get your heart pumping a little faster. A local AC “gentleman’s club” ran a dunk tank where you could throw balls at a target and try to submerge a bikini-clad vixen in freezing cold water. There were also indoor field goal kicking enclosures, beer pong competitions and a mechanical bull-riding corral. But perhaps the strangest looking activity was the penned in area where the “Silent Disco” took place. Here, participants were invited to shake their groove things to live DJ music. The odd part, though, was that they were given headphones to hear the music, so it could not be heard by the throngs of onlookers who watched them gyrating spastically in silence. Nevertheless, hundreds of eager dancers crowded the floor to shake their booties and to make spectacles of themselves, seemingly devoid of inhibitions of self-consciousness. Beer will do that to you sometimes.
Another popular activity offered was the “free mustache rides” where ladies were invited to sit on a full-sized seesaw designed to resemble a giant black mustache, and teeter-totter for a while. Flamboyant facial hair, both mustaches and beards, actually play a major roll in the AC Beer Festival, as its organizer, Jon Henderson, is a card-carrying member of the American Mustache Institute. There is even an exclusive VIP section, of sorts, at the event called the Mustache Lounge, where mustachioed Americans can gather for specialty tastings of limited release beers hosted by the great brewers that craft them. Special honors and awards are given to those with the best whisker growth. The only requirement one must meet to be granted admission into this private party is that you MUST have a mustache to enter. Fear not though ladies and you gentlemen of clean-shaven face––fake stick-on mustaches were available for purchase right at the entrance to the lounge!
Judging by the thousands of happy beer-induced smiles that I witnessed over the two days that I was at the event, I can safely say that a splendid time was had by all. You definitely won’t want to miss this great beer-centric extravaganza the next time the circus comes to town. So keep your eyes and ears open for it, and start growing your handlebar mustache now so that it’s ready in time for Atlantic City Beer And Music Festival 2014.
For more information about the event go to celebrationofthesuds.com.