Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Sunday, June 21, 2015

If you build it, they will come...

Mike Proske of Tapastre

 …and come, and come and keep on coming, if the 60-90 minute line that snaked around the corner waiting to gain access to the already-packed 2nd Somerville New Jersey's Craft Beer Fest was any indication.

Mike Proske, Beer and Food Wunderkind of the fabulous Tapastre restaurant was the main organizer of this event. After finding “middle ground” with the city of Somerville, negotiating with the State DOT to close a portion of NJ Rt. 28, hiring 60 people to work the tents and, in his spare time, working in consort with the Weather Gods to reverse near-disastrous weather predictions, Mike’s extremely successful event was held under warm, sunny skies.

And it was crowded. So crowded, there was no room to fall down if somebody did exceed their capacity—which no one did. The general atmosphere was friendly and fun; it was like a huge block party.
Heide and Erik from Angry Erik Brewing
A wide array of outstanding breweries were on hand, all ready to slake the thirsts of the hordes that descended upon the festival, and the lines were long at almost every one. With my little tasting mug in hand ($1-$3 a 4 oz. pour), it soon became apparent that the smart move would be to opt for a 12-or 16 oz. pour at $5-$7, if for no other reason than to avoid the wait.

That option alone set this fest apart from others where the price of admission, usually ten times higher (or more) than the $5 this fest cost to enter, guaranteed you the right to purchase beers directly from your favorite breweries. At most fests, a higher entry fee  allows unlimited sampling in 2 oz. glasses with no exchange of cash at the tap.

But this system, according to those with whom I spoke, seemed to be much preferred, even if the lines were intimidating to some. Of course, the rewards were in keeping with the wait, with beers from the following breweries: Stone, Founders, Abita, Great Lakes, Forgotten Boardwalk, Captain Lawrence, Dogfish Head, Troegs, Sly Fox, Weyerbacher, Neshaminy Creek, River Horse, Flounder, Carton, Kane, Angry Erik, 902, Demented and others.

Mike also arranged for featured tappings of the following beers:
Founder’s - KBS,
Weyerbacher - Sunday Morning Stout,
Cricket Hill - Small Batch Russian Imperial Stout,
Dogfish Head - 75 Minute Firkin,
Abita - (Top Secret),
Stone - (Top Secret), and Odd Russian Imperial Stout
Carton - SS Kentucky, Dune Fruit
Great Lakes - Rye of the Tiger, Alberta Clipper
Kane - Morning Bell,
Captain Lawrence - Seeking Alpha
Angry Erik--Dubbel Blade

Even the food offerings were good. I had a half of a Philly Cheese Steak with the works for just $5 from The Court House Sub Shop, and, not only was it phenomenal, it was a damned sight bigger than a half. With the weather in full cooperation mode, the live music causing rather fascinating gyrations by some fest-goers and the quality of the beer offerings, it was clear that the Somerville New Jersey's Craft Beer Fest 2015 was a wild success. It turned all of downtown Somerville into a festival, and no doubt brought serious ancillary benefits to all businesses in the area, as almost 5,000 beer nuts descended on this event, with portions of the proceeds going to the St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center.

Mary Nell and Donna
That’s not to say that there isn’t room for improvement, and Mike admitted that changes will be in store for next year’s fest. Parking, for one, wasn’t easy to find, and providing free parking everywhere on the day of the event would be a benefit. Also the fenced-in space was far too small to accommodate the huge crowds comfortably, probably making the beer lines longer than they had to be. And just fitting all those breweries into the space allotted was a Herculean task.

But nobody was complaining either. Sweating, yes, and enjoying, certainly, but not complaining. I have no doubt that everyone who went today will return next year.

But where to hold this event and still retain its local “Somerville” flavor?

If anyone can figure it out, Mike Proske will.

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