With the way craft beer continues to evolve and diversify in styles and flavors, declarations by those claiming to not enjoy beer simply doesn't cut it anymore. That generalization has entered the realm of the unacceptable, as with only a slightly more adventurous spirit, anyone can find a brew that pleases their palate.
Of course, that was the main idea behind the Atlantic City Beer and Music Festival when Jon Henderson and his Good Time Tricycle crew created it 11 years ago.
“There's something for everybody, you just have to find it,” says Henderson, whose flagship event returns to the A.C. Convention Center on Friday and Saturday, April 8 and 9, for three sessions. “I've talked about (the festival) being an opportunity for discovery, and it is. We encourage people to ... try something new.”
The event's first session is 8 p.m. to midnight on Friday, with the others noon to 4 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m. on Saturday. Roughly 150 breweries serving up to four styles of craft brews are expected, including local notables Tuckahoe Brewery in EHT, Cape May Brewery in Rio Grande, Glasstown in Millville, Pinelands in Tuckerton, Flying Fish in Somerdale, and Tomfoolery in Hammonton. Each session features live music by three bands, including headliners Dashboard Confessional on Friday, Manchester Orchestra during the early Saturday session, and Reel Big Fish on Saturday night. The entire music lineup, and all the auxiliary activities including educational seminars and a huge assortment of interactive fun, can be found at ACBeerfest.com.
The event has expanded into so much more than people just “pouring beer into their face holes,” as Henderson likes to say. It was recently recognized as the No. 2-rated beerfest in the entire country by USA Today, second only behind the 35-year-old Great American Beer Festival held in Denver each October.
Relying solely on breweries bringing in different products year to year would not, by itself, account for the A.C. beer fest being as popular as it is — and it is immensely popular. Nearly 30,000 people will circulate through Atlantic City because of it, so keeping things fresh across the board is key. One of the major elements that is new to this year's festival is the Hops Trot — a 5K run starting 10:30 a.m. Saturday in which participants sample 3-ounce pours of different brews at five stops en route to the Convention Center. Top finishers gain early entry into Saturday's first session.
“You've got to pay attention to trends,” Henderson says. “You want a festival to be a festival experience and have those layers, and each year you add a new layer. You want to surprise people with something, give them a new experience. This way it never gets stale.”
Better beer through science
Among the newcomers to the A.C. Beer and Music Festival is Garden State Beer Company, a craft brewery in Galloway that opened about a month ago at the site of the former Delareto's nightclub. It's owners are Brian Krenzien, Bryan Saul and Dr. Jason Stairs — the latter a PhD chemist whose quality-control responsibilities at the FAA Tech Center in EHT include, among other things, making sure explosives properly do what they're supposed to do.
In a roundabout way, Stairs' expertise in the area of explosives led to his joining Saul and Krenzien as proprietors of a brewery.
“I went to school to become a chemist and now I work at a desk,” Stairs says. “I write emails and go to meetings and I got itchy, so I went home and told my wife I needed a hobby.
“For right or wrong, I told her I'd like to make some explosives to set off with the kids around the Fourth of July. She said if I did, she'd call the police. Well, I stalked off, came back a couple of weeks later, said 'How about making beer?' She said I could make beer. And now I laugh and think she probably wishes she'd have let me make explosives.”
Garden State Beer Company currently makes eight different varieties of beer, six of which are usually on tap at their spectacularly renovated site.
Check out GardenStateBeerCo.com for more.
A.C. BEER AND MUSIC FESTIVAL
When: 8 p.m. to midnight Friday, April 8; noon to 4 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday, April 9
Where: Atlantic City Convention Center, 1 Convention Blvd., A.C.
How much: $60 at the door; $55 in advance through TicketMaster.com or at Joe Canal's at 3119 Fire Road, EHT; or 6036 E. Black Horse Pike, EHT. Hops Trot participation is $75 and includes entry into the second session.
More info: Designated-driver tickets are $20 and available at the door only. All attendees must be 21 or older to attend, including designated drivers.
Session One: 8 p.m. to midnight Friday, April 8
Main stage headliner: Dashboard Confessional; opening acts: Hidden In Plain View and The Elwins
Session Two: Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 9
Main stage headliner: Manchester Orchestra; opening acts: Superheaven and The Superweaks
Session Three: 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday,
Main stage headliner: Reel Big Fish; opening acts: Backyard Superheroes and Solace