Salud Beer Shop’s founder, Jason Glunt, wanted to throw a beer festival. And so did everyone else in Charlotte.
“It just seemed like there was a beer festival every week,” said Glunt, who opened his bottle shop in 2012. “So I was like, let’s do something niche. We’re a niche shop. We’re a small and independent place. Let’s do what we love.”
Since Glunt loves sour beers, he organized the inaugural Release the Funk sour festival in 2013. The fall festival has sold out every year since. In its second year, the event even counted New Belgium’s Lauren Salazar – one of the nation’s pre-eminent sour beer brewers – among the attendees.
Glunt is not the only one in the state who sees the value in throwing a niche festival, or even one dedicated to sour beers. Wicked Weed Brewing has Funkatorium Invitational, the Thirsty Monk (also in Asheville) has its own sour fest, and Steel String Brewery in Carrboro held its Sour Barn Bash this past February. Across North Carolina, breweries, pubs and shops are hosting events that showcase their specialties while resonating with sometimes smaller segments of craft beer drinkers.
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“The marketplace is so crowded right now that you have to do that kind of stuff,” said Glunt. “You have to be smaller and niche and focus more on certain styles or maybe just your neighborhoods. I think that’s where the beer industry’s going in general.”
On April 30, Asheville’s Burial Beer Co. will host its third annual Sharpen the Blades Saison Fest from 2-10 p.m. The saison is a style that was historically brewed by farmers in Belgium and France, and it’s one that Burial Beer Co. takes great pride in brewing. For Sharpen the Blades, Burial invites breweries from around North Carolina to bring their own takes on the style. Saisons from more than 30 North Carolina breweries will be on tap at the event. Entry is $8, which gets you a 10-ounce glass and two tokens (each token gets you a 5-ounce pour, and extra tokens are available for $2 each).
One of the breweries in attendance will be Steel String Brewery, which has a saison fest of its own. The brewery’s Cardinal Directions beer festival will be held from 2-6 p.m. May 29 at the Carrboro Town Commons, where more than 20 N.C. breweries will pour saisons. Tickets are $20, which includes a festival glass and five sample pours (additional samples can be purchased for a dollar each).
While Burial and Steel String are known for their saisons, Asheville’s Hi-Wire Brewing is quickly developing a reputation as a brewer of lagers. The brewery’s Hi-Wire Lager was among its core beers from day one, and they have introduced several other lagers through their Lager Seasonal series. The brewery will tap 10 of its own lagers, plus several from other breweries, at How Do You LagerFest from noon-8 p.m. May 14 at its Big Top brewery (2 Huntsman Place). Admission is $8 and includes a glass and two beer tokens.
“Lagers are what Hi-Wire specializes in, so it’s a way for us to showcase the beers we produce,” said Courtney King, public relations and events coordinator for the brewery. “A lot of people think that it’s this fizzy drink that people drink only on sunny days or weekends, when really there’s a lot of craft behind it.”
These new niche festivals aren’t always centered on specific styles. For its State of Origin festival, Fonta Flora Brewery in Morganton requires that all brewers bring beers brewed with ingredients grown in North Carolina. This year’s event takes place June 11.
Or maybe you favor the creaminess of a cask-conditioned beer? Crank Arm Brewing held its Cask of Fools festival April 1 to kick off N.C. Beer Month. Big Boss Brewing Co. holds a similar event in Casktoberfest every year (there’s also the Black Friday cask festival at Triangle Brewing Co., though that brewery will close its doors this weekend).
And this is to say nothing of the festivals focused on breweries from specific cities (Beer City Festival in Asheville or Queen City Brewers Festival in Charlotte), or those that feature more rare and limited beers, like Brawley’s Black and Blue in Charlotte or the N.C. Rare & Vintage Beer Tasting in Durham.
Given all this, perhaps Glunt is right. It does feel like there is a beer festival every week. But thanks to these new niche events, there’s one for every palate, too.
Daniel Hartis is the digital manager at All About Beer Magazine in Durham and author of “Beer Lover’s The Carolinas” and “Charlotte Beer: A History of Brewing in the Queen City.” Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @DanielHartis.