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Posted: July 01, 2009

Colorado beer festivals offer perfect staycation

Denver's Summer Brew Fest on July 24 offers 75 beers from 27 breweries

Jay Dedrick

Plenty of well-stocked beer festivals fill the summer calendar in Colorado, from Durango to Breckenridge to Fort Collins. For Denverites in staycation mode this season, though, the cozy Summer Brew Fest is tough to beat.

Set for July 24 at Mile High Station (the old Zang Brewery near Invesco Field), the event will boast around 75 beers from 27 breweries. Craft beer from Colorado is well-represented, but there are other micros from around the country, too. Organizers expect to sell about 1,500 admissions – a drop in the keg compared to the tens of thousands that fill the Convention Center for the annual Great American Beer Festival each fall. It’s a refreshing contrast.

The idea for the little festival came at a much bigger one: Bonnaroo, an annual concerts-and-camping fest in Tennessee. Several years ago, Amy de Leon was among a group of friends serving suds in the fest’s beer garden; they struck upon a thought: Why not launch something like Bonnaroo back home in Colorado?

“Carolyn Pitcavage and I both were working in the beer industry,” says de Leon, a marketing pro who worked at Boulder’s Redstone Meadery. Pitcavage was in Denver at the Flying Dog Brewery. “Both of us had experience working a variety of beer festivals and other events. Initially, our plan was to create a large music festival in Colorado.”

After research, the two women – along with friends Catherine Capodarco, Brian Kelly and Kate Jones – decided that the costs and competition associated with producing a major music festival were too daunting. They refocused on the liquid side of their Bonnaroo experience.

 “There are a lot of beer festivals around Colorado, but none in Denver that just focused mainly on craft beers,” de Leon says. “There’s the Great American Beer Festival, but we wanted something more small and intimate.”

That size and scale makes for an event with better dialogue, Pitcavage says. “We wanted a festival where attendees could talk to the local brewers and brewery representatives. We wanted people to be able to have one-on-one time with the brewers.”

The first Brew Fest came together in 2004 in LoDo; since then, a winter festival has been added, and the summer version has made Mile High Station its ongoing home. The venue allows for indoor/outdoor flexibility – always a plus in the unpredictable Colorado climate.

Brad Sandler, who’s in real estate, and Bill Laughlin, a home appraiser, are de Leon’s and Pitcavage’s partners in the fests now, with the foursome organized as Right On Productions LLC. Pitcavage and de Leon continue their marketing careers, too, maintaining the fests as a sidelight that they enjoy. This will be the sixth festival the group has produced.

It’s no Bonnaroo, but music is part of the Summer Brew Fest. Local acts Motorhome and Shannon Whitworth will perform, and a portion of ticket sales will benefit Denver’s venerable Swallow Hill Music Association.

“I’m looking forward to the energy, the buzz, the excitement,” de Leon says. “Some people are making this a tradition. Craft beers can be a little more expensive than others, so this is a great opportunity to try some and see which ones are your favorites before committing to buying a six-pack at the store.”

The economy has the promoters keeping a lid on cost, too, with tickets -- $30 in advance, $35 at the door – including unlimited samples. Pitcavage says promotion is the key to making such an event work. She’s not worried about tight purse strings keeping suds lovers away.

“Denver is a fairly easy market, because there are a lot of microbrew drinkers, and a lot of people who want to go out and have fun, drink some beer, even when the economy is in a slump,” she says.

 An even greater challenge than selling out the event, Pitcavage says, is being able to draw the line on the festival’s size.

“A lot of times we’ll sell out an event and then have the conversation, ‘Do we go larger or keep it the same size?’” she says. “That’s one of the difficult aspects of this -- keeping it small. But I like the size, because attendees can still talk with one another and with brewers. We really don’t want it to turn into the Great American Beer Festival.”

For more info on the Summer Brew Fest, click here.

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