Many people I knew were brewing beer, and it seemed like something I wanted to try. For my birthday a couple of years ago, Berta took me to the homebrew store in Downingtown and we brought back a bunch of equipment to make beer. The brewing went pretty well, and in the spring of 2011 I heard of a homebrewing-related event taking place involving some people I knew in Philadelphia, called Beer Camp. We decided to participate, taking a Dunkelweizen of our own to compete against the others. I invited our friend, Ken, to “help” us set up and serve beer out of a vacant lot next to the Jamaican Jerk Hut on South Street with a few other brewers. The event went well, but I think it lost money, possibly due to the high cost of the property rental for the afternoon.

After Beer Camp, Ken and I started talking about bringing such an event back to Chester County, using the Elks lodge as a place to host. We’d keep the same general format as Beer Camp, invite home brewers to share their beer for free, serve a nice dinner to the attendees, play some music, and have a good time sampling the beer. We joined up with our fellow Elk, Troy, and started to plan the Chester County Homebrew Festival.

We originally planned for the brewfest to take place at the end of September, but to avoid some other beer-related events going on at the time, and due to the zero pre-sales we were able to obtain in September, we pushed the event back to the end of October. This delay didn’t help pre-sales at all, and the brewfest ended up on the only night of that fall when it snowed, also hindering sales. Still, we managed to make enough sales at the door to cover our costs and give a little to the lodge for charity. Not bad for our first attempt, but it did encourage us to try again, and try harder.

We set a tentative range of time for brewfest 2012 for the summer, and started planning for the event in earnest in January. In coordination with our previous brewers, we decided on an event date of June 23rd, and put our plans in motion, reserving the room, getting supplies, suggesting strongly to everyone we encountered that they attend.

We spammed our Facebook pages and sent emails to various local event websites. We canvassed for sponsors (probably not as much as we should have). I did a radio interview with Mary on WCHE the night before the event, and late afterwards Ken and I put together all of the printed materials, including the 3-page tasting sheets, judging forms, mailing list form, purchase record, and table placards. We printed all of that out at Troy’s office on the afternoon of the event, and picked up 800 pounds of ice on our way back to the lodge to keep all of the beer cold.

Last weekend, after much planning and fretting about ticket sales, the event finally occurred. There were 15 brewers in attendence (every one that said they would come), bringing 28 beers that were judged, and who knows how many more that were not. We had BJCP judges downstairs, sequestered from the party, tasting the beers and coming up with a best of show award. Guests arrived upstairs by the car-full, and paid for dinner, a pint glass, great music, and to cast their vote for the best homebrewed beer in Chester County.

I was busy for much of the first couple hours of the fest, running beer to the judges downstairs, making sure everything was going smoothly for the brewers, keeping things running in general. Ken and Troy were similarly busy, and none of us got to eat dinner. Finally, a couple of hours into the fest, I was able to try some beer. Of the official entries, I only got to taste 8 beers. I simply couldn’t drink it all fast enough and remain upright with the lack of food.

At the end of the night, the winners were announced. I knew there were a lot of good beers, since just the few I sampled were good. The winners all took their plaques as Troy announced them on stage, to the delight of the audience. In the end, the competition turned out really well, and last fall’s winners, who produced a stellar beer, seemed appropriately disappointed that they didn’t win. I’m glad that the title meant something, and hope that all of the teams come back even stronger next year to try to win it again.

After the brewfest we cleaned up a bit, sobered up a bit, and hung out at Troy’s house with some pizza to decompress for a while. We made a bit more money for the Elks this time around, and we were already talking about how to make the event even better next year. In spite of the work involved, I’m glad we did it, and I’m happy that the event was a success for everyone. I’m especially looking forward to the few bottles of homebrew I was able to make off with, convincing the brewers that “you don’t want to have to carry that back out to the car”. Note to self: Bring empty growlers and a beer gun next year.