Last October, the Central Jersey Beer Festival sold out of 1,000 tickets in advance, with more than a hundred turned away at the door, and to build on that success, organizers have tripled their capacity for 2015.
They’re moving the event from the grounds of Blend Bar and Bistro in Hamilton to the Mercer County Park Festival Grounds, with room for 3,000. Rain or shine, the festival is set to be held Oct. 10, featuring at least 50 craft beer brands—many from New Jersey—as well as food trucks, live music and an abundance of port-a-johns.
At a typical beer festival, brewery representatives set up booths throughout the grounds for attendees to roam among, trying as many two-ounce samples as they dare over a period of several hours. Many of the breweries set to attend the Central Jersey Beer Festival have promised to bring at least one keg of a seasonal beer to serve at the event. So even if a person is familiar with that brewery’s usual offerings, there’s still a good chance that they’ll be able to have something they’ve never tried before.
Free shuttles to the Hamilton train station and a partnership with Uber should ease transportation worries for those who want to drink responsibly.
Antonio Carannante is the managing partner of Blend, which oversees the festival. He reports that 2,000 tickets are already sold, with a thousand slots available as of press time, but going fast.
Carannante believes festivals allow people to learn what they like, whether they are novices or beer geeks.
“You’re guaranteed to find at least one beer you like,” he said.
Beer festivals have become more popular as drinkers have turned away from mass producers and toward small- and medium-sized brewers. Budweiser, Miller and Coors still dominate, but the Brewers Association reported 11 percent market share for craft beer in 2014, up from 7.8 percent in 2013.
And if the crowds at beer festivals tend to skew younger, that’s because Millennials are turning to craft beer in a big way. A 2013 Mintel report showed that while just 36 percent of all consumers reported having tried craft beer, 50 percent of Millennials had.
Mintel also reported that half of craft beer fans are interested in drinking beer that is made locally, and New Jersey has seen explosive growth in local brewing since the state relaxed its brewing laws in 2012. Website newjerseycraftbeer.com counts 51 craft breweries and brewpubs operating in New Jersey, with 18 more close to opening and a further 18 in the early stages of development.
So far, 14 New Jersey breweries have committed to having booths at the Central Jersey Beer Festival, including Carton, Kane, Spellbound, Village Idiot, Rinn Duin, Bolero Snort and Triumph.The local flavor is in keeping with the approach at Blend, which is usually pouring Jersey-brewed beer from several of its 20 taps at any given time, including occasional special or rare beers. On Aug. 20, for example, they tapped a rare keg of barrel-aged Pota Caifé stout from Rinn Duin Brewery, based in Toms River.
Jacqui Town, co-founder of Rinn Duin, is grateful for Blend’s commitment to local beer.
“I love that they want to support the local breweries, that they have ongoing events, and not just the annual beer fest,” she said.
Town said breweries need festivals to get exposure to potential customers who haven’t had a chance to try the beer yet.
“We love to hear what fest-goers think because we want to stay true to (ourselves) while catering to the palates of beer lovers,” she said.
A number of locally based food trucks have signed on to keep festival-goers well fed while they drink, and Carannante sees a synergy between them and the local breweries.
“Food trucks have their own little niche, just like craft breweries,” Carannante said.
He’s excited to see the festival reaching more people and is looking forward to the event as much as his customers.
“I think to build this up from scratch, that a small bar is capable of bringing people together in the common interest of beer—that’s what we’re proud of,” Carannante said.
For more information or to buy tickets, go online to blendbar.com.