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Beer Summit draws thousands to Saratoga

Beer Summit draws thousands to Saratoga

Variety is key to beer festival, organizer says
Beer Summit draws thousands to Saratoga
Nick Sogluizzo of Plattsburgh serves a Saranac Polar Haze while earning his brewing minor from Paul Smith's College.
Photographer: Erica Miller

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Unlike most of the more than 3,000 combined people at the 8th Annual Saratoga Beer Summit Saturday, Paul Smith's College student Nick Sogluizzo was there for primarily academic purposes. 

Sogluizzo, a culinary arts major with a minor in beer brewing, said he came down from his home in Plattsburgh to volunteer at the Beer Summit to learn how to organize a successful beer festival.

Sogluizzo poured beers for Ithaca Brewing Co., Lake Placid Pub and Brewery and Good Nature Farm Brewery. He said he's learned there are several keys to a good beer festival, including keeping the kegs cold, keeping the taps sets up perfectly, and making sure you've got good food. 

"Also, you've got to have a good attitude," he said with a broad grin.

Saturday was the culmination of Saratoga Beer Week. The Saratoga Springs City Center hosted the Beer Summit, organized by Townsquare Media, a company that owns radio stations in Albany. Ashly Keating, vice president of live events for Townsquare, said the Beer Summit this year featured 90 different craft breweries, each with at least two different flavors of beer.

She said Townsquare doesn't charge anything for the breweries to occupy space in the convention center and actually purchases the beer from the breweries, a minimum of 360 kegs worth for Saturday. She explained the appeal of the summit.

"I think people like doing this because it gives them the opportunity to sample things that may be available at beverage stores, but they don't want to pay the $12 for a four-pack. They can come here and sample different varieties and then decide what they'd want to get for a Saturday night," she said. 

The Beer Summit featured two samplings sessions, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., each with 1,500 tickets sold, and a VIP tasting that started a noon. The early bird price for tickets was $35 and it was $50 at the door. On Friday night, Townsquare Media hosted a hard cider tasting, featuring 40 cideries and 1,400 people in attendance, and Thursday night they hosted a whiskey-tasting event for 250 people.

Keating said having many vendors on hand is the key to holding such a large event.  

"For the amount of people we have here, we have to have enough points of service. In order for people to not wait in line, we have to have enough breweries for them to not have to wait in line. We have a space that can fit 1,500 people, so we need to have 90 breweries," she said. 

There has been a proliferation of microbreweries in New York state following the state farm brewing law enacted in 2013. Since that law was passed, at least 202 new farm brewery licenses have been issued as of 2018, and more than 400 brewing companies now exist throughout the state. 

Jurij Owad, the brewer for Racing City Brewing Co., said the company he works for opened in March 2018, originally focusing on wine before hiring him to craft beer. At the festival Saturday they were selling their "Racing City Lager," an American premium lager. He said Saturday was a chance to introduce the company's beers to new customers. 

"You can compare us to a lot of the classic American beers, classic German-style beers like Budweiser, Miller, Coors, stuff like that — we're really trying to hit that market — because we've seen a real influx of the IPAs [India Pale Ale], and people want an easy drinking beer. We're in Saratoga, so we have a lot of summer events, and I think people want that," he said. 

Music at the Beer Summit was provided by the band "Bad Chaperones."

Beer Summit attendee Michael Heekin said he traveled up from Kingston to attend the summit for the second year in a row, having enjoyed it in 2018. He said he provided himself with a pretzel necklace, a Beer Summit veteran move that enabled him to munch on the salty snack while enjoying new flavors of beer.

"My friend made it. We saw them last year, and we were jealous, so she made us the necklaces. They are definitely beneficial to drinking a lot of beer," he said. "Today, I've loved Bells Brewery beer, they have a passionfruit beer that is delicious. IPAs in general, are my favorite."

Self described beer snob Mark Armstrong, from Saratoga Springs, attended the VIP beer tasting before the huge crowd showed up at 1 p.m. He carried with him a special shot glass with a fabric handle tied onto it.

"It makes it into a little mug!" he said. 

Carly Clark of Frog Alley Brewing in Schenectady said her company opened in November in a temporary location and plans to open at its "real tap" on March 16. She said the Beer Summit has been good for promoting the company. 

"Right now we're serving our fresh IPA, one of the first beers we developed. It's easy drinking, well balanced IPA, kind of has a citrus aftertaste. We're also pouring our Cherry Wheat right now, which is our newest beer; it's a little tart," she said. 

Outside of the Beer Summit, Saratoga Beer Week seems to have helped local bars.

Jake Jennings, the bartender at Saratoga City Tavern, said he thinks the traffic at his bar, which has 69 different drafts of beer, was at least double what it otherwise would have been for a typical week during the winter. 

"It also gives us a chance to meet a lot of the people who are behind the beers that we serve, who either make them or have a hand in the process. Thursday night we had beer rep karaoke, which always draws a good crowd from the reps, plus your normal regulars. It makes a funner time for everyone," he said.

Keating said Townsquare Media will be building on its alcohol-themed events by hosting a "Wine Time" wine tasting festival at the Saratoga City Center April 26. She said the event will seek to avoid some of the choice confusion that can be common at a wine tasting.  

"Here's how we're doing it. We're going to have a Rosé Road, a Champagne Courtyard, all of the white wines together, so if you like chardonnay, you're just staying in that section. If you like cabernet, cabs are over here. Right? Fun," she said. 

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