In less than a week the Landmark Theater will host the sixth annual New York State Craft Brewers Festival, sponsored by the New York State Brewers Association (NYSBA). In my humble opinion, it is hands down the premier craft beer event in the area and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I was recently able to talk with Paul Leone, Executive Director of the NYSBA about the event. Whether this will be your first or sixth time attending, read on to find out more about this unique occasion.
GR: Paul, how did the idea for the Craft Brewers Festival come about?
PL: I was hired in 2013, and at that time [NYSBA co-founder] David Katleski (who owns Empire Brewing Company) and the Board needed to raise money for the NYSBA, and throwing a festival is a great way to do that. David suggested the Landmark Theater as a possible venue, and that’s how it was born.
GR: How are the breweries who participate chosen?
PL: With so many breweries in New York State, the most fair way to choose the breweries that get in is to do first come, first served. I send out a call for breweries, and those that act the fastest get in. We went from the first year of having 24 breweries to this year having 62 with 15 on a waiting list. Not only are breweries first come, first served, we want to make sure the local breweries get in, so we always make sure of that because it’s their hometown.
PL: Other Half will be coming back, we’ve also got Diversion, Interboro, Strong Rope, Eli Fish – a new brewery from Batavia, Living Goods out of Northern New York, Lucky Hare from the Finger Lakes, KCBC, Buried Acorn who is brand new from Syracuse as well as Heritage Hill from Pompey.
GR: How has the fest changed since the first year?
PL: Well it’s evolved by the sheer number of breweries and number of people interested. The first year we had 24 breweries and we used the first and second floors only, we didn’t even use the stage. Every year we sell out quicker and quicker. We’ve had to expand to literally almost every corner of the Landmark at this point. This year we pared it down a little bit…to make it easier for people to get around and a little less crowded.
GR: What can a first-timer expect for the event?
PL: It’s a great opportunity to explore craft beer…with 62 New York State breweries, you have breweries from every region of the state, from the tip of Long Island to the north part of the state to the Southern Tier to Buffalo, it’s all covered. You get to see all of the wonderful breweries and kind of get a taste of what’s happening in New York in terms of our craft beer scene. It really is a special event.
The most important part of our festivals is that our brewers and owners are pouring the beer, so you’re going to get someone who directly works for the brewery and not some volunteer pouring the beer.
The first year we actually had a band and people complained because it was too loud. They wanted to talk. So we don’t have any entertainment and nobody’s ever missed it because there’s just as much talking as there is tasting at the festival. Lots of festivals have turned into drinking events and this one is more of a tasting event. The level of people that attend our festival seem to be more serious about the beer.
GR: About how many people are you expecting?
PL: We are capping it at 1200 this year as we try to improve it every year. We’re bringing back the food sampling and there will be about ten or so local area restaurants sampling food.
GR: Tell me about the VIP and General Sessions.
PL: VIP ticket holders get in an hour early [at 4:00 p.m.] which is always a bonus. Those tickets are limited. You get a lot of free space and a lot of free time to talk to brewers. Those with VIP wristbands will get to enjoy special VIP beer that a lot of breweries will bring (there’s a list on our website of who’s bringing what). Those VIP beers will be accessible to ticket holders the whole evening. General admission starts at 5:00 p.m. and the event ends at 8:00 p.m.
GR: Tell me more about the NYSBA – how long has it been around and what’s its mission?
PL: The NYSBA was founded in 2003 and it was to help change the craft beer laws in New York State to protect an industry that was beginning to grow. I was hired in 2013 as the first full-time Executive Director, and the first employee. Ever since then the goal of our association (which is run by 11 board members) is to protect and promote craft beer in New York State. Right now there are 415 breweries in NYS, which ranks us as third in the country.
GR: What’s your favorite part of the event?
PL: My favorite part of the festival is seeing the people talk to the breweries, and just getting all the information they can about the beer. It’s also just to see how interested the people are and learn about breweries they can’t get access to. Most of those breweries in there don’t distribute. The people get a taste of breweries they’ve never heard of. It’s so fun to sit back and watch people learn and take it all in and taste some incredible beer.
GR: Anything else you’d like us to know?
PL: Don’t wait to get tickets! We’re very fortunate to have them sell out. It’s a very unique and special festival. Great beer combined with that atmosphere truly is unique.