Rushville Uses Craft Beer Festival to Invite a Brewery to Town

Rushville Uses Craft Beer Festival to Invite a Brewery to Town

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Saturday, July 14, marked the inaugural Libations by the Levee craft beer festival in Rushville, IN. It was a hot day, but people braved the weather to try great beers from the central region of the state and beyond. The location, Riverside Park on the Flatrock River, provided more than enough space, good amounts of shade under the two large shelters, and a pretty view for the event. But it’s the reason that there was a craft beer there at all that is most interesting.

Twenty different breweries poured beer at the festival for a very good and enthusiastic crowd. It was nice to see some breweries that don’t often pour at festivals come out to support the town and the craft beer community, like Wolves’ Head from Muncie, Norris English Pub from Liberty, and Cedar Creek Brewery in Martinsville. In fact, if you drew a circle with Rushville at its center, most of the breweries pouring on Saturday could be found within that forty mile diameter. And that was important, because one of the motivations for having the festival was to find Rushville a brewery or taproom of their own. Mayor Mike Pavey, Director of Special Projects for the city Brian Sheehan, and Director of Economic Development John McCane were all in attendance at the festival on Saturday, indicating that either this is a town where craft beer has penetrated deeply into the power structure, or a city that really wants a brewery/taproom – or perhaps it’s both.

image credit: Indiana On Tap

The genesis of the festival was a former Rushville resident named Matt Gilliam, who is a big beer festival fan and encouraged the city to learn more about what it would take to bring a craft brew event to the city. However, Brian said that, “Once a date was booked, it was obvious to us this would be a great opportunity to market our community and potential Brew Pub spaces to the vendors in attendance.” The opportunity to show off the city became an opportunity to recruit breweries, bars, and taprooms.

The festival was a great way to, “market our city, our concert series and our BrewFest fans throughout the region.  It gave us the ability to market our community to nearly 30 beer, wine and spirit vendors.” Riverside Park hosts a series of concerts each year, and many of the volunteers for the concerts also helped out with the festival. This is just one indication of how proud Rushville is of their community, but also how much they would like to bring a craft beer venue to town.

I talked with Tony Abrams, owner of Bob-O-Link Liquors in Rushville and other surrounding towns, about the craft beer knowledge and enthusiasm in Rushville. He told me, “ There is a dedicated and growing set of regulars that look for craft beer alternatives in town. We stock craft beers and move them through quite regularly. I think that a taproom with several breweries on tap or a single taproom for a local brewery would do very well in Rushville.”

image credit: City of Rushville

With this idea that a craft beer festival could sell an Indiana brewery on Rushville, Brian and John put together a flyer to pass out to the vendors who came to pour at the festival. You can see the brochure to the left, click on it to get the full effect, but the take home message is clear from the city – Rushville is an economically viable home for craft beer.

What it doesn’t impart is the enthusiasm that the townsfolk have for idea of a craft brewery taproom in town. The 6000 sq. ft. building downtown or the 4000 sq. ft. pad for purchase next to the park – they don’t care, there’s just a lot of people who want a place to park their backside on a Friday afternoon for some good beers with good friends. Event organizer Justin Knepp, founder of Indiana On Tap, said, “Both the city fathers and the people of Rushville were incredibly cooperative and enthusiastic for both the festival and for the prospect of bringing craft beer to Rushville permanently. “

He added, “I genuinely believe that the community is ready to support a brewery or taproom.” And that feeling was reiterated by many of the attendees and more than a couple of the breweries in attendance. I talked to more than a dozen people drinking on Saturday and the most common feeling expressed was, “Please, get us a brewery or a taproom. We want someplace to have a good beer and waste some hours.” OK, I paraphrased that, but many people want a brewery, and they weren’t shy about saying so.

The calm before the rush at Rushville. image credit: Mike Daubenspeck

The good news – there were more than a couple of breweries that took Brian’s brochure and the feelings of the townspeople to heart. I made it a point to ask the people behind the taps whether they got a brochure and what they thought about it. To a person they believed it was a good use of the festival – the breweries get exposure to a craft beer crowd, while at the same time the city gets to promote themselves to a bunch of potential hometown businesses.

During my discussions with the breweries, I found three that were genuinely intrigued with the idea. True, decision makers were not often on site, but the brochures were being saved and later shown to owners and managers. Think about how many time you get a brochure and it just ends up on the ground or in the trash/recycling – that wasn’t happening here.

Walter and I have been to many festivals and they all have an angle, or perhaps two. Here is a new one, a town that is begging – bring us a craft beer outlet. Towns have promoted themselves using a festival for new residents, new industries, and new tourists, but this is the first time we have seen a festival started, OK maybe not started, but with a heavy emphasis, on bringing a taproom/bar/or brewery to town. It may just work.

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