What are the hallmarks of a great, lasting craft beer festival, one that spans years and yet continues to hold the public’s attention? Venue, brewery choice, amenities, people, and listening to your attendees; these are all important factors in building not only a great festival, but longevity for that festival. You keep what works great, but aren’t afraid to change things if they will improve the attendee and/or brewery experience. A great example of this kind of success is the Sour Wild Funk Fest (SWFF), put on by Upland Brewing. The 2018 edition is coming up on April 7th at the Mavris Arts & Events Center in Indianapolis.
Walter and I have been to the last three Funk Fests, and they get better each year (the weather one year not withstanding). This 7th edition of the festival promises to surpass all others, based on a discussion I had with Upland’s Head of Operations, COO, Pete Batule. The number of things that have been added for 2018 is staggering, yet the strongest parts of the festival – amazing invitees, great beer, a focus on brewer:attendee interactions, and an amazing venue have been retained.
As I wrote about last year’s SWFF, the Mavris center is unique amongst craft beer festivals, blending the old with the new. The rustic décor balances well with the complex nature of the beers being served at SWFF. Built in the 1910s, this venerable edifice has housed numerous historical Indianapolis businesses and has survived at least two fires, the marks of which can still be seen due to the thoughtful renovation of Mavris.
Besides the esthetics of the site, having their own chef and a dedicated staff of ambassadors are reasons this center hosts over 100 events a year. Upland was thrilled with the venue, Pete said. “We really love the Mavris Arts & Events Center, so we decided to host the event there again this year. The space provides an amazing experience as people can mingle throughout the different floors, inside and outside, and there is plenty of space.” He added, “The look and feel of the space aligns really well with wood aged sour beers with the wood floors and ceilings. The staff at Mavris is also wonderful to work with and it’s great to be situated in downtown Indianapolis. “
This idea of sours and the festival location complementing each other is apt. The number of ways to create sour or tart beers reiterates that sours are a delicate and complex process. It’s easy to go too far, and the science of brewing really falls more toward art in the brewing of sours. This parallels the Mavris in that its restoration balanced the technical and the historical, the art of design with the functionality of an event center.
To reinforce this concept, Upland’s Director of National Sales Dusty Howe has said, “We’re extremely lucky to have so many great breweries from all across the country attend Sour Wild Funk Fest each year. More than maybe any other style of beer, brewing a great sour is a work of art. Our attendees get to try some of the best representations of this style in one palate-pleasing afternoon.”
So let’s get down to the bones of the festival – who’s coming, what will your money get you, and what’s new for this year. It’s no secret that SWFF is one of the premier festivals in the central part of the country, but Upland isn’t resting on their laurels, Pete told me. “We’ve strived to step up our game for this festival every year. We’re proud to be able to host a truly unique festival with focus on sour beers that puts Indiana on the map as a place where world-class sour beer can be created and shared. This festival also gives us the opportunity to educate Hoosiers on the style and flavors that make these beers so special, especially to those that may have never taken a sip of these unique beers.”
Nearly half the breweries pouring this year did not pour last year. Did you get that?… twenty-one of the more than forty-two breweries pouring (so far, there may be more) are new or returning after an absence. Pete said that with the expanded distribution of Upland in this past year, they have made new friends across the country and use these relationships to bring in unique and fresh faces for SWWF.
With twenty one new faces, it’s impossible for me to point out all the incredible invitees. You can see the list for yourself at the event website. However, I will tell you that Walter is particularly looking forward to a few of the new breweries, like Bond Brothers from Cary, NC, Lost Abbey from California, and Wild Mind from Minneapolis. I’m salivating already to try some August Schell, Collective Brewing Project, Rare Barrel, and Speciation Artisan Ales.
Changing the lineup for a festival as good as SWFF is a risky thing. Any changes are likely to result in a great brewery not being present, yet the lineup this year’s is undoubtedly the best ever. Coming back are breweries such as Cascade, Paradox (OK they didn’t make it there last year), Penrose, Mad Tree, and West Sixth. The Funk Fest is definitely a who’s who of beer with attitude.
Unfortunately, making room for some of these newer invitees has resulted in fewer local breweries pouring, although Indiana breweries with historically strong sour programs will certainly be on hand. Out of town attendees deserve to see how good the beer in general, and the sour programs in particular, are in Indiana, so let’s hope our visitors get out to see some of the great Indianapolis breweries while they are here.
Host brewery Upland will again be pouring with a vengeance at SWFF. They will have a beer brewed specifically for the festival, a lambic-style beer (called Basis) then aged on whole pineapples and dry hopped with Citra. Along with this new beer, some of the best Upland sours will be on tap, such as the Paw Paw and Kiwi, along with some limited releases like Cavendish, which is a collaboration beer with Freigeist in Germany. OK, whatever else is written from here on, you should already be pulling up the website to get your tickets.
Yet, there’s more. One of the major factors in creating a great festival is to consider the comments of your attendees. Pete told me, “We’ve listened to feedback from past attendees and have found new ways to elevate the overall experience, such as including collectible glassware, providing food for purchase, and showcasing live event t-shirt screen printing. We’ll also be providing tasting booklets again so attendees can plan their sampling and keep track of their favorites.”
One of the upgrades made for this year’s festival is an enhancement of the VIP experience. For the money, SWFF is definitely a deal, but the VIP option is about to get better. Like some of the bigger festivals these days, VIPs can now be pre-banded at the Broad Ripple tasting room location starting on April 5th. The early admission will be accompanied by a speakeasy lounge with tastings of limited edition beers, and there will be appetizers, brewery presentations, and private bathrooms in the Champagne Velvet Refreshment Station.
General admission tickets holders will also benefit from a streamlined entry procedure this year, as well as the elevated glassware and addition of food vendors this year. Overall, it sounds like a top notch opportunity to drink amazing beer, with Upland taking as good of care of its attendees as it does its invited breweries.
It’s true – an important but largely unseen factor in creating a winning festival is how the invited breweries are treated. As a host, Upland kills it – Jim and Jason from Troeg’s Independent Brewing gushed about how well they were treated while in town last year, including the trip down to the Wood Shop in Bloomington and a great dinner for the brewers. To a person, everyone behind the taps was extremely happy with the festival and that’s one of the reasons Troegs is back again this year.
Type quickly – get over to the Upland festival ticketing site and get your tickets for this year’s SWFF. VIP opportunities were limited and have sold out, but general admission tickets are still available. This is a 21+ event and valid ID will be required.