Allison Kohler is no fool.
The second generation owner and proprietor of JMKShows and Events--which, among other events organizes the twice-annual National Guard Armory Antiques Show in Morris Township—sees the writing on the wall.
Craft beer is where it's at.
So, it only made sense to organize her first craft beer festival, The Big Brew Beer Festival, Feb. 16 at the Armory. The day's festivities begin with a special "VIP Hour" at 3:30 p.m. and opens to the general public at 4:30 p.m.
At least 165 different craft beers will be available for tasting. These will range from the rising familiar (Allagash, Smuttynose and Yards), to the local (Ramstein beer from High Point Brewing Co. of Butler, Cricket Hill of Fairfield, Flying Fish of Cherry Hill and River Horse of Lambertville) to those waiting to become your new favorites (Captain Lawrence, 21st Amendment). The event also includes food provided by Morris Tap & Grill, The Office Bar & Grill, George and Martha's and The Black Horse Pub and Tavern, face painting and live music from The Nerds.
Kohler, a longtime fan of beer that always leaned more toward macrobrews like Budweiser began to "turn to the craft beer side" of the spectrum as these small-batch brewers developed their rabid following. To be considered a "craft beer brewer," a company must be independently-owned, use traditional ingredients in their brews and produce six million gallons or less annually.
And though she's also a fan, "I'm still a businessperson," Kohler said. "I look at the success of other festivals around the country. There's an opportunity."
Though it's still all about the beer, The Big Brew Beer Festival also will serve a more benevolent role, benefiting the Morris Rugby Corporation.
Started in 1977 as an all-adults team of about 25 players, Morris Rugby has grown to 1,500 members, with 1,000 of those children between four-and-11 years old, said Dennis Gibson, club president.
"With 1,000 kids in the program, we need all the financial help we can get," said Gibson, who estimated it costs about $250,000 a year to maintain the program. "Rugby has always been synonymous with beer. While the kids will benefit from any profit from this, it will be the senior members that will support it."
The Big Brew Beer Festival is not going to just be about having a tipple or two. What goes into the creation of beer will also be discussed and dissected by MASH, the Morris Area Society of Homebrewers.
For co-founder Brad Coale, who along with friend Tom Jambor held their first MASH meeting at the Morris Tap & Grill in Randolph in December, homebrewing came about a year earlier as a curiosity.
"I am an engineer by trade," the Flanders resident said. "I am technical with stuff. So, I thought I would like to get some brew equipment."
In his first year, Coale brewed about 80 gallons of beer.
While liability issues will prevent MASH from offering samples of their beer at the festival (don't worry, it's not like there will be a sample shortage. You also can always attend one of their meetings), demos will include showing the difference between all-grain session brewing (where all the starches are harvested from grains) and extract brewing (where the starches have been pre-extracted).
"We want people to see more of the meat of the process," Coale said.
Like Kohler, the home brewer has seen a ravenous demand for craft beer brewing. "At our first meeting, people kept saying they were looking for something like this to come along," Coale said.
It makes sense, he said, when you consider the kind of product you're getting. "If they try these craft beers, they don't tend to go back," Coale said. "Some make the argument it's more refined than wine. With beer dinners, it pairs very well."
Whether more refined or not, Kohler acknowledged both beer and wine have certain qualities that make them pair particularly poorly with something else.
"People's safety is our first concern," she said. "There will be a lot of alcohol and people, and zero tolerance."
To that end, Kohler has teamed up with the Stear Clear designated driver program, which for an additional $10 "designated driver ticket" will drive you and your car to your home or hotel following the event.
Overall, Kohler expected the Feb. 16 Big Brew Beer Festival to be a success, and the first of many beer festivals in the Morristown area.
"I love doing stuff like this, renting a space and transforming it," she said. "And, doing it for things I like."
Advance tickets for the inaugural Big Brew Beer Festival are $50 for general admission, $80 for VIP, $10 for a designated driver ticket. At-the-door tickets will be slightly higher. For more information, visit The Big Brew Beer Festival website.