By Rae and Troy Matthews
At Elevation Eats, our mission is to tell the story of Tahoe’s food scene as it develops. So we could not pass up a chance to check out a new community event, Tahoe Brewfest. If you missed the inaugural event in 2017, well, you were in the minority. Turnout exceeded expectations. Tickets sold out, and the beer flowed all day.
Tahoe Brewfest took place on June 10th, 2017 in the Swiss Chalet Center. Though a couple months have gone by (hey, summer gets crazy busy for us too), we at Elevation Eats see the event as a turning point in the story of Tahoe’s food scene. Businesses that would normally see each other as competition came together for the benefit of South Lake Tahoe and to celebrate what they had in common, beer. Entering the event was free and twenty dollars (twenty-five at the door) was all it took for a tasting punch card and a souvenir mug. There was also food, live music, live art, a homebrew contest, and all of the proceeds, over $20,000, went to benefit the Boys & Girls Club of Lake Tahoe.
Tahoe Brewfest represents the culmination of a rapidly developing beer scene in South Lake Tahoe and was the brainchild of Deb Brown of Coldwater Brewery. We managed to catch up with her at the event during a brief respite on the balcony of the Swiss Chalet Center, overlooking the scene. “The seed developed a long time ago, when the dream started. When Coldwater started… Beer brings people together. Look at it. It’s everybody. It’s the older generation, it’s the Baby Boomers, I mean, it’s everybody. We have a power. We have the power to make change for our community,” says Brown.
Brown intended to partner with a local non-profit from the beginning. “It’s really a Boys & Girls Club event. It’s not Coldwater’s. Coldwater is the sponsor.” She tells us that while there were several wonderful organizations that she had in mind, Boys & Girls Club rose to the top. Brown approached Jude Wood, Executive Director of Boys & Girls Club of Lake Tahoe, and a partnership was quickly formed. “We strive to serve as many children as possible, and keep our prices affordable for everyone. But with mounting expenses and saving for a new building, we need to significantly increase our annual fundraising. Deb has provided us with an incredible opportunity and we are proud to be part of this event,” says Wood. “This is her idea. She’s been the champion.”
Ryan Parker, the Brewmaster at Coldwater Brewery, was behind the idea of the Homebrew Contest, which was open to public tasting for an additional ticket. Parker was beaming when we spoke to him, “It just makes my heart sing, looking out over the crowd… The whole idea was to celebrate the community, celebrate beer, and bring people together.” Though taking their charge seriously, the judges, Helena Kletch, Paul Levitsky, and Ron Buck, sampled with a smile. Each entry was mulled over, discussed and meticulously notated. Parker hopes to expand this contest as part of future events.
Attendance was estimated between 1,500 and 2,000 people, the majority of which were from out of town. According to Wood, “People have come from all over for this. And I’ve asked them, did you come here for this and they said, ‘Yes.’”
Fifteen breweries were represented; all were either local or had some connection to the basin: Coldwater, Alibi Ale, Outbreak Brewing, South Lake Brewing, Sidellis, Tahoe Mountain, Ninkasi, Anderson Valley, AleWorX, FiftyFifty, Auburn Alehouse, Lagunitas, Saint Archer & Hop Valley, Modern Times, and Sudwerk. “All these breweries, we just want to thank them. And we know that everyone is so busy in the summer. The fact that they came out donating their time, it’s just awesome. I would love to see everybody get on board to do it again next year,” says Brown.
When asked about next year, Brown says, “I just think that we have so much we can do in Tahoe, you know? I’m all mushy. It’s going to make me cry… People are realizing what brings people together. Make it a food scene. Make it a beer scene. Show people that we have so much to offer. I’m grateful to be a part of it… And I see this growing into a weekend festival to kick off summer and hopefully we’ll have a [bigger] venue.”
We at Elevation Eats couldn’t agree more. As most locals will tell you, South Lake Tahoe is not an easy town to start a new business in, especially in the food and beverage industry. Restaurants are subject to the ebbs and flows of weather and tourists. It’s feast or famine, an appropriate food metaphor. But events like Tahoe Brewfest demonstrate how the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. By working together, we can build something bigger.
Tahoe BrewFest will be back on June 2, 2018 at Heavenly’s Cal Lodge. For more info, visit tahoebrewfest.com.