Anyone who has ever organized a city-wide 'beer week' can empathize with the struggle: a lot of work, a real threat of financial loss, and scant acknowledgement. I'll stipulate to that: the organizers of DC Beer Week deserve much credit. But, let's compare DC Beer Week to similar festivals in two cities just to our north.
Philadelphia's Philly Beer Week, begun in 2008, has been a rousing success.
Philly Beer Week is organized and operated by Philly Beer Week Inc., a non-profit 501(c)(6) organization overseen by a board comprised of brewery owners, distributors, restaurant owners and others, to promote Philadelphia’s beer and hospitality industries.
Baltimore Beer Week, begun a year later, has been no slouch either, involving the city and communities surrounding it, and presenting three festivals as part of the week.
That's not DC Beer Week, but it could be. So, here are 10 modest steps I propose for 2012.
Make the event a coordinated effort of brewers, homebrewers, store owners, restaurateurs, (bloggers), beer fans, wholesalers. Begin planning for next year's event the day after this year's ends.
If not done so already, create a non-profit umbrella organization. Hire a part-time executive director, or a public relations company, willing to work pro bono, or, if not, for a small amount. This would require a 501(c) organization and at least one event during the week or during the year to generate the necessary funds. Look for a corporate sponsor (which doesn't have to be a brewery or wholesaler. See bullet point #4.)
Maintain a professional website throughout the year. When the actual beer week has concluded, continue to update the website to promote D.C. area beer events and D.C. area breweries. An accompanying Facebook page should be created and maintained throughout the year. Current information should be up on the website months before the Week itself (see bullet point #4), and the site should be constantly updated as events are announced. Utilize all free social media! (There is a Twitter feed @DCBeerWeek, but it's been relatively quiescent.)
4. PROMOTE TOURISM
Promote the event well before the scheduled dates. Promoting out-of-state tourism will make the event attractive to potential co-sponsors, such as businesses and the D.C. government. As it stands this year, it's too late for people from far afield to consider vacation plans to D.C. on such short notice.
5. LOCAL BREWERIES
The festival is a celebration of good beer culture in the city, whether the beer is local or Belgian or a West Coast hop bomb. But, with the arrival of DC Brau this year —and the promise of more local breweries to come— make local breweries the stars of the show. Don't forget Capitol City Brewing or District Chophouse or Gordon-Biersch. Brewers Mike McCarthy and Barrett Lauer are long-time and relatively unheralded craftsmen of the first rank. (Don't snub suburban breweries, either: see bullet point #9.)
6. LOCAL FOOD
Promote the food of the mid-Atlantic region. The once yearly beer-with-food event here in D.C., Savor, ironically fails on this point. Make DC Beer Week truly a locovore celebration: invite local dairies/cheeseries, farms, fisheries, bakeries, etc., to participate.
7. VIGOROUS OUTREACH
If the point of a beer week is to reveal the local beer culture, the beer week needs to reach people who are not normally aware or part of it. Involve restaurants, and other outlets, that are not normally beer-centric. The city and environs are becoming a foodie destination. Use that!
8. CHANGE THE DATE
One factor in the organizers' original decision to select the 3rd week of August was to coordinate with the Brew at the Zoo. That event, however, was never an official participant in DC Beer Week, and this year, moved the date to July. The weather in August in Washington, D.C. is oppressively humid. Why not late winter or early spring?
9. TRANSCENDING BORDERS
Consider that D.C. beer culture does not stop at the Potomac River or at Chevy Chase Circle. Both Philly Beer Week and Baltimore Beer Week celebrate beer culture throughout their greater metropolitan areas (and DC Restaurant Week celebrates outside the city proper as well). We should too: invite local breweries and brewpubs located outside of D.C. proper but in its suburbs within a certain radius. Create events in restaurants, pubs, and other venues throughout the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area.
Finally. throw a one-day beer festival, belonging to DC Beer Week itself. Hire a promotion company to help run the festival, but use any profits to promote DC Beer Week and D.C. area breweries throughout the year.
Organizing such a city-wide event is difficult and often thankless work. And non-paid! I, and many others, appreciate the organizers' efforts. I look forward to 14-21 August and this year's DC Beer Week.
On the 22nd, the very next day after the festival, let's start planning for 2012 and beyond. The greater Washington, D.C. area abounds with good beer lovers, who would be eager to volunteer their time and effort. The city and suburbs are becoming home to more and more good beer restaurants and pubs, and, now, more 'craft' breweries. If we work in a concerted manner, we can make DC Beer Week the nationally recognized and attended event it should and could be.
- One last thing, a minor thing, but yet, a thing. The website reads: "DC Beer Week is a week-long celebration of beer culture in the nation’s capitol." Spelled with an "o," capitol is the building that houses Congress. Spelled with an "a," the capital is the entire city.
- This post has been edited since its original publication, to reflect festival changes and updates. The message remains the same.