San Juan Brewfest celebrates 20 years of beer

Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018 12:08 PM
Marcus Smith of Evoke Productions, which books music for the San Juan Brewfest, raises a toast above the crowd at last year’s fest. In the background, the band Dragondeer plays.

The San Juan Brewfest is celebrating two decades as the largest beer fest in the Four Corners on Saturday, but it’s still just shy of drinking age.

“It’s almost legal. In one more year, it will be legal,” said event coordinator Tim Walsworth.

Over the past 20 years, the event has shifted footprints, and new breweries delivering 4-ounce samples to thirsty attendees come and go. Other than that, there haven’t been any major changes.

“It’s standard. We have a good model,” Walsworth said. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The beer festival, which takes place at Buckley Park and Main Avenue adjacent to the park, will showcase 50 local and regional breweries, including Fenceline and Big B’s cideries as well as Durango Craft Spirits, which will be pouring splashes of liquor samples. There will also be three live bands and food trucks and booths from Gosar Sausage, Mountain Stir Fry and Mariana’s Indonesian Cuisine to keep drinkers fueled and entertained for the full four hours of the grand tasting from 1 to 5 p.m.

“A couple of new (breweries) that peaked my interest are the Mancos Brewing Company – they weren’t ready to come in the past,” Walsworth said. “Another personal favorite is La Cumbre out of Albuquerque.”

Mancos Brewing Company brewer DeWayne Jackson said the company recently grew out of a 1,100-square-foot space into a 4,000-square-foot space last May.

“We haven’t been at the San Juan Brewfest primarily because we didn’t have enough beer at the end of the season,” Jackson said.

The expansion allowed the opportunity for Mancos Brewing Company, which has been operating for four years, to brew more beer. Their appearance at the festival will also help the company reach its goal of growing hits presence in the Durango market.

Jackson plans on bringing four beers to the festival, including his Extra Dizzy IPA and Mancos Sh’ale, a dark ale fermented in oak, and two other undecided brews totalling around 45 gallons of beer.

“Our Extra Dizzy IPA is as good as any IPA around. It’s done with Australian hops, so it has different flavor and aroma,” Jackson said.

Crowds meander between breweries’ booths at the 2017 San Juan Brewfest. This year, its 50 local and regional breweries include Fenceline and Big B’s cideries as well as Durango Craft Spirits.

As far as other specific beer suggestions, Walsworth does not know what the breweries will be pouring until the day of the event, but attendees can expect more elbow room this year. The event, which has sold out the past four years, is selling 200 fewer tickets (2,300 total) to free up more space in the tight boundary lines.

This isn’t changing the goal of raising 40 grand for United Way of Southwest Colorado, which has hosted San Juan Brewfest for the past 11 years. United Way allocates those funds to various local causes focusing on mental health, education and financial stability.

“Are we OK having a hot ticket? If we max out, we don’t have an opportunity to make more money for (United Way),” Walsworth said. “We’ve looked at (moving), but we’re not there yet. I don’t know where we would go that would be convenient in the heart of the town.”

The biggest change is beefed-up security and options for designated drivers.

“We are serving mocktails. It’s not just a batch of powdered lemonade in a cooler,” Walsworth said.

Five restaurants, including Eolus and El Moro, are making non-alcoholic drinks such as a lemon mint fauxito and peach melba coolers. There will also be a small section with seating only for DDs to escape the crowds.

DD tickets cost $20 compared to the $35 general admission ticket (Walsworth said they are still looking for volunteers who will get in for free.) Designated drivers still must be at least 21 years old to enter.

Austin Lashley of Avalanche Brewing in Silverton holds up the People’s Choice Award at last year’s Brewfest. His wife Cassie stands to his right.

There are a limited amount of discounted child care spots available at the Nifty Nanny in the Smiley Building for $25 per child who is at least 5 years old.

Walsworth said they will sell out again, so it’s best to buy tickets in advance. (VIP tickets are already sold out.) He said they will most likely have 100 or less, if any, available at the gate.

Once inside, Walsworth suggests trying the familiar beers you know you love but then spend the bulk of the time hitting the booths you’re unfamiliar with.

“My other big tip is eat and hydrate,” Walsworth said. “It’s a tasting event, not a beer chugging event. We want people to truly enjoy the artistry of these beers.”

If you go

What: San Juan Brewfest

When: 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday

Where: Buckley Park at 12th Street and Main Avenue

How much: General admission ticket is $25. Designated driver ticket is $20. VIP tickets are sold out.

Tickets can be purchased at: