It may seem counterintuitive, but the 19th annual San Juan Brewfest, which will feature nearly 50 breweries, over 100 beers and two live music acts, will promote community safety and responsible drinking as much as it will celebrate the beauty of malted barley.
On Saturday, brewmakers and brew lovers will again take over Durango’s Buckley Park for an afternoon of beer-and-music revelry benefiting the United Way of Southwest Colorado, Durango’s regional branch of the nonprofit community organization.
“Durango loves a good party downtown,” said Tim Walsworth, the event’s coordinator and executive director for the Durango Business Improvement District, who notes that Brewfest has sold out the last three years.
“I tell everyone, ‘Don’t wait!’” Walsworth said, because there will be only a limited number of tickets available at the gate on the day of the event.
Each ticket – whether general admission ($30), upgraded ($45), VIP ($70), designated driver ($15), or VIP designated driver ($50) – goes toward United Way of Southwest Colorado’s initiatives of improving education, self-sufficiency and health in the region. With close to 2,300 attendees, last year’s Brewfest brought in about $35,000 for the organization, Walsworth said.
Paulette Church, a board member of United Way of Southwest Colorado and a member of Durango Rotary, a food vendor at this year’s event, calls Brewfest a “friendraiser,” explaining that it “helps us meet humanitarian needs in our community” and also “emphasizes the importance of designated drivers in our county.”
To stress this importance, Brewfest will have free mocktails for designated drivers. Additionally, Durango trolley and bus transportation services will be free and the Durango nonprofit Celebrating Healthy Communities will have a booth promoting its Designated Driver campaign on Saturday.
According to the state-sponsored NoDUIColorado.org, La Plata County had 502 charges of driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while ability impaired (DWAI) during the 2016 fiscal year. The average blood alcohol content for charges in the 6th Judicial District, which includes La Plata, San Juan and Archuleta counties, was 0.160 – a BAC of 0.08 is considered “substantially incapable,” numbers which underline the need for Celebrating Healthy Communities Coalition’s Designated Driver Campaign.
The idea of Brewfest as a “friendraiser,” as Church calls it, extends beyond community health and education; attending brewers see it as an opportunity to reconnect with colleagues and appreciate more fully the world of craft beer.
“This is such a great industry to be a part of because of the collaborative environment of craft brewing in Colorado,” says Telluride Brewing Co.’s Tommy Thatcher, who will be attending his fifth Brewfest this year. For Thatcher, the event not only showcases the best of Southwest breweries but also gives him a chance “to see our friends from across the state.”
Austin Lashley of Avalanche Brewing in Silverton agrees.
“It’s so cool to see what other local breweries are doing and to see new people and old friends,” he said.
Lashley, a Durango native, said he enjoys seeing how his “hometown fest” has grown over the years, recalling its more modest early days when it was held at Purgatory Resort (and offered attendees the opportunity to ride a mechanical bull).
The festival’s current home at Buckley Park allows plenty of space for musical acts and any accompanying attendee-dancing. This year’s headliner, Dragondeer, is a psychedelic blues band from Denver. The opening act, Farmington Hill, describes itself as “country-fried indie rock from Durango.”
While Brewfest works to build community through the proceeds it raises for United Way and through highlighting regional musicians and craft beer, it also shows off local cuisine. In addition to early entry on Saturday and a party on Friday night at the DoubleTree, those who purchase VIP tickets can enjoy special beer-and-food pairings offered from Ska Brewing Co., Steamworks Brewing Co. and Carver Brewing Co.
All attendees get a 5-ounce tasting glass and unlimited tastings, but Walsworth underscores that the event is about responsibly rejoicing the region’s drink. No pets or individuals younger than 21 will be permitted entry, and attendees should be conscientious of their alcohol tolerance.
“Of course, we do not recommend everyone taste all the offerings. You have to know your limits,” he said. “We want people to have fun, but we want to put safety at the forefront.”