When an established event with 10 years of tradition changes venues, there's probably a good reason. In the case of the San Juan Brewfest, the move from Durango Mountain Resort to Buckley Park last year was one of the best decisions the organizers could've made.
At least 17 local, regional and national brewers will vie for the coveted title of Durango's best beer, but the thought of several hundred sots sorting through nearly 100 different varieties doesn't jibe well with a 25-mile drive through the San Juan Mountains. And so the move was made.
"This is Purgatory's event, but we just all agreed that it makes more sense to do it downtown," said Tim Walsworth, president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Southwest Colorado. His organization is the sole beneficiary of the charitable event.
The United Way assisted the resort in procuring downtown permits and doing other legwork in advance of the Brewfest. Although Buckley Park likely will be full of spillover foot traffic, the actual event will happen on Main Avenue in front of the park because alcohol is prohibited on school district property. Durango School District 9-R owns the park space.
Charity aside, the San Juan Brewfest is well on its way to taking its place among Durango's stable of annually anticipated traffic-clogging downtown social highlights. A-Dub Rock Band will play music all day (four hours is a lot to ask, so expect a few well-deserved breaks), and Todd Youngblood's CookManFood is back to grill first-class barbecue.
"They're a huge partner in this, too. They did the Kiwanis July Fourth event, and it about doubled attendance," Walsworth said.
"We encourage everybody to eat and take care of themselves, and most importantly, be responsible."
His point is one to be heeded. Beer tastings are not, despite some obvious evidence to the contrary, intended to be outdoor frat parties.
All four local breweries will vie, seriously, against their nearby colleagues from Silverton, Palisade and Moab as well as national contenders such as Alaskan Brewing Co. and Leinenkugel Brewing Co. of Wisconsin. The long-distance out-of-towners will be represented locally by A&L Coors, the company that distributes the beers in Southwest Colorado.
Attendees can keep the 5-ounce souvenir mug and get unlimited samples of all the brews on tap, but its size should imply that the Brewfest is a tasting, not a chug-fest.
And with so much on the line, the brewers are counting on patrons to cast their votes with a clear head. A panel of judges (one of whom is the Herald's Arts & Entertainment editor) will select the top brew, but the more coveted title is the People's Choice award, decided by the people. Carver Brewing's Raspberry Wheat Ale is the defending champion, and the Main Avenue brewpub's co-owner and head brewer, Erik Maxson, said it will be among the entries this year, too.
"If the educated public again decides it's the best beer out there, then it's out of my hands," Maxson said.