It wasn’t outrageously hot at the Cambridge Beer Festival, but there was a taste in the air of how hot it was going to be by the time summer hit full on. The usual suspects were there, Chris and the guys from RaR, Toby from 3rd Wave and Justin from Burley Oak (Justin attends so many of these things one gets the impression that it is the only time he’s permitted to leave the brewery) was being his lovable, friendly self. There were a couple of volunteer pourers who are regulars, well versed in the beers they poured but also cutting out on work and therefore (clearly) nameless.
Additionally, there were the guys from Brewer’s Art and Raven Beer.
These were not distributors. They were brewery reps, which is something different. Chris, Toby and Justin belong to a group of brewers makes a real effort to have a brewery presence at all of these events. Chris is an owner, and Toby and Justin work for people who were avid craft beer festival attendees long before they were owners. At those events they always were frustrated when a volunteer couldn’t talk to them about the beer or about the brewery. There was no one who could invite the interested to come by for a tour.
Shore craft beer drinkers can be a little spoiled that way. Most of us know the brewers, brewery owners or bartenders by sight. We’ve become accustomed to talking with someone familiar with a brewery’s operations at these events.
Although I didn’t get to speak with the Brewer’s Art guy, I did hang out a bit with Adam from Raven Brewery.
I’d tried early versions of their Special Lager at the Atomic Books in Hamden. I can say that with confidence now but only because Adam helped me place the space. He was a rep, rather than a brewer, but he was repping Raven, not beer. And there is a difference.
Distributors are (I’m certain) pleasant enough people, but they don’t have a ton of skin in the game when it comes to promoting a particular beer. They are more invested in getting you to buy beer than they are craft beer and more invested in craft beer generally than specifically. Some other time I’ll talk a bit about the accidental amount of power they’ve stumbled into.
Adam was into his beer and into the scene and this is what was cool about it: We were in Cambridge. This wasn’t a massive festival in Ocean City, or even the Good Beer Festival in Salisbury. The Cambridge Beer festival is a lower profile event, but Raven Brewery wanted someone there, and that’s pretty exciting.
It appears the word is out on the Eastern Shore as a craft beer destination, and places like Raven and Brewer’s Art (Fordham and DuClaw are also very, very frequently represented) are starting to dig it.
The Eastern Shore beer explosion on the western shore is tourism related. People come here, try the beer and go home and ask for it. But as Maryland Beer increasingly is a “thing,” a lot of the western shore brewers are following the crowds here with a dual mission.
The first is to win some fans among the beer elite here. As many local beers as there are, sometimes beer drinkers here discover that they’ve tried everything on tap and are willing to take a chance on an out of town beer. I (for example) haven’t had “The Cask” by Raven Brewery, but I’d order it if I saw it. And recommend it if I liked it.
The second is to win fans among the tourists. Because we have such a rich but unpretentious craft beer culture here, people are willing to take more chances than they might normally. This isn’t lost on the brewers.
The Shore isn’t known for hipster bars, it is known for friendly servers and a laid back, good time attitude. What better place for a Baltimore brewer to make a friend. Yes, a tap handle at Max’s has a certain cache, but a following in the more democratic beach culture is nothing to sneeze at.