Craft beer reigns supreme in Southern California, but some areas see a different spread of the distribution of craft beer than others. For example, Anaheim has lots of breweries so close to each other, but not much in the way of gastropubs or festivals. Conversely, Long Beach boasts lots of craft beer-friendly establishments and beer festivals, but houses very few breweries compared to surrounding cities. In fact, another beer festival came to Long Beach this past weekend, as Cal State Long Beach hosted their 1st Annual Long Beach Craft Beer Festival. Benefiting the CSULB Hospitality Department, this craft beer celebration covered two days of award-winning beers from across the nation. While the weekend started with a beer-pairing dinner and a brewers reception, the major festival took place Saturday afternoon at the campus’ Jack Rose track & field stadium. The festival featured over 50 different breweries, over 100 different beers, mobile food vendors, live entertainment, and more. Distinctly, the organizers brought out many breweries not typically seen at a beer festival in Southern California, including out-of-state or international breweries.
On a weekend fraught with dozens of beer events, it takes some mighty fine marketing and planning to stand out from the crowd. The Great American Beer Festival had just taken place the weekend prior, so as a result, very few beer events took place that weekend, pushing most beer festivals forward a week. So while many other beer festival occurred at the same time as the Long Beach one, the Long Beach event takes the crown for the weekend. No other beer festival can contain such a variety of breweries, especially breweries that rarely, if not ever, make an appearance in Southern California. Due to the wide, spacious venue, they can contain so many more booths if they choose to do so in a future iteration of this event. Despite appearing like a generic beer tasting festival, the organizers stayed true to the local microbrewery scene, opting not to highlight the macro breweries so much; in fact, the “sold out” breweries had their own spot in a far corner of the venue. Some of the microbreweries even dared to launch timed releases – at some of the larger beer festivals, the more popular breweries will release a rare beer at a certain time within the festival instead of making it available from the start, giving attendees a chance to line up to taste it instead of making it “first come, first served.” We rarely see something like this at a generic beer tasting event, so for some of the breweries to do this at this festival means something significant.
While anyone can certainly expect beginners’ mistakes on a first event, the Long Beach crew minimized problems, which makes this beer fest stand out as a true winner relative to the Southern California craft beer industry. Did I witness anything issues or areas that they can improve upon? Nobody can run an event for the first time without problems, but of those that I encountered, nothing bugged me too much. They had plenty of space to work with, and definitely could have filled up the venue – instead, a huge open area existed toward the back of the area. Perhaps they could have invited a lot more food vendors? The venue lacked cool, shaded areas, unless attendees remained on the west side of the venue due to the trees there. It also would have greatly helped if they made complimentary water more readily available. I did discover some iced buckets of water bottles, but I had to actively search for them. Finally, the method to enter greatly confused me – attendees had to check in at the box office at The Pyramid, receive their wristband and cup there, and then finally walk to the track to enter the event area. I had approached from the track’s side, so did not know that I still needed to walk over to the box office to pick up my objects.
Overall, the Long Beach Craft Beer Festival did the local craft beer scene justice. The CSULB campus has done a great job in recent years to introduce craft beer and craft wine to the student body, something that I could not enjoy while attending CSULB (ABC revoked the license while I attended classes here due to rowdy students one night). Although they do not have a brewing curriculum like another Southern Californian campus does, CSULB has taken a step in the right direction to boost the microbrewery scene to empower local brewers against the large corporations that would dare snuff out the little guys. Check out what else CSULB has in store for their students by liking the Facebook pages of The Nugget (the campus’ pub) and the bookstore.