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Beer is rock star of Saturday festival
beer pour
Craft beers are the focus of the festival Saturday at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center - photo by Photo provided.

The Savannah Craft Brew Festival was hatched in part by Visit Savannah and other interested parties in order to create an event to bring in visitors and promote activity during the Labor Day weekend.

This Saturday marks the sixth edition of the Craft Brew Fest, over the river on Hutchinson Island, but the first in the hands of a new organizer.

'In 2012 we got word from Visit Savannah that the event had gotten so big and was taking up a lot of staff time and they were looking for a production company to take over the event," recalls Jay Wilson, CEO of Red Mountain Entertainment. "So we put together a proposal along with some other companies, and were lucky enough to be chosen to take over this event that they spent a lot of blood sweat and tears putting together."

Wilson adds that "we're stewards of something that Joe Marinelli and his team at Visit Savannah put a lot of hours into. We're very sensitive and mindful of the fact that we're babysitting something birthed by someone else."

While there's a new sheriff in town, Wilson says don't expect any radical changes to an event that seemed to be close to optimal already.

"I was at the event last year, and I came back and told our team, you know what guys? They've got a really great event. If it ain't broke it doesn't need to be fixed," says Wilson. "Let's just bring a few new ideas to the table keep the basic structure of the event."

The basic structure is simple: You enter the Trade Center – only those over 21 allowed – and partake of about 150 craft beers in various booths and beer gardens inside and outside the cavernous building, utilizing two-ounce sample cups.

A few new highlights this year include a "Mixology Garden."

"That's an area where three Savannah bars are going to feature bartenders serving beer cocktails," Wilson says. The establishments will serve up concoctions like the Strong Black & White from The World of Beer, a Razzle Dazzle from The Distillery, and a Loose Rita from The Sparetime.

Another new touch is a rather ambitious cornhole tournament.

"We've set up a bracket just like March Madness, with 16 teams," says Wilson. "On the afternoon of the Brew Fest, while thousands are doing whatever they're doing, in one section Southbound Brewery will be pouring beer and we'll have these teams battling it out all afternoon in a single elimination tournament. At the end there will be one championship game, and the winner gets to take home the Southbound-branded cornhole set. It's like a mini-festival in a festival."

Later that evening, the Georgia Bulldogs play Clemson in the first football game of the season. To get you in the mood, Wilson says, "we're converting a section of the Trade Center into a sports bar. We're throwing up some flatscreen TVs and there will be seven breweries from Georgia and South Carolina pouring there to get people in the tailgating mood for the game."

For the cigar aficionados, Hoyo De Monterrey cigars will be doing some "education sessions," paired with Brew Fest main sponsor Abita Beer. "We've taken a cigar company and a beer company, gotten their flavor profiles, and now we're picking beers so the cigar people can walk people through why different tobaccos are tasting which way with which beers," says Wilson.

Ironically given the fact that Red Mountain Entertainment is primarily a concert promotion company, music has been downscaled as a featured draw at this year's Savannah Craft Brew Fest, with only local band The Train Wrecks performing.

Wilson explains why:

"I went up to Durham to another beer festival we're doing, and I came back and said to my team, we're used to taking care of bands every day. On the day of a concert they're the rock stars. But at a beer fest the beer is the rock star," he says. "We put a real premium on working with distributors and various breweries to really work to pick a great portfolio of beers. This event is all about the beer. We don't lose sight of what it's all about."

The decision also had something to do with last year's underachieving attendance for a Sunday rock concert.

"A band at a beer festival is just about creating a vibe and a mood," says Wilson. "We realize the beer is the draw, and we put everything in the hands of the beer."

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