The news has been out for a while that this year’s Tailspin Ale Fest has grown to two days — Feb. 20 and 21 — and added several new lead-up events. Let’s face it, last year’s inaugural event was a huge hit. In fact, I walked away thinking it was one of the better beer festivals I’d ever attended thanks to its diversity, specialty beers and various other attractions — beer-related and otherwise.
But Tailspin founders Tisha Gainey and Trevor Cravens knew a few improvements could be made for 2015. They also were astonished to learn that attendees came from as far away as — get this — Alaska. In fact, a ticket-buyer map from the 2014 festival shows there were attendees from Washington State to Massachusetts to Minnesota to Florida.
The festival was kind of a perfect storm in that an impromptu flyover — remember, this is a beer festival in an airplane hangar — gave 1,000 or so people waiting in line an unexpected thrill, and the weather was not just unseasonably but ridiculously warm and sunny for February.
Given human beings’ need for their experiences to always get bigger and better, what could Gainey and Cravens possibly do to up the ante this year? I managed to get the duo in a room together to talk all things Tailspin, and their answer to that question was clear: Plenty.
“We went to two days basically to find a way to allow for more capacity for the event,” says Cravens, who is president of DRAFT Magazine, “but also to offer something that was a little bit different. So we came back with Friday night with the Barrel Roll and thought, ‘How can we add some of the elements people really like?’”
Barrel-aged anything is in high demand right now, so the choice wasn’t a difficult one to make. And it will be more than just barrel-aged beers — the Friday event, for which just 1,000 tickets will be sold, also will feature bourbon, craft spirits, cocktails, wine and live music from the Pimps of Joytime. In fact, the band may be the only thing at Barrel Roll that isn’t barrel-aged.
And instead of the food trucks that will again offer sustenance (and alcohol buffering) during the main event, the Friday event will be a catered affair featuring a tapas menu by the Olé Restaurant Group, owners of El Luchador, Mussel and Burger Bar, and Guacamole.
There was another reason for the added day, as well. Beer festivals in Kentucky are weird creatures due to state laws that inexplicably state that beer samples cannot be handed out by brewery owners or breweries. No, instead, that double IPA with the curious hop blend you are dying to learn more about must be poured into your souvenir cup by a volunteer who, chances are, has no idea what a Chinook even is.
So, on Friday, brewery reps will be making the rounds so attendees can bend their ears and find out what’s brewing in their respective businesses. Also, Gainey noted that for brewery owners and brewers, going to an out-of-state festival where they can man their own booths usually means a lot of hard work and no time to relax and, well, enjoy a beer. The Barrel Roll gives them a chance to take a deep breath and have fun.
But wait — there’s more.
The Saturday event will sell 1,600 tickets. If you were there last year, you’ll recall that the old hangar at Bowman Field was beyond packed by 3 p.m. or so. It was standing-room only in some spots, particularly around the giant Sweetwater booth. It was five and six deep, minimum, at times at that behemoth. The brightly colored booth looked more like a beer stand at an all-inclusive resort.
Well, this year, there will be five such booths: Sweetwater, Traveler, Tin Man, Flat 12 and West Sixth, the latter of which will be the featured brewery in the Kentucky Heritage section of the festival. Spread the wealth.
Another aspect that both Gainey and Cravens feel set Tailspin apart last year was the commitment to getting specialty beers, and investing in doing so. Cravens says as much as 40 percent of the budget went to purchasing the beer. But it offered something more than tastings of breweries’ core brands.
“Some of these beer festivals you go to, it’s the same old stuff you can buy every day,” Gainey says.
Last year is where I had my first taste of Flat 12’s Pinko Russian Imperial Stout aged in Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year barrels. You don’t get that every day. Expect more of the same.
It goes on and on. The aforementioned lead-in events are designed to help raise more money for the festival’s charity, Dare to Care. Last year, Tailspin raised $4,147, providing an estimated 16,000 meals to people in Metro Louisville.
For instance, Liquor Barn, in addition to providing Tailspin VIP attendees with a souvenir growler, will sell paper beer steins for $1 each — these are like the March of Dimes’ shamrocks or other sponsored stickers people buy to sponsor specific causes. In addition, Liquor Barn will host “Tailspin Thursdays” from Jan. 29 through Feb. 19, with discounted Barrel Roll tickets, tastings from Tailspin breweries, ticket giveaways, and $1 off growler fills.
Wait — still more. On Jan. 29, Headliners plays host to a charity concert featuring Junkyard Dogs. It will include a festival preview with beers from Sweetwater and Tin Man. A pre-party is planned at Nachbar on Feb. 10, with a keg of Bell’s Hopslam on the docket, along with beers from five featured breweries and a ticket giveaway. In fact, five other bars will host pint nights with ticket giveaways.
Again, it’s all about providing a bigger donation to Dare to Care, which is a fairly noble pursuit.
“We felt like it was important to be able to give them a meaningful donation,” Cravens says. “We think we’re raising awareness and also making a meaningful contribution.”
Dare to Care isn’t complaining a bit.
“The need for food assistance is at an all-time high, with one in six families struggling to get the food they need,” says Brian Riendeau, Dare to Care executive director. “Dare to Care can only meet this need with broad community support, and partners like the folks of Tailspin Ale Festival help make this happen.”
They’re making it happen, all right. Get ready for another experience that transcends your standard beer festival. Gainey and Cravens, just two years into this, have assured that much. And they don’t want anyone to think it’s easy, either. This is a labor of love, not just an excuse to drink lots of beer.
“People don’t reallze (the amount of work it takes),” Gainey says. “Bowman field is a shell. It’s an empty, blank-canvas shell. There’s a lot of things going on people don’t realize.”
From booking breweries to food trucks (there will be more this year to keep down the long lines attendees experienced in 2014) to music to airplanes to simply having enough tables on hand (last year, there was a coat check that didn’t get used thanks to the balmy weather), it’s a massive undertaking.
“It’s just growing and growing and growing,” Gainey says. “It’s exciting. And it’s pretty much just the two of us doing it.”
In other words, there’s a good chance both Gainey and Cravens will sleep well the night of Feb. 21.