With Ohio Brew Week starting in Athens this Friday, we decided the best source for an inside scoop on this year’s 14thannual event was its executive director, Brandon Thompson.
Thompson provided us with information on the overall festival, which runs from July 12-20, new wrinkles on OBW, old favorites, statistics, logistics, and tips for the week. And yes, he still needs volunteers.
The NEWS: What’s the structure of the OBW management team?
Thompson said Brew Week has nine directors on its board, and they meet at least once a month to discuss the event, including “new ideas, events, policies, initiatives, budget for the year, etc.
“They are a great group of guys and girls with lots of good ideas. I am hired by OBW as the executive director to ensure all these events and ideas actually happen and they do not blow the budget. The planning and execution of the nine days of Ohio Brew Week ultimately falls to me.”
The NEWS: What’s new this year?
“That's the question everyone wants to know!” Thompson declared, adding that the main answer is a new event called “First Call” that takes place this Saturday, July 13, on the first block of West State Street in front of Tony’s Tavern and Casa Nueva/Cantina.
“We will feature a few breweries that are NOT part of the nine days of Brew Week. So you can only try these beers there at this event,” Thompson said. “We have found that the second weekend of Brew Week is much busier than the first. So we decided to try this event to bring more attention to the first weekend and help out our sponsors.”
He emphasized, however, that First Call is not like either the BrewBQ or Last Call, two of OBW’s most popular events. Both take place the second weekend of Brew Week.
The differences include no music and no defined end times, according to Thompson.
“This event (which starts at 1 p.m.) goes till we run out of beer, which I anticipate will be earlier evening, late afternoon,” he said. “We don't want to monopolize people's time on the street, so the hope is for people to pop in enjoy some beers and then head to their favorite locations after.”
Though bands won’t be playing, Thompson said the event will have a sound system with music.
In another change, Thompson said OBW has added some new venue/sponsors, including Burr Oak State Park, the Dairy Barn Art Center in Athens, and the new Kindred Market in Athens.
The NEWS: Are there any other particularly interesting twists to OBW this year?
Thompson said the event has expanded its so-called Top Deck Dinner this year, a seated fine-dining experience that takes place atop the Athens Parking Garage on West Washington Street. This second year of the dinner event, featuring a four-course meal paired with four craft beers, runs from 7-10 p.m. on Wednesday.
The event is a collaboration with Certified Master Chef Alfonso of Oliver Farms and Jackie O’s, according to the event listing on the OBW website.
“Last year it sold out, and we hope to do the same this year,” Thompson said.
The NEWS: Just some stats… How many breweries and from what range of places in Ohio? What range of beer types? How many volunteers have been lined up?
“Every year it varies,” Thompson said, “but we always have between 40-45 breweries that are spread out among all our locations for the nine days of Brew Week. This year we have 40 breweries that will be joining us. They are from all over the state, (Columbus, Cincy, Cleveland, Toledo and everywhere in between).” As for what types of beer will be on hand, Thompson deferred to the OBW “beer finder” at ohiobrewweek.com/brews/.
“There are over 300 beers to choose from on the list. Happy hunting! There is something for everyone if you look hard enough,” he said.
In response to the question about volunteers, Thompson said, “Sadly, volunteers have become the Achilles heel of Ohio Brew Week. As our events have grown, the need for more volunteers has grown as well.
“Unfortunately,” Thompson added, “it's become harder to recruit many people willing to help out in the evening times. Everyone is up for the afternoon shifts, and I appreciate anyone who takes their time out of their day to help us out, but this year alone we are in need of close to 200 volunteers. Last Call alone needs 160 volunteers to make happen.”
The NEWS: How involved are our local craft breweries this year?
Thompson withheld no praise in answering this question: “SUPER INVOLVED. They are involved all year round, but they are super great to work with during Brew Week… I say this every year, but it's true every year. Jackie O's, Little Fish, Devil's Kettle and West End Cider House make my job easy because I don't have to lie about how great they are. They help anchor Ohio Brew Week by being great establishments people want to continually explore.”
The NEWS: How do you feel about this year’s OBW? Why should people come here from across the state for it?
“You're talking to me less than a week out of the event, so, obviously, there's the exhaustion and the hope that everything works out again,” Thompson said. “But I feel pretty good. This is my fourth year doing this. So I know how it works and what to expect, but you can't plan for the area's main ice-making delivery company to shut down the week of Last Call when you're used to purchasing 500 bags of ice for your breweries pouring beer in 90-degree weather. You can't plan for the BrewBQ (our second-largest event) to be completely rained out last year. So I know something won't work out the way it always has, but that's just life.”
As for why people should attend Ohio Brew Week, Thompson pointed out that OBW is the “first week-long brew/beer event. “Come and see what birthed it all!” he declared.
“There are Brew Weeks in other areas,” Thompson added, “but I don't think many places embrace their Brew Weeks as much as Athens does. And lastly, it's Athens in the summer time. We have so many shops, stores and local attractions that AREN'T beer related that you can enjoy in between sessions. And is there a better place to enjoy a beer on a patio than Athens? I think not.”
The NEWS: Is there any data on how many people come to Athens for OBW? Or how much of an economic impact it has to the city?
Thompson said he’s been trying to nail down the answer to these questions for the past few years. Last Call, he said, draws roughly 6,000 people on the second Saturday of OBW (this year, that’s June 20).
Based on the average number of people who attend each participating venue each day, Thompson said OBW sees “a little over 10,000 people in the nine days of Brew Week, which is very impressive I think.
“I wish I had a better grasp on the exact economic impact we have on the town,” he added, “but we work with 35 bars, restaurants and locations, and I place 40 breweries with over 300 beers, meads, cider and wines during the nine days, and we continue to grow with each year. I think it's safe to say we are definitely making a positive economic impact in Athens.”
The NEWS: The big Last Call event… Any changes this year? Has the band lineup been set yet?
“No changes, just pure outdoor fun on Court Street for the entire family,” Thompson said. “Bring your tokens from last year, sign up for a volunteer shift, and be awesome! I would appreciate it! The band list is set and is great as always.” (Editor’s note: We’ll run the schedule for Last Call’s two stages in next Thursday’s issue.)
The NEWS: Is there anything else that you think is important to tell our readers?
“It's always important to remember that Brew Week is a huge machine with many moving parts. Double check things online or with the venue if you're really excited about an event or beer. Sometimes things get canceled or a beer gets changed that we may not know about right away. We hate hearing of stories of people heading to a great event or to try a beer and it's not happening or the beer is out.”
Thompson added, “The best way to experience OBW is to dive into our events calendar or check our sponsors' websites or Facebook.”