While I met dozens of readers Saturday at the fifth annual Florida Craft Brew and Wingfest Royal Palm Pointe, chances are you were not there. It was my first time. And it was quite an experience.
I’d been to two beer festivals before — in a downtown Fort Pierce parking garage and in Portland, Oregon. I’ll probably never get to a better one than the five-day Oregon Brewers Festival, which, after 28 years, attracts about 80,000 craft beer enthusiasts to the banks of the Willamette River.
But Vero Beach is no Portland. It may never have the selection of beer Portland, a longtime hub of craft beer activity, has. But, Portland featured standard food trucks when I was there. In Vero Beach, amazing local residents, businesses and restaurants competed in a wings competition and offered other homemade specialties, from calamari to fish tacos.
In Portland, the 1.5-mile-long Tom McCall Waterfront Park — imagine what Indian River Drive could look like one day north and south of 17th Street — can be breathtaking.
But, as I learned Saturday, Royal Palm Pointe is an amazing venue. Even with an estimated record crowd of 10,000 to 12,000 — amazing for a 4-1/2 hour event — I never felt cramped. There were enough places in the large median to sit and eat, plenty of portable restrooms and dozens of vendors — along with two stages for bands. It’s neat festivalgoers visited nearby stores and restaurants.
The Vero Beach Sunrise Rotary Club put on the event, which raised more than the $65,000 it netted in 2015 — a $12,000 increase from the prior year, according to J. Burklew, event chairman.
Rotarians use the funds to support various ventures, Burklew said, from helping the Vero Beach High School band make a trip to the Peach Bowl to funding projects that help clean the Indian River Lagoon.
A few take-aways from the weekend, which began Friday night with separate parties pairing craft beer and local restaurants’ appetizers.
YOUNG CROWD: There were an amazing number of folks in their 20s and 30s at the event. That’s not usually the case in Vero Beach. I saw young singles and parents who came over for lunch with their children after playing soccer.
DRINKING RESPONSIBLY: People could buy beer for $5 a piece or have unlimited samples of 150 different beers by buying a bracelet for $35. The glass for samples was maybe 2.5 ounces. I had 17 samples, partly filled glasses, maybe the equivalent of 3, 12-ounce beers between festival hours of 11:30 and 4 p.m. No one I saw had too much to drink — and Vero Beach police Chief David Currey, a food judge at the event, said he heard of no problems. But a hallmark of craft beer aficionados is they’re more like wine-tasters than beer-swillers. (My wife dropped me off and picked me up.)
CLASS OF SHOW: My favorite new beers from the weekend were: Awake Coffee Blonde and 4 Redemption Barrel Aged Quad from St. Petersburg’s 3 Daughters Brewing; Mango Salsa, Whiskey Barrel Ale and Milk Barrel Stout from Port St. Lucie’s Side Door Brewing Co.; Bubba Wee Heavy Scotch Ale from Orchid Island Brewery, and Black Coral Rum Porter from Sebastian’s Pareidolia Brewing Co.
Read more at TC Palm here.