Ten Years of Beer: Brew lovers reach transcendence at Beervana


Let’s climb in the wayback machine and travel to 2008. The first Beervana Fest, the brainchild of brew pros/aficionados Brian Oakley (co-owner of Julians) and Mike Iannazzi (co-owner of Nikki’s Liquors), was held at the Roger Williams Park Botanical Garden. Their mission was “to enlighten and educate the community for the responsible appreciation of craft beer.” The inaugural edition had 20 tables, including national powerhouses Allagash, Dogfish Head, Stone, Sierra Nevada and Rhode Island’s lone craft brewery, Newport Storm. “We were so uncertain that people would care that we set out to do it as a one-time thing, hoping that we could even pull it off,” Oakley recalls. But the state’s beer enthusiasts made Beervana an instant smash. “People were scalping tickets outside,” said Oakley. “It totally blew our minds.” Beervana moved to Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet in 2010, and has grown and evolved through the decade, keeping pace with the Better Beer Explosion that has surged from coast to coast.

The 10th Beervana Fest will take place on October 12 from 6:30 – 10pm. And Rhode Island’s Unparalleled Beer Event (can we trademark that phrase?) will deliver more beer splendor than ever: There are 65 tables repping more than 80 breweries (with multiple offerings at the B. United International, Shelton Brothers Importers and Nikki’s Vintage Table), pouring more than 275 succulent beers (the lineup was still in flux whilst we were typing). Thirteen breweries are making their Beervana debut. And they’re skipping the educational sessions this year (which opened up space for more tables), but a few Beer World Superstars will be in the haus, including Dogfish Head CEO and selfie-friendly Sam Calagione, who was a speaker at the first fest.

The ever-epic Beervana beer list is worth a look-see before you go to Rhodes (visit the Bottles & Cans blog to take it all in; address below) – it’s an overwhelming selection of rarities, exclusives and new-to-the-state brews, representing virtually every style. As we’ve oft-noted, even with unlimited – and responsible – sipping and a safe ride lined up, you can only sample a fraction of the tantalizing treats (computation based on 32 2-ounce pours, aka four pints; your mileage may vary). So some zealots take a few hours to soak in the massive array of fermented magnificence and prep a must-try list; lots of folks just wing it. You do you!

Here are a handful of fest-only highlights: Oakley and Iannazzi did some beermaking with Aaron Simoncini at Beer’d Brewing – a clear NEIPA called Beer’dvana (rimshot!) and Will Meyers at Cambridge Brewing. Calagione will be bringing a “super-exclusive” Dogfish Head offering: KnottyBits, a wild ale wood-aged for a year on sweet and sour cherries and rhubarb (it’s the first entry in their “Wooden … it be nice!” series). Allagash has concocted a Beervana 10th Anniversary Blend, and a couple of Rhody brewers may share a one-off concoction. And speaking of the locals, a dozen of ’em will be repping 401 Land: Buttonwoods, Foolproof, Grey Sail, Long Live, Newport Craft Brewing, Proclamation, Ragged Island, Revival, Shaidzon, Tilted Barn, Trinity and Whalers. That dynamic dozen speaks volumes re how far our beer scene has come in the last 10 years!

Let’s give Oakley the final word as he reflects on a decade of staging Rhode Island’s best beer fest: “I have felt truly fortunate to meet and grow to know the people who work with us from the brewery and industry side, and become friends with many of the attendees. And we are most appreciative of the die-hard volunteer staff who show up and throw down each and every year to help execute the best program we can offer.

“It’s such a humbling moment that we have made it to this milestone. It has been a wild ride. Let’s make an effort to be on our phones and computers less and have a beer together more often than once a year and have a real conversation. Cheers!”

At press time, tix were still (!!) available; hit beervanafest.com/tickets if you’re ready to experience beer Nirvana (and if you’ve read this far, you should be ready!). But if tix are sold out, start planning for Year 11. For more beer news, check Lou’s blog, bottlescansclaphands.wordpress.com, or follow @BottlesCansRI.

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