04 March 2008

How it works: AleFest Indy

We've been running an ad for the past couple weeks about this Saturday's AleFest Indy - "A charitable craft beer festival showcasing the finest beer styles in the world." You might be wondering exactly what "charitable craft beer festival" means: Who's running the show? Who's benefiting? How much is going to the charity? And why the limit on samples?

With those questions in mind, I contacted our inside guy - World Class Beverages' Bob Mack - who was happy to provide us with some answers.

Who's running the show?
Ale Fest is organized by a long time home brewer and beer business veteran from Dayton, Ohio, Joe Waizmann. Joe has been an advocate of great beer his entire life and when he says that his mission with Ale Fest is to promote great beer, he’s very sincere about that. He’s worked for years as a representative for Merchant du Vin, perhaps the premier beer importer in the United States and importer of beers like Samuel Smith, Ayinger, Rochefort, Westmalle, Orval and many others. In short, Joe has some serious credentials and is very, very sincere about promoting great beer.
Who's benefiting?
The charitable beneficiary of this event is The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), Indianapolis chapter. LLS has been a part of many beer related events and World Class Beverages, Monarch Beverage Company and the Brewers of Indiana Guild all have a working relationship with them. Joe Waizmann will donate a portion of each ticket sold to LLS so the overall amount of the donation is based on attendance at the event. The percentage of the donation will be about 5% of the revenue. It some respects, that seems a small number but it is pretty typical of amounts involved in charitable contributions for this sort of thing and we do not ask anything of LLS in return.

As for the money involved, I have to emphasis that there will be more money spent on this event than is taken in. This is not a profitable event and is being done because World Class Beverages is using this event as a marketing tool for the brands that will be involved. For example, if 500 people attend the event at $30 a piece, that’s $15,000 in revenue. The facility (Murat Centre) will cost us somewhere in the neighborhood of two thirds that amount and advertising/promotion will cost us most of the rest of that amount. Additionally, a huge cost involved in this event will be beer and I would conservatively estimate that it will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $7,000 just to supply beer for the event. Add those costs together and you’ll get to $20,000 pretty easily for an event that will bring in $15,000 (with 500 people attending) and you’ll see that there isn’t much money left to go around, particularly after you subtract the money that LLS will receive.

Of course, these are estimates based on attendance levels and some of the overall costs have not yet been identified. And this doesn’t include any time, travel or other expenses that are personally incurred by the people directly involved in the event or the 50 or so volunteers who will be pouring beer at the event. With additional attendance, revenue would increase and that wouldn’t be a bad thing, but we are still a long way from breaking even on this event. But that really isn’t the intention of this event, either.

I’d also like to mention that if it was our sole intention to make money, we’d remove the sample limit because we are aware that some people will not attend the event when there is limited sampling. Money is not the goal of this event, education about great beer is.
Why the limit on samples?
I think it’s important to point out that Ale Fest is not intended to be a “drinking competition” and that some people are rubbed the wrong way anytime that a sample limit is present. But the goal of this event is to promote high quality and often high alcohol beers and for a wide variety of reasons unlimited consumption and high end beers don’t usually go hand in hand. There are still events out there that allow for unlimited sampling and I don’t have anything against those, per se, but there are also many very successful high end beer events that do limit sampling. Limiting samples avoid many insurance and legal issues and it tends to separate these events into more elite, somewhat educational and informative tastings versus drinking competitions where the message of better beer is largely lost in favor of larger volumes of beer. We’re aiming for the former.

We’re very openly promoting the “responsible drinking” nature of the event, so I don’t think that anyone is going to be surprised by this at the event itself. Additionally, the mission of World Class Beverages (which is quoted on the Ale Fest website) is to promote beer knowledge and passion in a responsible fashion, so this is the type of event that we feel fits our purpose.

Special glasses are being designed for the event. They are 6 ounce glasses so you can pretty easily get a 4 ounce + pour into them with foam. Additional samples will be available at an additional cost. But at the 20 sample level, you’re paying almost exactly $4.50 for a 12 ounce serving, which is rather low on the price end for these types of beers. For comparison sake, check out the price of a 12 ounce serving of Ayinger, Chimay, Allagash, etc. at a good bar the next time you’re in. Yes, we’ll have Barley Island, Bell’s and many others that might normally be priced at or below $4.50 for a 12 ounce serving, but many of these beers would run much more. With a 4 ounce sample, you’re also getting just short of 7 - 12 ounce beers and again, at higher alcohol levels, that is not a small amount.

I’m not going to knock anyone else’s beer event, but I think we’ll have a very, very strong beer selection. What other event would you go to taste four of the seven Trappist beers, for example? I think the list of breweries stands on its own.
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As for our take - We'd like to think that we're not naive at Hoosier Beer Geek; We understand the World Class is in business to make money. But in dealing with the folks at World Class we've found that they're genuine people who really love beer - they just happen to be lucky enough to make a living dealing with a product they love.

Four of the Knights of the Beer Roundtable (Kelly, Jason, Jim, and Mike) will be in attendance Saturday - in fact, we'll be serving. Stop by and say hi - we'll give you beer.

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Thanks KJ


  1. Great info guys! I am going to be attending with my dad and probably a couple friends and we were all kind of curious about the limit on sampling. Judging by the pictures of the glassware on the alefest website, I kind of assumed 20 samples would be well worth the money. But just in case.. am I mistaken in getting the impression that you can pay for additional samples if you wanted to?

    Looking forward to this and then the following day my dad and I are heading to Cincinatti for Bockfest. Going to be a great beer weekend! :-D

  2. Additional samples will be available at an additional cost.

  3. I bet only World Class Beverages beers will be available... Let's see if Cavalier is invited before we accept Bob's rhetoric.

  4. does not sound like a fund raiser at all. sounds more like a way for world class to promote itself and sell beer. was really planning on going, but i decided to pass. makes me wonder how independent HBG reviews are.

  5. I can understand that our relationship with World Class may seem a bit shady seeing that we're doing quite a bit of work with them. Then again, we've been working with World Class for quite some time - the beer that we provide for sampling at Big Car doesn't fall from the sky.

    As for the integrity of the ratings, I think reading them should be all the evidence you need. I'd like to think my reviews of Three Floyd's Fantabulous Resplendence and Barley Island's Bourbon Barrel Beers (both WCB distributed beers) are proof enough of the integrity of my personal reviews - but you're certainly welcome to think whatever you want. There are certainly other (and probably better) beer review site options out there - RateBeer.com and BeerAdvocate.com for example. I just hope we can bring a little more fun to the beer review process.

    We'd love to do more work with Cavalier - hell, we'd love to work with anyone that's willing to work with us - but in a lot of cases the distributors or breweries just don't have the resources that World Class has. Walk into any Indiana liquor store - I'm willing to bet that 75% of the craft beer on the shelf is World Class product. Until that changes (and as much as we like Bob and our friends at World Class, we welcome that change), we'll review what we can get our hands on.

    As for AleFest being a fund-rasier - I don't want to speak for Bob, but he never used those words. He did use the word "charitable", and the event did raise money for a charity. If your true concern lies with the charity, anonymous, then perhaps you'd be better off donating the whole $40 to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and forgetting about the beer.

    We've tried to be as transparent as possible (for another example, see the disclaimer at the bottom of our Schlafly review). If you feel that hasn't been the case, then we apologize for the misunderstanding, and ask what else we can do to clear that up.

    But if you're asking us to turn down free beer, you're fucking crazy ;-)

  6. Anonymous, please join us for one of our roundtables so you can see us in action. Once you do that, I think you'll see that we're very laid back, independent-minded people who have vastly diverging opinions about the beers we like. In other words, we're in no one's pocket when it comes to reviewing anything and are pretty blunt when we have a beer we don't like, and that includes some beers distributed by WCB (as Mike has already pointed out).

    As for working with Cavalier--we've met with Mat Gerdenich for a roundtable already and have reviewed several beers distributed by Cavalier, including Founders and He'Brew brands. Both of these brewers happen to brew some of my favorite beers (check out these reviews, for example). I think I can safely speak for all of us here when I say that we love what Mat is doing and welcome more opportunities to work with him and Cavalier.