SALEM -On a gorgeous afternoon approximately 1400 people gathered together on the field of the Salem Red Sox Stadium to celebrate craft-brewed beer. Big Lick Beertopia, now in its second year, was held this past Saturday, June 9. The event, put on by the Roanoke Jaycees saw a large growth from its inaugural year. “We are still crunching the numbers now but I know we had an increase of about 25 to 30% from last year” said Kevin Hurt of the Jaycees.
Over 20 different microbreweries, many of them local, lined the wall of the outfield, passing out four or eight ounce pours for people to try. Café style tables and chairs were set up between the tents for people to enjoy in the shade while many more people took advantage of the beautiful weather to spread a blanket in the outfield and listen to the music from local bands The Materia Project and Corey Hunley while they enjoyed their beer.
In the infield area there was a large area set up for people to pass the time playing cornhole.
“This has been a great turn out,” said Aden Short of P.A. Short Distributing, “we’ve got lots of great breweries, great Virginia breweries, and great music.”
Paul Mahoney of Roanoke County commented “There are more people this year and it is nicer because it is more spread out and is a much better venue” as compared to other local craft beer festivals held in Roanoke. That sentiment seemed shared by most of the crowd as they commented on short lines for beer and the room to stretch out.
New to the festival this year was a homebrew competition, the first of its kind for Salem. “This was the first year we decided to do a home brew competition for the event and I can safely say it was a success and we look forward to partnering the Star City Brewers Guild and Big Lick Beertopia in the future” said Hurt.
To prepare for the homebrew competition the Jaycees worked with Guild members Carrie Cox and Kathy Merkwan. Cox, of Salem, was the main liaison between the Guild and the Jaycees and organized the judges while Merkwan, of Roanoke County, organized how the details of how to make sure entries were properly labeled, kept anonymous from the judges, and that the judges would have all proper information to aide them. “We were lucky to have many talented people from the craft beer community volunteer to judge” said Cox. Representatives from Mr. Bill’s Wine Cellar, Wine Gourmet, P.A. Short Distributing Co. helped judge alongside homebrewers from Salem, Roanoke, and the New River Valley.
There were four categories for homebrewers to enter, Light, Amber, Dark, and Specialty, and from the first place winners of each category a “Best of Show” winner was chosen. First place winners were Michael Burt of Richmond Va in the Light Category, Kevin Campbell of Roanoke in the Amber Category, and Ken McGraw of Roanoke County in both the Dark and Specialty Categories. McGraw acknowledged that he had help in brewing his beer from friends Tom Kincaid and Curtis Reed, also of Roanoke and added “It’s been cool, it is great that they’re recognizing homebrewers.”
Campbell’s American Barleywine in the Amber Category was the winner of this year’s “Best of Show” and Campbell will now get a chance to brew the beer with Roanoke Railhouse.
Another new thing to this year’s festival was the “People’s Choice Award.” Festival goers voted for their favorite craft brewery and this year’s winner was The River Company’s “Peachicot Blonde Ale.” The River Company is a local brewpub located in Fairlawn, minutes away from Radford and Virginia Tech, according to their website.