Our first beer fest!

Mike Maass



It’s 5:00 AM on a Saturday. Why on earth did I agree to this? I struggle out of bed, grab a cup of coffee, and load up my truck with banners, stickers, flyers, bungee cords, and zip ties.

Load-in time for the East County Craft Beer Invitational is 6:00 AM, and I want to be sure to snag some good fence real estate for our 19-foot banner. It’s our first fest, and we want to make an impression. Jeff (my business partner) is holding down the fort today, manning the tasting room, so it’ll be my pal Stuart and me, and a volunteer beer pourer assigned by the event organizers.


I snake through the coned labyrinth of the parking lot, right up to the front of the El Cajon P.D. I find a parking spot, right between a cruiser and a police bike. The irony of setting up a beer booth 100 yards from the Police Department and courthouse is not lost on me.

I’m not the first dude onsite, but I’m certainly the first beer dude there. I find our canopy, right on the thoroughfare, right at the front of the action. It’s gonna’ be a good day, I think to myself. I find an open panel of chain link fence nearby and zip-tie the banner nice and level.

A few passers-by comment: You guys open yet? You’re on Vernon, right? I’ve been meaning to come by. It’s encouraging to know people have heard of us. After hanging the banner, I bungee the canopy sign to our booth, and then head home to see the family and grab a few things before heading back to the event site.

At 10:30 I meet Stuart at the Beard to load the kegs. We’re bringing Hopmata, a Citra/Simcoa IPA; and Holy the Voyd, an oatmeal/coffee stout. Luckily, the Civic Center is only five minutes away from the Beard, so we have plenty of time to load the kegs, drive over, and set up.

We get there at 11:00. We quickly unload and head to our canopy. A few head nods, a few smiles, good vibes. The nice folks from Absolution Brewing are in the canopy next to us.

Howdy! I say, as we roll up.

Their setup is legit. Clearly this is not their first beer fest. Our setup is simple by comparison, yet I couldn’t be more proud, just to be here, sharing our brews with humanity.

Thirsty marathoners (from the coinciding St. Patrick’s Day Half Marathon) begin to line up as soon as the kegs are tapped.

I’ll try the Hopmata.

I’ll have the stout.

Before long, the area is filled with runners and fest-goers. Lots of familiar faces, folks we’ve met in the tasting room over the past two weeks. Lots of new faces, too, as folks approach our canopy, order a beer, and ask who we are. Lots of smiles—both for the beer, and upon hearing we’re located just two miles away.IMG_8326

As morning turns to noon and then afternoon, we begin to see a pattern of repeat customers coming back for their third, fourth, fifth sample of our beer.

I did the rounds and you win.

– Rebecca, El Cajon CA

(Hopmata IPA) is quite possibly the best beer here, if not the best beer ever.

– Brandon, Norco CA

Your stout wins.

– Hillary, La Mesa CA

Hopmata. Best in show. Best beer here.

– Dave, Lakeside CA

I’ve tried five stouts here and yours is the best.

– Adam, El Cajon CA

I’m overwhelmed and humbled.

IMG_8332At one point, as I’m chatting with an old friend, Stuart leans over and tells me to look around. There’s a party in front of your booth! He’s right. There are probably 25 people gathered in front of the Beard canopy, chatting, laughing, fully content, posted up like it’s their own. And that’s just how it should be. Pretty awesome.

By 4:00, my voice is hoarse and I’m ready to pack up. I thank our beer pourer volunteer, Robin, who did a great job. High-fives for Stuart for all his help pimpin’ the Beard.

Load up the truck. Head back to the Beard. Finish up my day with another 6 hours in the tasting room.

By all accounts, it’s a successful first beer fest. Lots of new friends, lots of happy patrons, and two empty kegs of beer.

Check that one off the list.