Beer drinkers united on Friday for the eighth annual Craft and Import Beer Festival at the Jacksonville Arena. The hops-filled festival hosted over 50 breweries and dozens of food and vendor sponsors.
Crowds at the event felt small, which could be attributed to the wave-like method of entry times, the numerous participating breweries or the price tag on the event. The event’s cheapest tickets cost attendees $45, plus the usual “convenience” fee. The budget tickets granted access for three hours and limited food options.
Those looking to leave work early to start their drinking, and get full access to food vendors, had to dish out $85, though beer and food was free and unlimited.
The brewery list featured some heavy hitters in the craft scene – Dogfish Head, Rogue, New Belgium, Terrapin, Sweetwater, Oskar Blues and, of course, all the locals (except Bold City, oddly). But other breweries fell short of exciting – Heineken, Pabst, Tecate, Dos Equis and Yuengling.
The beer lineup was 350 strong with a handful of worthwhile selections, such as Ten Fidy by Oskar Blues, Palo Santo by Dogfish Head and a few wheat beers from Rogue and New Belgium that even this stout drinker could get behind. That being said, many of the available beers could be found at any bar with a decent tap selection.
If you can hold your booze, and have a taste for craft, then the lower price tag was easily worth the cost. If you spent the night drinking Tecate Light, probably not. But a night spent with friends and craft beer is a guaranteed good time.
Advice for next year:
• Get the cheap ticket. Lines move quickly and there are a lot of options, so three hours is plenty of time.
• Hit the Arena’s second floor to start. The base level is all local breweries (which you can really try at anytime).
• Eat before you go. The festival offers free food, but it goes quick and it’s not enough to hold you through hours of drinking.
• Take an Uber. Four ounce shots of beer sneak up on you when it’s unlimited.