Concord Brewing Network fest on tap for weekend
By Lou Fancher
People paying attention to the Bay Area craft beer movement know that innovative beer-making has left the garage, graduated from dorm rooms and gone big time.
One indication can be found March 31, when more than 60 breweries occupy Concord’s historic Todos Santos Plaza to share their hoppy, malt-based wares at the ninth annual Brewing Network Spring Brews Festival. Co-founded in 2005 by Justin Crossley and Jonathan Plise, the Network’s celebration began in Oakland, moved in its second year to Berkeley and for seven years has been held in Concord. This year’s Brews Fest includes food for purchase, two live, locally based bands and tastings from Russian River, The Rare Barrel, Cali Craft, Alvarado St, Allagash, Modern Times, Danville Brewing, Bagby, Jester King, Drake’s, Fieldwork, and more.
In 2014, Crossley and his partners opened The Hop Grenade Taproom & Bottleshop, which combines a beer radio station and craft beer bar. The Brewing Network’s beer-related radio programs broadcast from the downtown Concord location reach 10,000 listeners immediately. People worldwide crawling though the archives to listen to the podcasts bring that number to 70,000.
“We do about two million downloads a year,” says Crossley. “When I started the podcasts, there were less than 2,000 breweries in the United States. Today there’s over 5,000. The Brewer’s Association reports there are two craft breweries a day opening in the country. Craft beer about 15 years ago owned one percent of the market. Now it’s 12 percent.”
Which means enormous change has come to the practice. Crossley says not only have home brewers jumped a tier to launch professional level breweries, the big beer companies are paying attention. The market is becoming so congested that some breweries have consolidated and larger companies like Budweiser are buying them.
“People can think they’re drinking local beer, but it’s actually owned by Bud.”
Fortunately, consumers are savvier. Along with the slow food movement, people want to know where beer they are putting into their bodies is made — and who is making it. Their palettes have also shifted too.
“It’s no longer a fad,” he said. “People grew tired of industrial, American light lagers made with rice. They want craft beers with more flavor, hops, malt. Malt alone increases the flavor 200 percent. Add hops and you have citrus, spice, earth flavors.”
The festival’s success, according to Crossley, is due in good measure to the invitation and warm welcome they received from city officials and the Concord Police Department. “When the Occupy Movement moved into the park we used in Berkeley, they couldn’t guarantee us a spot anymore. The city of Concord reached out and asked us to come to them. We haven’t looked back since.”
Concord Economic Development Manager John Montagh says the Brew Fest introduced Crossley and his partners to the city and “enticed” them to open Hop Grenade, their first brick-and-mortar location. Because the nonprofit festival is entirely organized by Network’s two staff members, run by roughly 70 volunteers and all proceeds go to the Todos Santos Business Arts Foundation, it’s also a boon for the city.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to introduce visitors that come from throughout the Bay Area to local businesses around Concord’s Todos Santos Plaza,” says Montagh. “The festival is a perfect match for Concord VIBE, our initiative geared toward showcasing the city as a vibrant place to live and a destination to enjoy craft beer, global cuisine and entertainment.”
Crossley credits CPD officers with supporting the festival’s responsible drinking mandates. “It’s No. 1 with us,” he says. “The location is two blocks from BART, we offer $5 tickets for designated drivers and police operate our designated driver section. Free water is available to make sure people are properly hydrated. The festival hasn’t had an incident in nine years and that’s how we’d like it to stay.”
This year’s event is again a benefit for the TSBA Arts Foundation, which helps fund the summer music program in Todos Santos Park, as well as youth music programs around Concord.