Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Animal magic

Here’s something to put on your radar: A spring craft beer festival at the Turtleback Zoo in West Orange.

This is very much still in planning stages, but a Friday evening in late May is being targeted, says pointman Bryan Flynn, a member of the Turtleback’s board of trustees and a former sales rep for Blue Point Brewing (Long Island).

A few things continue to be worked on and a brewery lineup still needs to be set. Bryan says organizers want to capitalize on the trend of paring beers/breweries with food/restaurants (think Savor, that food-and-craft brew event kicked off last year in Washington, D.C., by the Brewers Association, or closer to home, the annual Brewers Plate event in Philadelphia).

This is exactly the direction beer events in New Jersey need to go, especially when you consider the push to get the beer-drinking public to view craft beer and fine food as a natural combination. (Plus, there’s a reason Eric Asimov of the New York Times wrote a piece headlined “Overcoming a Frat Party Reputation.” That was two years ago, and it’s still on the Times Web site, not the paid, database archives.)

New Jersey sorely needs an event that can both showcase the finer points of craft beer and raise the bar for Jersey beer festivals in general. The dominant festival right now is not the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild event, but the Atlantic City beer fest, which has sadly, over the course of three years, turned into something akin to a drunkfest. (A harsh criticism, yes, but it's true.)

So a Brew at the Zoo event holds a lot of promise for the state's beer image. Organizers hope to draw brewers from six or seven states and potentially some brewing industry luminaries. Like the beer and food trend, an event at Turtleback Zoo would also capitalize on a wave that unites zoos and beer festivals as fundraisers or ways to boost attendance. (Zoos that have partnered with beer include Baltimore; Denver; Columbus, Ohio; and Louisville, Ky., to name a few.)

Cool Jerseyana item:
The Turtleback Zoo’s black bear exhibit simulates a living room with a view of the outdoors, which is pretty much the natural bear viewing experience for residents of northwest New Jersey who quite often glimpse bears ambling through their yards.

NOTE: The artwork above is something we created; it's not from the folks trying to put together this festival.

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