Published: Tuesday, June 05, 2012, 8:35 AM     Updated: Tuesday, June 05, 2012, 8:58 AM

Lawrence F. Specker, Press-Register 
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ORANGE BEACH, Alabama -- Crafting a good beer is often about striking the right balance. The same goes for designing a beer festival, according to one of the organizers of the Top of the Hops event coming to the Wharf in Orange Beach this weekend.

With a beer, the main components are the bitterness of the hops and the sweetness of the malt. (It only sounds simple.)

With a festival, said Jay Wilson of Red Mountain Entertainment, it’s largely about balancing the exotic against the accessible.

“We do these events to try to include everyone,” Wilson said. “We’re not just looking to have 150 of the weirdest beers you’ve ever heard of, just for the beer snobs.”

The fact is, you can count on some novelties designed to provoke the palates of dedicated beer scholars. At past festivals, Wilson said, he’s seen limited-edition brews flavored with unusual ingredients such as coconut and peanut butter. A cask beer garden at the Orange Beach fest will feature a special Good People Pale Ale made with orange peel.

The overall goal is that the festival should help any beer lover, no matter how experienced, expand his or her palate a bit.

“We don’t want somebody to feel like, oh, this is just for beer snobs,” said Wilson. “For the guy that is moving out of the Miller Lites of the world and is starting to experiment with maybe Sweetwater or Blue Moon or some of those kind of things, there’s plenty of that stuff to go around too.”

“We do these in eight or nine different cities around the country,” he said. “So we’ve gotten really good at challenging the distributors to go out to their various suppliers and try to come up with something that’s not just paint-by-numbers.”

Top of the Hops Beer Festival


4 p.m. Saturday, June 9, on the marina lawn at the Wharf, 23101 Canal Road in Orange Beach.

Tickets: $34.99 general admission. VIP tickets are sold out. Designated drivers will be admitted free with general admission ticketholders. Available at Maggie’s Bottle & Tail, the Wharf box office and through Ticketmaster. For phone orders, call Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000; for information, call the box office at 251-224-1020.

Transportation: According to organizers, local taxi companies will be made aware of the event in advance and taxi service phone numbers will be listed prominently in the festival guide. “Ride for $5” will be available for a flat rate of $5 in the Orange Beach city limits; call 251-981-1658.

Note: Patrons must be 21 or older.

Birmingham-based Red Mountain has been at this for three years, and has put on well over a dozen Top of the Hops events. While they’ve had time to hone their game plan, the festival taking place at the Wharf on Saturday, June 9, will not simply be, pardon the expression, a canned event in a new location.

For one, it’s taking place on the Wharf’s Marina Lawn, rather than a generic arena environment.

“Of all the locations that we do, I would say this is one of the most beautiful,” Wilson said. “It’s on a nice, flat grassy area, it’s going to overlook part of the marina at the Wharf. It’s going to be a nice, picturesque place to have a beer fest.”

Beer-tasting patrons will find four separate beer gardens, each offering sample tastes from a dozen or more suppliers, Wilson said. Other attractions include games, live music from Ryan Balthrop & Friends, and “Brew University” sessions offering information on beer-related topics.

The perks open to VIP ticketholders include a VIP Lounge where they’ll also have access to a selection of signature dishes from seven restaurants at the Wharf, each offered with a beer pairing. Red Mountain announced late Monday that VIP tickets were sold out.

Patrons must be 21 or older. Designated drivers will be admitted free with ticketholders, and organizers strongly encourage patrons to give some thought to their post-fest travel plans. (A “Ride for $5” service also will be available, offering transportation within the Orange Beach city limits.)

Wilson said that ultimately, a beer festival isn’t just about sipping — it’s also about the discussion that comes afterward.

“We spend a lot of time watching people,” he said. Particularly when a group tastes something that inspires different opinions.

“Some people hate it, some people love it, and they’ll sit there and go back and forth about why,” he said. “And that’s exactly what we want to happen.”









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