It was a perfect day for baseball Saturday at Tacomas Cheney Stadium but the crowd was in the outfield, not in the stands.
They werent shagging fly balls or guarding the warning track. Instead, the thousands gathered there were sampling the best that the regions craft breweries offered at the fifth annual Tacoma Craft Beer Festival.
The fest was not a celebration of sport but of the skill and inventiveness of the regions burgeoning craft brewing industry. Some 75 brewers were among the dozens of exhibitors that lined the outfield wall with tents merchandising the product of their art.
There are bigger brew fests in the region, but none that pack more activity into a single day, said Bennett Thurmon, the festival director.
At the end of the day, festival organizers expected some 6,000 people to pay the $30 admission to the fest. Thats about four times the 1,500 who attended the first fest in 2009 on the Thea Foss Waterway.
The fest has grown steadily both in breweries participating there were about 40 that first year and in public attendees.
The fest this year benefitted the American Heart Association and the Emergency Food Network. All proceeds after expenses will go to those two nonprofit groups. Over the first four years, the fest generated more than $50,000 in donations to public charities, said Thurmon, head of Union House Productions, a Tacoma company that produces the event.
The fest has grown so steadily that the producers sought a new venue this year. The waterway park where the fest was held last year didnt have the capacity or the parking to grow.
The Rainiers (Tacomas baseball team) invited us to use Cheney Stadium, said Thurmon. We think its an ideal venue. The stadium is ringed with fencing, making it easy to keep underage or unpaid participants from sneaking in. I used to have to rent about 1,800 feet of temporary fencing, said Thurmon. Now thats not a concern.
Likewise, the stadium is equipped with restrooms, parking and concession stands designed for large crowds. The stadium was charging a $10 fee per vehicle to park Saturday.
Staging the event takes months of planning and considerable expense, said Thurmon. When the bills are totaled, we will have spent about $140,000 to stage the fest, he said.
The festival pays for all of the beer and wine dispensed. Washington law doesnt allow the brewers to hand out free samples.
The admission fee includes a small sampling glass and 10 tokens to trade to the vendors for the brews. The success of the Tacoma fest has attracted vendors from as far away as Missouri.
Henry Desmaris, regional marketing manager for Boulevard Brewing Co., a Kansas City craft brewer, said Boulevard came to the fest as part of its effort to broaden its marketplace to the South Sound.
The brewery, the 12th-largest craft brewer in the country, distributes its products in 25 states.
For Todd and GiGi Vasko, former Kansas City residents now living in the South Sound, the Boulevard Brewing tent was a welcome sight.
Weve sought out Boulevards beer wherever we go, said GiGi. Theyve found the beer in a few specialized markets locally.
Todd Vasko, a real estate developer and manager, said he sat on the Kansas City committee that approved tax increment financing for the brewerys expansion.
Its good to see theyve made the best of their opportunities, he said.
In addition to dozens of Washington brewers, a big contingent of breweries came to Tacoma from Oregon. Kevin Clark was representing Eugenes Oakshire Brewing.
Like Boulevard, Oakshire is broadening its geographic reach. Clark said the brewery has participated in a score of brew fests in the region, introducing potential customers to its products.
In addition to breweries, the festival featured a handful of cider makers and even a winery, Woodinvilles Piccola Wine Co.
Frank Huber, Piccolas sales manager, said some of the attendees appreciate a change of pace.
Some spouses or friends of fest participants might not be beer aficionados. They gravitate to his tent for a taste of his wine on tap.
The Woodinville winery supplies wine in stainless steel kegs to restaurants and bars. The kegs keep the wine fresh for up to six months; reduce the waste from bottles, corks and labels; and cut costs for retailers. The kegs reduce the ecological impact of wine distribution, said Huber. Piccola also sells its wine in retail totes that hold the equivalent of two 750-milliliter bottles.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663