Drinking with the seasons has become very easy in DC. I like to enjoy a crisp and refreshing beer in the dog days of the summer and warm up with a spiced winter beer in mid-January. However, I am lost in somewhere in the middle in the late fall. With Oktoberfests firmly in the rear view and Christmas beers still well out of reach, I was facing near disaster. To the rescue came Neighborhood Restaurant Group with the promise of an Oktoberfest “only more Novemberier.”
The sun was shining, the cool air warmed up for a day, and the DJ was spinning his favorite 90s slow jams. The perfect day for a few strong ales, harvest brews, and “esoterica.” As is often the case with NRG, the event in the Rustico Alexandria parking lot was near perfectly organized, had smiling faces, and beer and food as far as the eye can see. The cost was $15 which included (10) beer and food tickets and a souvenir glass mug. Also included was a taster size cup of The Love as part of the Suds for Sandy fund drive for Hurricane Sandy relief. This was a clever way to encourage people to donate money but for attendees to also get something to open the drinking.
I made my way through several brews including: Sierra Nevada Narwhal, Boulevard Harvest Dance, Bell’s Bourbon Barrel-Aged Batch 9000, DC Brau and Stillwater Middle Name: Danger, Bell’s Bourbon Cherry Stout, and Founder’s Harvest Ale, among others. The Boulevard Harvest Dance continues my streak of enjoying most all of Boulevard’s offerings since they have joined our market. There was a nice hop presence and a sweet stone fruit and refreshing citrus finish. For dark autumnal ale, Boulevard was able to create great taste without adding extra weight. Bell’s Batch 9000 was on the other side of the heaviness spectrum but it packed a great deep fig and raisin sweetness. The Bourbon barrel aging makes the mouth feel rather viscous and the nose had a lot of oak but I think people could get used to the complexity of the beer.
The surprise of the day was the DC Brau collaboration Middle Name Danger. Saisons are a very trendy brew right now and many breweries are fermenting or aging Saisons with all different flavors. Aging this Saison in Catoctin Creek Distillery Peach Brandy barrels imparted slight oak but great refreshing peach and tropical flavors. Fortunately, there was still a nice alcohol bite and the typical Saison peppery finish. Some of the crowd favorites were Troeg’s Scratch #78 and Kilt Flasher and Danzig Baltic Porter from local darling Devil’s Backbone.
The format of the Novemberfest gave us an opportunity to contemplate the strategies for hosting these large-scale events. Neighborhood Restaurant Group was only a few weeks away from the mayhem of Snallygaster at Yards Park near the upcoming Bluejacket Brewery. It goes without saying that NRG has had some massive events in the past; Rustico parking lot, SAVOR events in ChurchKey, and glassware giveaways elsewhere. Even larger than these events are some of the events hosted by neighborhood groups (Shirlington Oktoberfest and National Harbor tasting events), Living Social block parties, and other parties. The latter events often operate as an "all you can drink" or other open formats. NRG is then testing the waters on how people will react to pay as you go formats. Some of these beers push the $10+ mark per full size pour.
In an effort to allow people to try different beers at a more reasonable price, this event implemented Churchkey’s excellent strategy of offering 4 oz pours for a lower price. The risk of these expensive beers is also to bet that people will not mind drinking high end and rare beers in a parking lot. For my money, it worked. Even though people could buy entry at the door, the pre-registration process helped Rustico get an idea of how many people may show up to the event. It also gave attendees reassurance that the event would not be overcrowded. The quality and expense of the beers generally ensured that attendees would be serious about beer, serious about enjoying an alcohol-fueled event responsibly, and serious about enjoying day outside and respecting fellow attendees who wished to do the same.
The event only had several hundred attendees and had great atmosphere but was not crowded. One other potential challenge this format avoided was the attitude of people working hard to get their money’s worth. The few dollars (outside of the value of the mug and the tickets) that might be considered a cover charge helped control the crowd. Finally, the pay as you go model helped NRG completely control the event. No one could complain that they were being scammed, as one might claim during a high priced pre-pay model. The conclusion one could take from this is that charging small registration or RSVP fees, offering different sized drinks for different prices, and having abundant space will help lead to a successful event. NRG organized an excellent event and I hope these attributes help serve as a model of a highly organized yet fun and seamless large-scale event.