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blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

When it comes to organizing the beer options for the Ballpark Brew Bash, Consumer’s Beverages art and media director Chris Groves has a few major advantages.

He’s admittedly a long-time veteran of craft-beer festivals—from Boston to California—so he’s witnessed the success and failure of others, storing tips along the way.

Through his job at Consumer’s—which boasts 17 locations and Western New York’s most comprehensive selection of craft beer—Groves has created an expansive network of brewers and both small and large distributors, allowing him to have his finger on the pulse of the craft-beer wave.

Groves and Rob Free, the director of food service operations at Coca-Cola Field, will collaborate on the fourth annual Ballpark Brew Bash between 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday at Coca-Cola Field, 275 Washington St, Buffalo.

Tickets are $35 pre-sale and $40 day-of for general admission, while a limited number of VIP passes run for $75. You can wrangle tickets at any Consumer’s location.

Admission entitles the attendee to 20 tasting tickets, a program and a 3 oz. sampling glass. So, unless you purchase extra tickets for $1.00 apiece, you’ll end up with almost four pints of beer in your system. Don’t fret, because your craft-beer buzz doesn’t have to be tempered—designated drivers can attend the event for $5.

Fifty-eight breweries will all serve at least two beers, but Groves has a bit of a stipulation that will set his festival apart from others.

“We didn’t want the breweries to bring their core beers,” said Groves, who also noted that at most local beer festivals, the vendors choose which beers they’ll bring. “Those [more common] beers can be left for another festival; we want to be a second-level beer festival.

“Sometimes it’s a challenge to get them on board,” he admitted. “They’ll say, for example, ‘But our porter and pale ale make us the most money!’ We wanted to make this different by choosing the beers ourselves, making it an elite event.”

Groves’ preexisting relationships certainly helped sway the decision of breweries, however, and he highlighted a few of the vendors he’s most excited for:

**Brooklyn Brewery: You may have seen the Brooklyn Lager in your craft-beer travels, but the NYC brewery will offer Mary’s Maple Porter, a product of brewer Mary Wiles, who will also direct one of the festival’s four breakout sessions.

The owner of a 500-acre maple farm, Wiles wove her locally produced maple syrup together with her passion for brewing, resulting in a product that is as popular as it is rare. Here’s the Brooklyn Brewery rundown:

Mary’s Maple Porter is a rich, dark ale featuring a large portion of her maple syrup in the kettle. After fermentation by our house ale yeast, the syrup is no longer sweet (yeast likes to eat maple syrup too), but the maple flavor shows through in a complex interplay with caramel, chocolate, and coffee flavors from our blend of roasted malts. An earthy hop note rounds it all out.

These sessions will provide a little more context and history behind the beverages you’re sipping.

**Green Flash’s Green Bullet: A very recently released Triple-IPA from San Diego, Calif., a keg of Green Bullet—the first our area has seen—will arrive at Coca-Cola Field for a 6 p.m. timed tapping.

**The Bronx Brewery: Groves notes that the Bronx Brewery is using the Ballpark Brew Bash as its debut into the Western New York market, and the newcomer’s lineup of pale ales is pretty impressive—a Bronx Pale Ale and Bronx Rye Pale Ale sound ticket-worthy to us.

**Local breweries: Just because Groves has invited brewers from Colorado, Michigan, Vermont, Illinois, California and so forth doesn’t mean he’s omitting local participants. While Flying Bison, Pearl Street and Community Beer Works’ presences will surprise few, the Consumer’s Beverages host adds that Hamburg Brewing Company will bring three beers and Wilson’s Woodcock Brothers Brewery will be on-site as well.

Both hosts noted that the craft-beer vendors will be organized by their home location—Western New York and Central New York beers will find themselves on Coca-Cola Field’s warning track, for example.

While general admission allows visitors to sample these beers and enjoy live entertainment, a full pig roast from Blasdell’s BW’s Smokin’ Barrels Barbecue, a hot sauce challenge from Headstone Heat, local specialties from Charlie the Butcher, Zetti’s and Wardynski’s, VIPs receive even better treatment.

Housed in Pettibones Grill—which overlooks Coca-Cola Field—the VIPs will be treated to even more obscure beers than what’s allotted for general admission, as a variety of rare one-offs—usually in firkins—will be present for sampling. The VIP area has a 200-person limit, and full food stations and 20-25 beers—never before seen in Buffalo, Free said—will be in tow. 

For Groves, a barrel-aged Ommegang keg as well as Crooked Stave’s product—certain beers do improve with age, he affirms—are two of the several highlights and surprises to be enjoyed exclusively by the VIP ticket-holders.

If there’s an authority on American craft beer in Western New York, it’s probably the folks at Consumer’s Beverages—who, along with Coca-Cola Field’s staff, are excited to introduce a next-level craft-beer extravaganza for advanced beer lovers.

“We’re in the position and have the expertise to take risks with our beer list,” Groves said firmly. Enjoy the Ballpark Brew Bash on Saturday evening.

(Photos are courtesy of former Buffalo.com freelancer Carrie Scoma from last year’s Ballpark Brew Bash—see the gallery here).

TAGGED: ballpark brew bash, beer, breweries, chris groves, coca-cola field, consumer's beverages, downtown, hamburg brewing company, interviews, rob free, woodcock brothers brewery

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