Interview : Randy Hayden on the Destin Beer Festival 2012

On June 28, 2012 by Kevin Forde

Destin Beer Festival 2012

When people think of summertime festivals, they probably think of spending the weekend in a mildly muddy field, listening to some patchy sounding music while trying to remain awake for as long as possible. Of course, it’s impossible to stage any successful festival without beer but do we actually need all the extras?  Really, if we were to cut all the chaff away, in a perfect world, we’d probably just be left with the alcohol.

The Destin Beer Festival is just that. A festival which celebrates everything beer related. Featuring stands, brands, celebrities and some sweet delicious beer, the event has become a fixture of the Floridian festival scene. But why listen to me? Instead, let Randy Hayden from Wine World, the organisers of the festival, serenade your eyeballs.

Where did the idea of the Destin Beer Festival come from?

Tough question – kind of . My boss, and owner of Wine World, Chan Cox, began throwing beer festivals (as well as many other festivals, such as the Sandestin Wine Festival) in the area as far back as 1980. More recently, we started a festival at Uptown Station in Fort Walton Beach, named The Greater Gulf Coast Beer Festival. That very event is what spawned the Destin Beer Festival. After our huge success last year we quickly realized we had outgrown, not only the venue, but the area as well. After hearing the outcry and demands of the craft beer [independently brewed beer] consumers in the area we knew that we had to re-locate the event to Destin, the heart of the Emerald Coast, and Destin Commons was the obvious choice.

How has the event grown in the last couple of years?

As I stated above, Wine World’s beer fests have grown over the years but it was about two years ago when the “craft beer movement”  really hit the Florida Panhandle and the Gulf Coast in general. I came down from Atlanta in March 2011 and joined the team at Wine World. Atlanta is one of the major craft beer cities in the United States and I watched the craft beer boom happen there in approximately 2005. As soon as I joined the Wine World team it was clear that we were already the leaders of the craft beer movement in NW Florida, but I knew that the big boom would be coming soon. I observed a few beer festivals in the area and quickly realized we had to make a move.

Every one of the festivals I attended had virtually the same beer selection, all bottled or canned beers, and no real presence from the breweries themselves. I knew what we had to do. With the help of our team of craft beer experts, we threw the first top-notch beer festival the area had ever seen  in Fort Walton Beach at Uptown Station last November. We had representation from almost every brewery that we featured, including very rare and hard to find drinks and an unprecedented 275 different beers. The next closest beer festival in the area had 100 different types. We doubled our attendance from year one to year two of the festival and this year we will easily top that number.

What can people expect from this year’s festival?

This year we will take the festival to the next level with more drinks, more breweries, harder to find and  rare beers and a better venue and time of year. We will have more culinary participation (the food is included in the ticket price this year), a bigger and better VIP area and an overall more upscale feel.

What sort of numbers are you expecting this year compared to other years?

With the location and venue alone we expect to see an enormous increase in attendance. We had nearly 2,000 people attend last year’s event so I’d go out on a limb and say I expect to top 3,000 this year at Destin Commons.

What does the VIP event/element of the festival entail?

The VIP ticket is the way to go. For a mere $50, as opposed to $30 general admission, you get to enter the event one hour early, mingle with the celebrities, brewers and other VIPs in the VIP tent as well as having access to the tent for the entire event. There, you will find complimentary VIP food supplied by Wine World, as well as unlimited access to at least 10 rare kegs, available to VIP ticket holders only. These tickets will be capped. We’ve no concrete numbers as of yet. VIP is the way to go for sure, just ask anyone who attended last year’s event. We had a keg of beer driven across the country from California specifically for our event. This year that very same brewery has invited me to brew a beer with them that will be poured at the event. Yes, VIP only!

How interested is Florida or the US in general in craft beer? We have an image in the British Isles (perhaps entirely wrongly) of the US not being into their microbrewed beer as much as we are over here? 

The US is very interested in craft beer. In fact, craft beer and craft spirits are the two biggest growing segments of the alcoholic beverage industry in the country. People demand more than Miller Lite and Coors today. The cool thing about the beer community is that we don’t care who takes craft beer more seriously between countries, cities or towns, we just want people to support the craft beer movement. I’m not ducking your question, that’s just the honest truth.

Has the attitude changed towards independently brewed beer in your lifetime?

For sure. I’m now 33 but when I was younger, craft beer was just Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams and brands like that. Nowadays brands like that are just as mainstream as Budweiser in many craft beer markets. I didn’t even enjoy beer until I turned 22 and first tried a Sweetwater IPA. All the different beers I had tried, from Newcastle to Guinness , not to mention the Coors and Miller’s of the world, were tasteless and boring. I’ll never forget when Sweetwater Brewery opened in my hometown of Atlanta and I first sipped on a Sweetwater IPA. This huge and complex beer changed my life forever. Most people have a similar story. Craft beer is on fire!

How difficult is it organizing an event like this?

It really takes a lot of planning to make an event of this size happen. We have been meeting about this every other week since February and the initial planning began before that. There is a lot of work and countless man hours that go into an event like this but when Wine World has partners such as Destin Commons, Resort Quest, Children In Crisis, Southern Restaurant Group, Sweetwater Brewing Company, Terrapin Brewing Company and all the other breweries and supporters, it makes the task at hand much easier. We couldn’t do it without our entire team.

How hopeful are you that the festival will become an annual fixture on the Destin calendar?

We expect this event to become THE premier event on the Gulf Coast.

The Destin Beer Festival takes place on October 13, 2012. Check the link for more information on the festival and tickets. If you live outside of the area you can book your holiday to Florida with Kenwood Travel.