By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
No beer was flowing, but more people were getting in line.
The culprit at Eugene’s 13th Sasquatch Brew Fest? A jockey box had run out of gas. “It took me a long time to find a CO2 wrench,” says Doug Fuchs. “Then I found another CO2 bottle. I swapped out the dead bottle for the new one and the beer flowed. It took about a half an hour, but every single person in line was still there, waiting patiently in good humor. Beer nerds are good folk.”
For Fuchs and the rest of the team behind Eugene’s annual one-day festival, that’s what it comes down to: meticulous planning, hauling heavy kegs, on-the-spot problem solving, and above all, trusting in the best of the industry and the public.
Bringing together breweries and cideries, finding a location, arranging food and entertainment, organizing dozens of volunteers, setting a beer dinner, collaborating on a homebrew competition, complying with Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) regulations and drawing in the public is no easy feat. “Beers festivals are back-breaking work,” Fuchs says. But every year the Northwest Legends Foundation (NLF) -- the 501(c)(3) nonprofit that organizes Sasquatch — makes it happen.
It Takes Four Months to Make One Day
Four months of planning culminated in 2015 Sasquatch, held on Saturday, June 6 during Eugene Beer Week. More than 100 kegs — 1,550 gallons — from 50 breweries and cideries poured for more than 3,000 people who braved temperatures rising above 90 degrees to celebrate craft beer at the Hop Valley Tasting Room. For Fuchs, of Eugene-based publicity and marketing firm Flying Ink Media, it was not only a celebration of the craft beer industry; it was another year commemorating a renowned figure in the local brewing community.
“Glen Falconer was a dear friend,” says Fuchs. “I met him during the first employee meeting just before Steelhead Brewery opened in 1991. Glen was the first assistant brewer. I was the first head bartender. Glen and I became friends quick and stayed that way.”
The two also worked together at the now-closed Wild Duck Brewery, Fuchs as an assistant brewer and bartender, and Falconer as the head brewer. When Falconer died suddenly in 2002, Fuchs was one of the first to realize something was needed to honor his memory, and Sasquatch was born. Fuchs has served as the publicist and marketing director for the festival since its inception in 2002. In 2014 Fuchs also joined the Northwest Legends Foundation board of directors, and this year became the festival’s brewery and beer coordinator.
Three people are in charge of organizing Sasquatch: Fuchs, John “Chewie” Burgess (operations manager) and Steve Ditmar (NLF president). They coordinate with an event operations board, which manages both big picture and minutiae.
“We start planning in early February of each year,” explains Fuchs. “Working together, we put the festival together in about four months, from February to the first week of June. February through March is mostly planning. April and May are fulfillment.”
Early festivals were held at the now-closed Wild Duck Music Hall, then outside in Kesey Square, moved inside the Hilton Eugene, and then switched venues back outside, first at Ninkasi in 2014, then at Hop Valley this year. “We plan on keeping the festival outside from now on,” says Fuchs. “When the festival is outside, we have a larger footprint, and then can pour more beer and entertain and educate more folks about beer culture and craft-brewed beer. These past two festivals, 2014, 2015, may very well be the largest ever.”
Different venues pose different challenges. “Every year is a learning experience,” Fuchs says, “Since we are pouring an alcoholic beverage outside in public, we have to have permits, oversight, fencing, security, all of which have to come together to make the festival a success.”
The Lifeblood of a Beer Fest
The lifeblood of Sasquatch comes down to two things: breweries and volunteers. All kegs are selected by head brewers and donated to Sasquatch (all proceeds from the festival go to area charitable organizations and to brewing scholarships for institutes such as Siebel and the American Brewers Guild).
Brewery support doesn’t end with the keg delivery though. “Brewers and their employees, representatives, and friends show up early, set up their own jockey boxes, haul their own kegs, ice down the beer, and inform and educate folks that show up to taste their brews,” says Fuchs. “The breweries are the real force behind the festival, and we give each brewery an opportunity to show off their craft.”
Beer fans show up initially to support their favorite breweries, but quickly turn to exploration of other breweries and styles. By providing so many different beer styles to try from so many different breweries, Sasquatch’s broad range provides something for everyone.
Alongside the brewers are 100 volunteers who handle all the big and small tasks on the day of the event. They set up the festival, work front of house, haul ice to keep the beer cold, pour beer, tidy up after the festival closes and show up the next day to clean the venue and break down all remaining equipment. “Volunteers make the festival happen,” says Fuchs. “I am amazed each year at the sweat and work put in by people — sometimes I don’t even know their names — who just make it work.”
As Fuchs and the Sasquatch team come off another year, they are icing their backs and glad to be out of the heat for a while, but the pain has been worthwhile. “Beer culture is an exceptional place with a lot of heart,” Fuchs says. “Eugene is a wonderful place. And the best way to reveal the heart of the community is to ask for help. Eugene jumps right in every time.”
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