Hoping to calm concerns that Sacramento Beer Week had become a rudderless ship even as it grew into a massive event that attracts tens of thousands of people, local beer officials announced Friday the hiring of professional event planner and longtime beer enthusiast Kate Whelan as new director.
Launched several years ago when the city had just a handful of local breweries and few specialty beer bars, Beer Week, usually held toward the end of February, is now considered the most important period in the region’s beer calendar. It not only attracts consumers to scores of special events but also has the potential to promote the Sacramento region as a destination for craft beer tourism.
“Beer Week has grown so much that it has been really difficult to keep our arms around it,” said Glynn Phillips, owner of Rubicon Brewing and a leader with the Sacramento Area Brewers Guild.
Controversy arose during a transition in leadership at the guild. Many involved in organizing events for Beer Week were put on blast in early December by Ken Hotchkiss, owner of Capitol Beer and Tap Room, who wrote a Facebook post wondering what was going on with the event.
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“The website doesn't even have the dates listed for 2017. Who is in charge of this thing? Why are we so behind? San Diego just finished up their beer week and they already have next year’s dates listed on their website,” Hotchkiss wrote.
Response was swift. The website posted the dates – March 2-12 – and guild leaders searched for someone who could pull it all together. They soon settled on Whelan, who is well known in craft beer circles and has owned an event planning company for nine years. She also co-founded HopBroads four years ago with the intention of attracting more women to craft beer culture.
“I am incredibly passionate about beer,” Whelan said. “It will be a challenge this year. I am coming on board to make a difference for 2017 with an eye on making 2018 really amazing.”
Traditionally, Sacramento Beer Week has a major opening event, the all-local Brewers Showcase, and a major brewfest as its grand finale. In between, breweries, bars, restaurants and retailers have been free to create special events, whether it’s an India pale ale tap takeover or an all-sour beer showcase. Several restaurants have started doing special beer-pairing dinners. Many of these events are standing room only, and some sell out in minutes.
The biggest complaint in recent years, as the local beer scene grew from fewer than 10 breweries to 60-plus in 2017, is that the events calendar is unwieldy. Whelan, who has a computer tech background, says a more functional online calendar is a priority for this year’s Beer Week.
Hotchkiss has been frustrated by the calendar in years past and says he’s hopeful change will come.
“I like Kate. She’s passionate about beer. She understands the local scene and she’s in it for the right reasons,” he said. “I have faith in what she can do. It’s whether she is given the power to execute what she wants to do.”
Regarding the calendar, Hotchkiss says he actually would like to see Sacramento Beer Week moved to May, so it doesn’t immediately follow San Francisco Beer Week, as it does now. Such a move could attract more outside visitors and generate more attention for Sacramento, Hotchkiss said.