Omnivore - HOToberFest returns in August

The popular beer festival returns after a one-year hiatus


  • CL File
  • HOToberfest founders Alan Raines (left) and Tryon Rosser

When I sat down at Wrecking Bar with HOToberFest co-founders Alan Raines and Tryon Rosser last May, they sounded a little disillusioned.

"It's virtually impossible to hit a Saturday where there's not a beer festival," Raines told me. "If you stretch 'em out and don't duplicate 'em, there's a festival about every four days within 25 miles of downtown. We have more beer festivals than any city in the country."

When Raines and Rosser started HOToberFest in 2008, there weren't many festivals like it in the area. But in the years since, as beer culture has advanced, so to have the festivals. Priding themselves on doing something unique, the pair decided to take a year off from what can only be described as one of Atlanta's best beer events.

The event will be reborn as HOToberFest Barrel Aged Ball on Sun., Aug. 16 from 2 to 8 p.m. at downtown Atlanta's Georgia Freight Depot. (The location, it should be pointed out, is wildly convenient to MARTA.) Tickets, which go on sale June 9 via HOToberFest and Xorbia, will be $85 apiece. Only 350 will be sold.

"We saw in 2013 that even after 10 months of planning and focus, we were still not able to plan for everything or focus on the things we truly love, like our VIP area," Rosser says. "Ten minutes before the VIP section opened in 2013, we realized the bottle share a collection of rare beers provided by HOToberFest was a crazy chaotic mess that was completely avoidable if we wouldn't have been running all over the rest of the fest to make sure everything was running as planned. I know people had a great time in the VIP area, but it could have been much better. After reflecting on the event in the months that followed we realized things had to change."

The change that resulted was a drastically smaller festival where everyone is a VIP. HOToberFest Barrel Aged Ball's 350 attendees (the 2013 HOToberFest hosted 3,000 people) will get a tasting glass into which they can pour unlimited 2-ounce samples from barrel-aged cask beers, two hors d'oeuvres made by local chefs (Wrecking Bar's Terry Koval is one, for example.), and access to a "carefully curated, large selection of seasonal, rare, and collectible bottled beers" that will be shared with attendees throughout the festival. There will also be Atlanta food trucks on site. As far as beer festivals in Georgia go, there's simply nothing like what Raines and Rosser are proposing this time out.

Raines says that the new iteration will feature primarily Georgia breweries, including Red Brick, Terrapin, Orpheus, and Creature Comforts. Yet-to-open spots such as Athens' Southern Brewing and Kennesaw's Southern Sky have signed on as well.

"We start with breweries that typically brew beers that are suited for barrel aging, ones that have a success record and we know are going to have fun with this unique opportunity," he explains. "Other factors are considered, but aging experience is key since no one knows what the beer will taste like until we tap the barrels. You cannot easily access the beer in wooden barrels for sampling as it ages, so you need to know your voodoo."

Raines and Rosser have a good relationship with upstate New York's Finger Lakes Distilling, which is where they get most of their barrels, which range from apple and grape brandy to rye and still pot whiskey. Some breweries claim a barrel style early, others take what they're given. The beers will be poured straight from the barrels at the festival.

HOToberFest Barrel Aged Ball will host a fraction of attendees compared to the last HOToberFest at Historic Old Fourth Ward park a couple years ago. This is purposeful.

"Dropping down to basically 10 percent of the original event is major, but we feel that there are plenty of big beer fests in Georgia now and they serve a big audience festival scene," he says. "We want to do a 180 and have a casual tasting where people have the time and space to really enjoy the beers and the great company of peers and brewers."

Pro-tip: If previous HOToberfests and this year's smaller ticket allotment are any indication, this event will sell out fast.

"After seven years of craft beer growth in Georgia, it’s time to create an event that slows the pace and serves the knowledgable and eager-to-learn attendee, the people that are really into the barrel-aged beer phenomenon," Raines says. "We already have commitments from as far away as Vermont and California for attendees. Ours is the only tasting in the country that we know of that serves one-off, barrel-aged beers right from the wood they were aged in. It’s a very unique event."