Despite pandemic, Kennett Square’s Backyard Brewfest a sold-out success

KENNETT SQUARE—While many beer festivals—from the Oktoberfest in Munich to other prominent local festivals—cancelled their events this year, organizers of Historic Kennett Square’s 23-year-old Brewfestwere determined to find an alternative.

Not only is the Brewfest the single biggest fundraiser for Historic Kennett Square (HKS), the nonprofit whose programs include the Kennett Square Farmers Market, Third Thursdays, KSQ Restaurant Week, and a variety of holiday programming including the tree lights on State Street, but it has also become a well-loved community event.

The passion and dedication of local architect and “Brewfest King” Jeff Norman have fueled the Brewfest for over twenty years. Under Norman’s leadership, the Brewfest committee crafted a safe, successful—and sold out—“Backyard Brewfest” solution for 2020.

“We worked hard to retain some of the key elements of the regular Brewfest,” says Norman. “First and foremost, of course, is the beer. We’re proud to support local and regional craft brewers, andBrewfest ticket buyers know they can expect high quality, great variety, and a chance to taste newly released and limited-edition beers.”

But the Kennett Brewfest is about more than the beer. “It would have been easier to sell regular cases of beer as a fundraiser, but what we were able to offer with these unique mixed cases was a kind of do-it-yourself kit for a safe version of the Brewfest celebratory experience,” Norman says.

Backyard Brewfest ticket buyers had the choice of two specially curated, limited-edition cases, each featuring 24 cans from 24 different breweries. A small army of masked volunteers gathered at the back of Waywood Beverage on Thursday evening before the event to assemble the 1,000 mixed cases. “We’re incredibly grateful to Jeff Williamson and WaywoodBeverage for all of their support over the years, and for their willingness to work with us on this unusual pivot this year. The Brewfest couldn’t happen without them,” says Norman.

The Backyard Brewfest also generated excitement and gratitude among the 48 participating breweries during this challenging time, and they crafted unique brews in some beautiful cans to debut in these mixed cases. One brewery representative, Tasha Laurenson of SingleCutBeersmiths, even came along last Saturday to help with the case pick up. “I’ve loved coming to this event for over ten years now and I didn’t want to miss this,” she said. “I’m so happy to be here.”

“Our festival is so much about community, this pivot made the most sense to us,” says HKS Main Street Manager Claire Murray. “The brewing community provided amazing beer for our crazy idea during a pandemic. The community embraced it too, and we sold out in eight days. We’re grateful not only to the brewers, but also to Waywood Beverage, to Genesis HealthCare for the use of their facility, tothe amazing Brewfestcommittee that puts in countless hours, and to all of our fantastic volunteers.”

Thanks to these volunteers, the case pick-up in the Genesis lot on South Broad Street on Saturday went smoothly, and many masked drivers leaving the Genesis parking lot with their cases safely stowed in their trunks rolled down their windows just enough to offer thanks and congratulations on such a seamless process and completely contactless operation.

“I thought I’d be waiting for a long time,” said one man, “but I was in and out in four minutes.”And, as another ticket buyer proved, it’s even possible to carry a case of beer on a motorcycle.

The beer-loving community wholly embraced the idea of holding their own events in their backyards with small gatherings of family and friends, and Historic Kennett Square is creating a video featuring some of these celebrations. While Norman lamented that the sunshine, beautiful blue sky, and crisp fall temperatures last Saturday would have been absolutely perfect weather for “the real thing,” everyone agreed that the Backyard Brewfestwas a great solution under the circumstances.

Historic Kennett Square (HKS) has been very active serving the small business and wider community throughout the COVID-19 crisis, with initiatives including the Small Business Response Fund and building the parklet on West State Street. The HKS team is also working on some exciting plans for the holidays in Kennett Square, according to Executive Director Bo Wright.

“HKS is a small 501c3 nonprofit, and our funding has been affected significantly by the pandemic too,” Wright said. “We’re grateful to Jeff Norman and his committee, to Waywood Beverage, and to everyone who helped with the event and bought tickets. That support is critical for us.”

What’s next for Historic Kennett Square’s creative Brewfest team? “We’re already planning a unique twist on our Winterfest event for February,” says Norman. “We’re telling everyone to stay carefully tuned in, though, because last year’s Winterfest sold out completely, and the Backyard Brewfest cases were gone in days.”

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