Sunday, May 10, 2009

Madison's Ohio River Valley Folk Festival veers off course, will pander to swill in 2009.

For the past three years, New Albanian Brewing Company and Upland Brewing Company have happily vended craft beer at the Ohio River Valley Folk Festival along the Ohio River in Madison, Indiana, and I have enjoyed touting the fest as an example of something positive in a world inundated by cookie cutters.

It has been a rare experience, indeed, because there aren’t many such musical events organized under a principle, one expressed at the ORVFF website.

In keeping with the Ohio River Valley's artisan tradition, we proudly offer hand-crafted Beer and Wine from the people who make it. Like the folks who select their wood for a fine musical instrument, these small-production, high-quality vintners and brewers are engaged in the entire process, from the selection of the grain and fruit, to pouring your glass! They are fine examples of regional brewing and winemaking. We're sure you'll agree. Cheers!

The festival takes place next week, on May 15 and 16, and last week we learned that North Vernon Beverage Company has been invited by the organizing committee to sell draft Bud, Bud Light, and a small assortment of other international, mass-market bottled lagers (Corona, Michelob Ultra).

Apparently the decision was made just two weeks ago. The website text quoted above and other information on the Internet remain unchanged.

Upland was notified of the change. NABC was not, and the appropriate apologies have been issued, which I appreciate. Upland asked that no A-B mockrobrews (Shock Top, et al) be brought, and North Vernon agreed. What North Vernon didn’t tell Upland, and what wasn’t known until NABC called North Vernon, was that the wholesaler was planning on permitting Upland and NABC only one tap each, meaning that the festival that bills itself as being about “artisan” traditions would be taking place with two craft beers on tap instead of eight, which was the case last year.

We lobbied our friends at North Vernon (rest assured, they’re far too unambitious to be the “bad” guys in this story) to sell from cold plates, and we expect to be doing so next weekend.

We’ll be bringing non-golden beers so as to offer an alternative, including a special IPA brewed just for the event.

We’ll remember that last year, both NABC and Upland brought pilsners, because we’d been listening to what the consumers had to say, and we planned accordingly.

We’ll be there because we keep our word, remain true to our principles, and wouldn’t let down those who expect us … those who get it.

But know this: I can no longer in good conscience endorse the Ohio River Valley Folk Festival. The committee has made me look bad, and doesn’t seem to get the connection. For me, the banner that appears on the front of the web site unfortunately says it all:

Music, Art, Story Telling, & Food that celebrate our roots and traditions.

Note the absence of the word beer. What would Woody Guthrie say?

Now it’s just another festival, just like all the rest, with integrity reduced to the lowest denominator capable, and all because a very small number of people out there can’t see the relationship between the music they prefer and the liquid in the cup they hold. That’s ridiculous, pandering to indulge it, and if not form my determination to actually keep the promises NABC makes, I'd have no part of it.

For more, go here and read the correspondence between the committee chairman and me.

That's all I have to say. The sadness has nothing to do with money. It has to do with principle. Perhaps someone in Madison eventually can be convinced to grasp it.


Jim and Debbie said...

I've been at the festival all 3 years it's been in existence. While there were a few complaints and requests for "regular or American" beer, there were far more people who said this is good and came back for more. It's funny how the committee doesn't mention those people.

Rick said...

Please play that Craft Brewers Conference video on continuous loop next to the single NABC tap.

bluegill said...

We've attended the festival every year in support of their principled approach. Now that it's finished, we are, too.