Thursday, November 05, 2009

George-A-Palooza (a.k.a. Oktoberfest 2009)

So this blog entry is a bit late, but worthwhile nonetheless. We had our first ever Oktoberfest on October 3rd of this year. Technically, last year we had a little shin-dig at the brewery, very low key, but still fun. All year afterwards we had this ongoing debate…are we ready to do a bigger version, or should we wait a year. With 6 weeks to go, on a trip to Toronto with Rob, we had a moment of intense optimism and decided the time was right.

In retrospect, it probably wasn’t, but once you commit, you have to deliver. 6 weeks is not a lot of time to put together a large scale event; but on the other hand, we work a lot harder than average folk, so maybe it was just right. At any rate, we had to find a location, food, entertainment, costumes, work out transportation logistics, print tickets, signs, posters and figure out how to get the word out.

Food wasn’t too hard. We’ve got great relationships with amazing restaurants and chefs, so we started calling them up. Entertainment was kindof tough, but we got lucky that some of the better oompah music wasn’t booked that night, and through other personal relationships we worked out a really cool homebrewing demonstration, kids activities, a keg tapping ceremony and obviously brewery tours and haywagon rides.

Then came the stoke of great luck. My friend George Eaglesmith said he would be coming. George is about the most enthusiastic brewer in the planet and if he was coming then certainly the stars and the moons had aligned and things would be good. Next I heard from Alan McKay of the Members of Barleyment that the other George (Wendt, that is) was doing a promo tour of his upcoming book Drinking With George. Better yet, Alan had been in contact with George’s PR firm about an interview for his Bodensatz website and had actual contact info.

This is where I came in. After about 300 emails and a dozen phone calls, I convinced George and his manager and his PR firm that he should attend our Oktoberfest. His schedule was pretty tight – Cincinnati Oktoberfest with ½ million people, Great American Beer Festival (awesome event if you are lucky enough to get tix before it sells out), and then the Colbert Report. The next morning a flight into Ottawa and boom – this is really happening, George Wendt came to Vankleek Hill.
Oktoberfest itself is a non-stop blur of work and excitement. We were pretty overwhelmed by the numbers of people that came out – we had expected 1,000, hoped for 1,500 and publicly said as many as 2,000 might show up. When 5,000 people arrived we couldn’t believe it.

While the food lasted it was fantastic. The bands were great. George Wendt stayed for an extra 2 hours to make sure everyone got an autograph. And all the homebrewers were excited that a professional brewer named George was so enthusiastic about their set up.


Well, in truth, the beer line ups got out of control for a couple hours and we did run out of food (until the pizza shops in town could start delivering), but 99% of the people who came told me afterwards they had the time of their lives. 1% of the people were very clear that they did not (see comments of long lineups and running out of food).


Anonymous said...

It was awesome Steve! Of course there would be glitches, but every great event needs to start somewhere, right?

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed Oktoberfest. We didnt really know what to expect. The beer and food was great and by the the time that the lines got silly we had had enough. Congratulations on putting together some outrageous fun.
Next year I would suggest something indoors. Reduce the lineups by including a plate of food with the admission ticket and get a good ompah band that would encourage dancing.