DENHAM SPRINGS — Patrons filled the block of Denham Springs’ Mattie Street for the opportunity to taste 24 craft beers, snack on gourmet finger foods and listen to music at the city’s first Brew Block Party.
Organizers said they were pleased with the sold-out crowd for Friday’s event in front of historic City Hall, now a museum.
Jessica Oliver and Amber Dugas, members of the Denham Springs Main Street Community Organization, said they conceived of the Brew Block Party as a way of attracting visitors to the city’s historic downtown area and to raise funds for their organization. The duo said that while numerous events are hosted by the Main Street group, the idea of an evening of beer tasting was something new.
“The goal of our organization is to promote our city’s old downtown district, promote historic preservation and bring economic development to the downtown area,” Oliver said. “We hold events such as our Brew Block Party to get visitors to come to the historic area. … It’s a special place with antique and other shops, restaurants and a very special area in our community.”
Oliver said she and Dugas pondered an event that would attract a different demographic to the historic area before settling on the Brew Block Party.
“We wanted to appeal to a different group of people. … We do a Chef’s Evening in December and hold an event featuring wine, but we wanted to focus on a group of people who maybe were not into those things … thus the idea of a beer tasting … and it is working,” she said.
In planning for the event, Dugas said, they wanted their patrons to be afforded the opportunity to sample a wide variety of beers that were crafted by small breweries. The two contacted Champagne Beverages and Jim Carey Distributors, two of the largest beer distributors in the area, and gained their support for the party. Between the two distributors, 24 craft or artisan beers were offered for tasting.
Dugas said many craft beer brewers contract with the large distributors to carry their products to retail outlets. “The small or craft beer brewer can get a product on the market much easier through an established distributor,” she said.
The popularity of small-batch craft beers is growing at a rapid rate, Oliver said, and more beer drinkers are seeking out locally brewed, especially flavored, beers. The Brew Block Party was designed to appeal to that taste, she added.
Noting that the week of May 17-27 officially was American Craft Beer Week only added to the impetus to have a craft beer tasting party in the city’s historic district, Dugas said.
“It all just came together. … We needed a fundraiser at this time of the year, we needed something new and the timing was excellent … thus, the Brew Block Party. We thought it was a great new idea, and we wanted to stake our claim to it,” she said.
Planners decided to sell only a limited number of tickets to the party and sold out the 250 advance tickets. An additional 50 tickets were offered for walk-up patrons. The party started at 7 p.m., and within a few minutes, the block was filled with beer tasters. Tickets for the event cost $30 for the beer tasting and finger foods, and $15 for those who chose to sample the food only.
Dugas, proprietor of the Taste of Louisiana Café, referred to by locals as TOLA, prepared the finger foods. Oliver is an employee of Pelican State Credit Union, a local financial institution that also co-sponsors the popular Antique Festival Fair Days held twice a year.
Music was provided by the Joel Cooper Rock Show.
Besides the variety of craft beers available for tasting, the bash included a home brew maker, David Sharon, of Baton Rouge. Sharon, busily pouring beer to a throng outside his tent, explained that beer making is a hobby he has enjoyed for about five years. He cannot sell his homemade beer, but after filling out the necessary paperwork for state agencies, he can give it away, Sharon said. Patrons could make a donation to the Main Street organization at his booth.
“This is fun,” he said. “I enjoy seeing people try my beer, and it’s a good chance to help raise money for a good cause. This is a great event.”
At a nearby booth, Justin Fry was busy serving a number of customers. A popular choice among the tasters was Southern Pecan Beer brewed by the Lazy Magnolia Brewery in Magnolia, Mississippi.
“So far, so good. … I think the people are really enjoying the beer tasting, and I think that I have the most popular booth of all,” Fry said. “This gives us a chance to let people learn about new kinds of beer, especially the craft beers being made by small brewers.”
“This is exciting because as we grow, we welcome new types of events,” said Eric Edwards, Livingston Parish tourism director. “We already have successful events such as the Chef’s Evening and the antique district festivals, but we are starting to see a number of small community festivals that showcase what we have to offer in Livingston Parish.
“These festivals usually feature, art, music, food, entertainment and educational endeavors … all things that are important and of interest to our own residents and visitors from all over. We’ve got a lot to offer in Livingston Parish, and events such as the Brew Block Party is one more way to show our historic district while entertaining guests at the same time. This is nice … and it’s good for the city and parish.”