Finding a niche for a first-time beer festival is no easy feat. Organizers need to hit upon a concept that captures some element of the current zeitgeist, while also dealing with a lack of brand recognition for a festival whose name or production company are unfamiliar to attendees. For the same reasons, it’s difficult to get the most hyped and desirable breweries to attend a new festival, just as it’s hard to book popular bands at a first-year music fest. On some level, if you’re trying to start a new festival from scratch (especially in a city with no shortage of fests), the deck is stacked against you.
Enter, Modern Hops and Atlanta’s upcoming (March 31) Day of the Juice charity festival. Rather than simply replicating the format of one of Atlanta’s more established beer festivals (which are numerous), this indie craft beer distributor is doubling down on a more esoteric concept—a showcase of juicy (and mostly hop-forward) beers from a collection of well-curated, buzzworthy, but relatively smaller stature breweries. Yes, it’s a festival of hoppy, hazy and juicy … but without a Tree House or Trillium in sight. Rather, the focus is on younger breweries striving to be the next Tree House or Trillium.
Considering this fest is happening in Paste’s backyard, I was able to sit down for a short chat with one of the organizers, Michael Lowenberg, Modern Hops’ “flavor chaser extraordinaire.” Fun fact: After hearing him say those words, I inquired if that’s the title that appears on his business cards. As it turns out: Yep. It certainly is. Lowenberg is one of four partners in the indie distributor, along with co-founders Eric Levin and Barrett Hoard, and partner Philip Barnes, all of whom are working to make Georgia’s first brewery-hosted festival a reality. Modern Hops also collaborated with the founder of festival sponsor Craft Connect, Elias Spartis, to create the brand direction and artwork.
Paste: How would you describe the heart of the concept behind Day of the Juice?
Michael Lowenberg: Okay, so the initial idea [Of Eric Levin’s] was to have a festival unlike anything that had been done in the Atlanta area before. We wanted to do three things: Bring in beers that people here have never had unless they were traders; do the festival for a charity; and host it at a local brewery. (Ed note: The festival is being hosted at Atlanta’s Monday Night Brewing Garage)
Everyone wanted to have a very IPA-focused festival from the beginning, although when I became a partner I sort of talked them into opening it up at least partially to other beer styles that fit the “juicy” theme. In total, we’ll probably have just over 40 breweries. They’ll be presenting everything from west coast IPAs and pale ales to juicy IPAs, hazy IPAs and lots of milkshake IPAs. You’ll also see some barrel-aged sours, Berliners, goses and other styles that work well with fruity and juicy flavors. In general, we want to clarify that it’s not JUST an IPA-exclusive festival, it’s a showcase of IPAs and also a lot of palate breaks. We’ll also be premiering a special one-off from Superstition, the world’s #1 rated meadery.
Paste: Who are your charities?
Lowenberg: There’s two charities, the Polycystic Kidney Disease Foundation and the Georgia Transplant Foundation. Eric Levin, one of our founders, has had a kidney transplant, so those charities are pretty close to home for Modern Hops as a whole.
Paste: Alright, let’s talk about some breweries. I feel like there’s a common thread between the listed brewers in that they’re sort of smaller breweries that still all have really buzzy reputations for making sought-after IPAs.
Lowenberg: That’s the idea, to bring in elite IPAs from small breweries. We’re all beer traders here, so we went after some favorites we’ve had in our trades or places we’ve visited in our travels and invited them to join the festival. A lot of them are places we’re just excited about as beer nerds, and they’re things you can’t go out and buy at the store in Georgia.
Paste: Naturally, we got excited seeing Triple Crossing from Richmond, VA in attendance. They were the breakout stars of our 176 DIPA blind tasting in October, putting two beers in the top five.
Lowenberg: Yeah, we’ve had a few of their beers and some collaborations they’ve done, and they’re all amazing. There’s so many good ones on the list that it’s kind of overwhelming.
Paste: That’s sort of what struck me—they’re all breweries I’ve read about, or that Paste has written about, but not necessarily ones I’ve ever been able to try. Two of those that I want to try are Narrow Gauge Brewing from St. Louis and Old Nation Brewing in Michigan, for instance.
Lowenberg: I’ve had a couple of the Narrow Gauge ones when they were just doing crowlers, and they were fantastic. It’s the same with Second Shift, which is also in St. Louis—I feel like they’re doing things sort of similar to what Heist Brewery is doing, these really beautifully hazy, juicy IPAs. Old Nation Brewing in Michigan meanwhile, that beer M-43 has totally taken over and redefined the IPA game up there. Each of these breweries tends to be setting the trends in their own area.
Paste: What other breweries strike you as potential show-stealers?
Lowenberg: I would keep an eye on Equilibrium Brewery from New York; they’re doing some great stuff. We’re really hoping that the whole lineup will have sort of an underground vibe for hops, like you’re in the know. It’s like the underground scene around some obscure ‘70s horror movie or something, which is sort of the inspiration that went into the event poster.*
*designed by Craft Connect’s Elias Spartis.
The poster in question.
Paste: I actually meant to ask about that, because weird genre movies are sort of my specialty. Is it a riff on that late ‘70s movie The Swarm with the killer bees?
Lowenberg: Correct. I can’t believe you know that. Nobody has pointed that out but you so far.
Paste: I know my shitty horror movies. It’s a prominent entry in Michael Caine’s notorious fallow period.
Lowenberg: Well, we have a great graphics guy who helped us personalize that poster to Atlanta, putting in some of the monuments like Peachtree Plaza, the Atlanta Hyatt UFO, the new stadium, the Varsity and other stuff. I don’t know if you noticed the Marta bus, but I’m particularly proud of that.
Paste: As well you should be.
The Day of the Juice takes place from 1-5 p.m. on March 31st, at the Monday Night Brewing Garage in Atlanta. Tickets are on sale now, but going fast.
In the meantime, please enjoy the trailer for The Swarm, which is just as bad as it sounds.