After taking down the big white tents at Esther Short Park this week, Cody Gray deemed his first-ever Spring Brewfest a successful event with staying power.
Gray, who’s taken the lead on organizing downtown Vancouver’s summer beer festivals since 2012, says the two-day event drew more than 3,100 attendees over the weekend. Nearly three dozen brewers, several distillers, a cider maker and a whisky bar set up shop under the tents this time, and Gray’s already making plans for next year’s spring beer festival.
“It’s like any business,” he said. “You just try to make continuous improvements.”
When Gray launched the summer Brewfest in 2012, Clark County was home to only a couple breweries, he said. But the past few years have been somewhat of a booming time for the local beer scene. In the past three years, the number of breweries in the county has increased about eightfold, Gray said.
“Many of them don’t even have a tasting room, they’re so small,” he said. “But they’re looking to grow, and the distributors are starting to realize that.”
In the last few years, downtown Vancouver has welcomed several new breweries, Loowit, Old Ivy, Dirty Hands and Mt. Tabor included. A couple new breweries are also coming soon to Battle Ground and Uptown Village, Gray said.
The fledgling Fortside Brewing Company, in central Vancouver on Andresen Road, launched its beer at the spring Brewfest before even opening the brewery. Plans are in the works to open the doors next month.
Gray expects the growth trend to continue in the coming years as brewers look to open businesses outside the more competitive and expensive Portland market.
“Portland finally got saturated,” he said. “And people are looking around for a market, and they were like, ‘Why hasn’t anybody opened up a brewery in Vancouver?, “
The timing of the spring festival was perfect, Gray said. It coincided with the first day of the new season, the beginning of March Madness and the return of the Vancouver Farmers Market just a block away on the other side of the park. Gray hopes to keep it that way in 2016, if he can.
Brewfest also raised more than $3,000 for three charities: Northwest Battle Buddies, Disabled American Veterans and Second Chance Companions. Since Gray’s first Brewfest three years ago, the festivals have raised more than $20,000 for the charities.
With warmer weather, Gray’s summer festival has been a bigger attraction over the past few years. In 2014, it featured nearly 50 brewers, winemakers, cider makers and distillers.
About 5,600 people showed up last summer, a nearly 18 percent increase in attendance from 2013’s summer Brewfest, Gray said.