MANCHESTER - One of the drawbacks to being a small, independent brewery is it's easy to stay that way and go unnoticed among big-name megabrews.
Members of the Granite State Brewers Association tapped their collective resources for "Summer Fest" on Saturday at Arms Park, drawing nearly 1,000 people to sample a variety of beers crafted in New Hampshire.
Bill Herlicka, founder of White Birch Brewing in Hooksett and president of the association formed earlier this year, said 29 brewers from across the state were serving samples and chatting with people curious about the differences between particular brews.
"With the growing interest of craft beers nationally and the growing number of breweries in New Hampshire, it seems like we may be reaching an opportunity to work together as an industry to both promote and help people understand that there really is a vibrant, tasty brewing scene in New Hampshire," Herlicka said. "This isn't 29 breweries making 29 versions of the same beer. These are brewers with interests and passions, and they express it one glass at a time."
The entry fee was $30, which bought a cup that people could use to taste everything being served under a large white tent. There, people waited in short lines enjoying the festive atmosphere.
There was no limit on sampling, but Herlicka made it clear to people coming in that anyone who appeared to be intoxicated would be escorted from the festival.
The weather also cooperated, making the riverside park an ideal place for Southern New Hampshire University graduate student Dana Naurez to unwind after a midterm Saturday morning.
Originally from New Jersey, Naurez said she had discovered India pale ale since she relocated to Derry about a year ago and was pleased with Saturday's assortment of IPAs.
"Before I moved up here, I never really had heard of IPA, believe it or not," Naurez said. "So, basically every table I go to I'm like, 'Can I try your IPA?' And it's wonderful."
The festival's timing was also optimal for Matt DeLand, who was wrapping up a brief tour of New Hampshire and Maine that included hiking, rafting and checking out different brewpubs. When he saw an ad for Summer Fest, he knew where he'd spend the afternoon before his flight home Saturday night.
"I'm flying back tonight out of Manchester, so I decided it would be worthwhile to stop by - and I'm a big craft beer fan.
"This has been a blast," said DeLand, of Silver Spring, Md. "Part of the reason for coming up here was I wanted to hit different brewpubs. I had a map in mind of places to hit in the region. The plan of the trip was to enjoy the beer and brewpubs of this area. Happening to hit this festival was just a wonderful bonus."
Herlicka said half of Saturday's proceeds would be going to the New Horizons food pantry. He said the event was more about exposing Granite Staters to beers brewed locally that haven't had to go through the rigors of shipping.
"I see people having a good time, listening to great tunes and talking to owners of the businesses. This isn't hired hands that don't know anything about the businesses. This is New Hampshire small business," he said. "We're your neighborhood small businesses, and we want you to know who we are."