Craft beer festivals are a dime a dozen in 21st-century America. The St. Augustine Craft Brewers Fest is not one of them.
“We’re not a beer festival,” Doug Murr told Folio Weekly. “We’re a brewers’ festival. The festival is to celebrate the brewers and breweries that make the product that we enjoy.”
Murr knows a thing or two about the subject. He and his partner, Courtney, own Dog Rose Brewing Co., one of St. Augustine’s four craft-beer operations. Dog Rose, Old Coast Ales, Bog Brewing Company and Ancient City Brewing have all joined forces for this inaugural event, and they’re not just patting each other on the back. They’ve invited dozens of fellow brewers from across the state to come powwow with peers and give Northeast Florida beer-lovers a taste of their product.
The initiative began with a phone call from the St. Johns County Visitors and Convention Bureau (VCB). The PGA’s surprise decision to schedule Ponte Vedra’s annual golf championship, The Players, in March instead of May meant that the area’s spring break would be that much busier—and pre-Memorial Day May would be that much slower. The VCB envisioned a new festival to pick up the slack and buoy the town’s tourism-heavy economy between the spring and summer seasons.
“They didn’t come to us until December or January,” Murr recalled. “It was an incredibly short amount of time to prepare. But we knew if we didn’t say yes, someone else would, and we’d be watching a pottery or hanging plant festival!”
All four local breweries agreed, and the St. Augustine Craft Brewers Fest was born. The Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park was selected as the spot. “We looked at a few different venues,” Murr explained, “but we all felt that the Fountain of Youth really spoke to our community, its history and its beauty.”
Determined to make this a proper celebration of the craft spirit, festival organizers reached out to their brewer counterparts across Florida. Among the more than two dozen featured breweries are near neighbors like Jacksonville’s Tabula Rasa Brewing and Wicked Barley Brewing Company as well as (slightly) more distant relatives like Gainesville’s First Magnitude Brewing and Longwood’s Hourglass Brewing. St. Augustine’s craft-beer community is rolling out the red carpet for these visiting dignitaries: hotels, shuttle service and VIP tours of the St. Augustine Distillery.
“All of our breweries are gonna leave super-happy,” Murr ventured. “All the participants are being treated well. We’re killing ourselves to create this event, to think of every detail.”
Visitors and VIPs alike will be treated to nonstop entertainment on two open-air stages. Headliners include Firewater Tent Revival, Lonesome Bert and the Skinny Lizards, Paco Lipps and Brett Bass and Melted Plectrum.
Food trucks? Check. The festival is also sustainable. Visitors will sample vendors’ wares in a branded, reusable glass. Keepers of the Coast will be on hand with refillable water stations. Guests are encouraged to bring their own vessels to stay hydrated all day for free.
The Murrs have taken a proactive role in organizing the festival, in part because it benefits one of their favorite local institutions: the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum.
“They do a lot more than lighthouse tours over there,” said Murr. “They give back to the community. They do important archaeological work. We believe in what they do.”
“And we want to create something for our city,” Courtney added. “We want to make our town proud. The opportunity the VCB gave us, that’s huge to us.”
The Murrs opened Dog Rose in October 2017, but they have called St. Augustine home for nearly 20 years. The couple met at A1A Ale Works in the early aughts. That’s where Doug developed his interest in craft brewing. (“Back in ’01, when I started, nobody was trying to be a brewer. People didn’t even know what the f*ck a brewer was!”) The budding brewer was hooked by the combination of hard science and free-flying fancy.
“Brewing beer is like making music,” he mused. “It’s artistic, but there are boundaries. If you’re in a particular key or time signature, you have to stay there and work your way out. So you can do whatever you want—within the boundaries.”
In Doug Murr’s world, whether it’s beer, art or putting on a festival, the most important thing is to see it through: “Our motto is, ‘If you’re gonna do it, do it.’”