Normally Wes Cooper has a four-step process to drinking beer: look, smell, agitate, taste.
But on Saturday, the Burkhardt Brewing Co. craft beer manager wasn’t concerned with formality or explaining which brew pairs best with certain dishes. He was working to make sure everyone at the 17th Greater Gator Beer Festival tasted the range of beers his company makes.
Hundreds of beer lovers walked circles around Magnolia Park in Northwest Gainesville to drink the 100-plus craft beers available to sample at the festival. Some walked around with a chicken wing in one hand and a beer in the other. Others danced with strangers, influenced by high-gravity suds.
Cooper said the purpose of the festival is for beer lovers to be around others who enjoy the drink.
“The experience isn’t to get drunk,” he said. “It’s to taste the beer.”
Cooper brought along a hard cider called Johnny Appleseed that doesn’t hit the market until April 7. A few tasters said they will be first in line to buy a case of the sweet beverage when it’s officially released.
The event’s coordinator, Ricki Black, said the festival almost didn’t happen this year, which would have been the second consecutive year of its absence in Gainesville. She was concerned about this year’s turnout because she said the city didn’t officially approve the beer festival until March 11.
“From then until now, we put this together,” she said.
The late approval coupled with the men’s Gators basketball game on Saturday influenced the low turnout, Black said, but nobody seemed to notice.
About 35 vendors came out and set up tables to display their beers. Everything was poured from bottles only, some of which were displayed in a row. Each person got a 2-ounce pour — double the size of an average shot — equaling one big swish or a couple classy sips. Food and drinks were unlimited, and a cigar bar was set up for smokers.
First-time festival attendee Antonio Gil, 67, said he came out because his son bought a couple of tickets.
A 20-year Gainesville resident, Gil said he was just going down the line of vendors and trying some of everything.
He said he prefers darker beers, and his favorite one so far was the Gladiator porter, so dark that sunlight couldn’t shine through the glass.
However, some preferred old favorites.
After walking around the vendors, festivalgoer Marc Garnett said he’s sticking to his Samuel Adams Boston Lager.
“We’ve done four laps,” Garnett said. “Gainesville needs a lot more of this.”
[A version of this story ran on page 5 on 3/24/2014 under the headline "Beer lovers guzzle through 17th Greater Gator Beer Festival"]
Emily Headrick, left, pours a patron a beer Saturday at the Burkhardt tent. Hundreds of beer lovers attended the 17th Greater Gator Beer Festival at Magnolia Park and received unlimited 2-ounce pours and food with admission. The festival almost didn’t happen this year due to late approval by the city.