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'Orangetoberfest' aims to become annual tradition for local breweries

Hundreds of people filled Short Street in Orange on Saturday afternoon to welcome fall and enjoy some of Virginia’s finest craft beers.

The second Orangetoberfest featured 15 breweries, three cideries, food trucks, live music and lederhosen, in what beer aficionados and the Orange Downtown Alliance (ODA) hope will become an annual tradition.

“Orangetoberfest came about because it would be great for local business, great for community and would also help these breweries get their name out there,” ODA president Cameron Hamilton told The Daily Progress. “Like, ‘Wow, that one amber ale was great.’ And you can go check it out later.”

The event was the brainchild of Steve and Zach Speelman, the father-son duo of Orange’s own Iron Pipe Alewerks. Steve Spellman helped put on a similar event in Culpepper.

“It was sort of a no brainer for me. I know what it did in Culpepper and how much it meant to help Culpepper, so I was like, ‘Hey, how do we make this happen in Orange?’” Steve Speelman told The Daily Progress.

Orangetoberfest drew a big crowd despite a last-minute change; the event was originally scheduled for Sept. 23 but had to be postponed due to weather. That kept two brewers from being able to attend, and perhaps limited the number of people.

Zach Speelman said he was expecting upwards of 1,300 people to attend the event before they had to change the date. Still, as many as 1,000 people flocked to Orange on Saturday, with some coming from as far as Kentucky.

It also attracted brewers from Madison, Culpepper, Warrenton, Charlottesville and even Fairfax.

“These are your local crafts. These are guys down in the weeds making beer every day, selling it to tap rooms and trying to make a name for themselves,” Steve Speelman said.

“You’re not going to find them on the shelves of Walmart,” his son Zach, who is in charge of the brewery at Iron Pipe, chimed in.

“The only way to get this beer is to go to their tap rooms, so this event brings it all to one spot,” Steve Speelman said.

Jeremy Sparks and Lorraine Cline made the trip from Culpepper after hearing about Orangetoberfest on Facebook.

They hadn’t tried any of the ciders by the time they spoke with The Daily Progress. They were saving those for dessert.

“But all the Oktoberfest beers that we’ve had out here have been really good,” Cline said.

Their favorite beers were from Random Row, but they also enjoyed Bunnyman, the brewery from Fairfax.

“Oktoberfest is a good time of year for beer festivals and we have a good number of fall options,” Bunnyman brewer Jack Ohman said. Bunnyman has been open for more than two years, and Ohman says festivals are a good way to introduce his beers to new markets.

“We don’t get down here very often so it’s nice to see the other breweries and make connections we haven’t’ made before,” he said.

That’s true for Charlottesville brewers too.

“Charlottesville is a little bit of a bubble,” Peter McMindes of Rockfish Brewery said. “I’d say the question I get the most at these festivals that are a little bit outside of Charlottesville is ‘Where are you?’”

Orangetoberfest helps Rockfish introduce its brews to beer drinkers in the more rural areas around Charlottesville, McMindes said.

“It’s slightly for exposure but also the collaborative part of the industry, helping each other out and supporting each other,” said Scott Burton of Decipher Brewing, another Charlottesville brewer. His Grodziskie beer, made with 100% smoked wheat malt, recently won third place at the Great American Beer Festival.

“Iron Pipe is technically the ones putting this on, and we’re just here to help them and make sure that this is a successful event,” Burton said.

And successful it was.

Hundreds of people wandered Short Street listening to live music and sipping from their five-ounce tasting glasses that were included with the $45 ticket ($35 for pre-sales).

The funds will cover the cost of putting on the event, and whatever remains will be used by the Orange Downtown Alliance to continue its three-pronged mission: economic vitality, beautifying the neighborhood, and putting on fun events for residents.

“We want to bring new businesses into town and help the ones that are still here,” said Zach Speelman, who does promotion for the ODA.

“We’re looking to spur economic development,” Steve Speelman said. “And we just felt that we had a platform that would contribute to a vibrant downtown.”

For the second straight year, the Orangetoberfest has been a win for organizers, brewers and residents alike. Zach Speelman expects it not just to become an annual tradition but to grow.

“Last year after we did it, people all the time would ask, ‘Are you guys doing that again next year? When’s the date?’” he said.

The next question may be what happens if future crowds get too long for Short Street, which Zach Speelman called a personable and intimate location for the festival.

But organizers will have plenty of time to figure that out.

“This is something we want to do every year,” Zach Speelman said.


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