Bloemfontein’s First Beer Fest! We were there!

When you consider the national craft scene, it’s commonplace to neglect factoring Bloemfontein in. It’s a city that didn’t exactly conjure up images of progress, innovation and great markets. Today, however, you’ll be mistaken to take Bloem out of the running for a cool city and the age old response to the very mention of the place, “Bloemfontein? Yeah I’ve driven through there before on my way to the Cape” is shifting to “I spent an awesome night in Bloem”. Bloem even sports its own nightlife and music blog, creatively dubbed BloemFunTown. This is because of a growing appreciating for craft goods, sexy beards and, of course, the occasional great party…at the heart of all this lies a joint called No 16: Stoep and Beer Garden.

No 16, opened over a year and has been providing Bloemfontein with the best burgers and beer ever since. On Saturday, we attended what we thought was Bloem’s first beer fest (Apparently there was a trial fest a year ago) and it was great. While there’s of course always room for improvement especially in such a new environment, the fest went off well and boasted things we haven’t seen in other fests before like activities and food for the kids, brewers from around the country and even a local Bloemfontein brewery…yup, there is one. It’s called Stellar and they make amazing milk stout and weiss beers.

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We thoroughly enjoyed it. Unlike the bigger beer fests we attend around the country, this one was intimate, with a touch of familiarity as the regular party goers of Bloemfontein congregating at a new event.

Following the fest, we spoke with Mario Kleovoulou, owner of No 16 to gauge the situation in Bloem and the success of his beer fest and this is what he had to say:

JoburgBrew (JB): It’s 2016 and this is Bloem’s first beer fest? Why did it take so long to get this off the ground?

Mario Kleovoulou (MK): We actually through a beer fest last year but because we were new and relatively unknown, it was difficult to throw a big event so we kept last year’s fest small. It was very successful though and on the basis of that, it was easier to attract more people and more brewers to this year’s event. You’ll be forgiven for not knowing about the event last year because we intentionally kept it small as we were thinking of the long term plan. Now that more and more breweries are becoming aware of us and we’re stocking a bigger variety of beers, we’re able to throw bigger and better fests year on year.

JB: From speaking with the people at the fest, it seems No 16 is the place to go in Bloem for craft beer and burgers…kinda like what Capital Craft is to Pretoria. Do you ever compare yourselves to the big guys in the bigger cities and do you feel that pressure?

MK: When we were setting up, we conducted our research all over and predominately in the Cape. Of course there’ll always be the pressure but we’ve built a really successful brand and the people have come to love our food and beer pairings. We get many locals and out-of-towners in who enjoy our menu and keep coming back so it seems we’re doing it right.

JB: How did the festival go and what was the most popular beer?

MK: The festival went well. We obviously always want more people to attend but the turnout was good and those who did show up enjoyed it. As for the beers, Redrock, Darling and Stellenbrou seemed to be the most popular with my personal favourite, the new local Stellar milk stout, also doing pretty well.

JB: Based on it’s success, will we see more of these festivals in the future?

MK: Sure. To be honest, I’d love it to be bigger but I loved the intimacy of this festival so I’m thinking of doing small intimate festivals on a more regular basis and doing a big one annually. We’re also grateful for the brewers for participating and look forward to having them and more at the next one.

JB: How does it feel to be the ones driving the Bloemfontein craft scene?

MK: It feels awesome! We weren’t the first though. There were other guys stocking craft beer. We focused on creating the full craft experience and turning it into an institution. Bloemfontein seems to love it and those who weren’t exposed to it before seem to be growing to love it too.

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Originally published at Joburgbrew.

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