Northdown Café and Taproom co-founder Kate Gallagher worked with veterinarians for a decade before opening the eatery with her husband Tom Lee, and the couple have three cats and two dogs of their own. So it made sense to combine their connections, craft beer and cats, when they wanted to launch a fundraiser at the Chicago restaurant and bar.
“We have the space, a great regular customer base that loves craft beer and relationships that could bring everything together,” says Gallagher, who hosted the second annual Lions, Tigers and Beers benefit in June.
A number of craft brewers created unique beers for Northdown’s event, which raised more than $10,000 for The Wildcat Sanctuary, a non-profit, no-kill shelter for big cats in Sandstone, MN. The draft list for Lions, Tigers and Beers featured 50 beers, including aptly named selections like Cat Sip from Chicago’s Off Color Brewing and Urine Trouble, a collaborative effort from Indiana brewery 3 Floyds Brewing Co. and Minnesota-based Surly Brewing Co.
“By putting together arguably one of the most diverse and rare craft beer lists, we know people will attend,” Gallagher says. “Whether attendees are cat lovers or not, they love beer.”
Beer aficionados also tend to be enthusiastic about trying new brews while also being loyal to their favorite breweries. Organizers should tout the beer list in advance and find a space that’s well suited to the event. Craft beer lovers will attend an event in droves if it’s publicized and offers an ideal spot to enjoy new brews and old favorites.
“Generally, craft beer drinkers are a very knowledgeable, excited and loyal bunch,” Gallagher says. “If you provide them with a great beer list, plenty of notice and information about the event, and a great, comfortable, friendly space to enjoy beer, they’ll come out!”
The laid-back atmosphere craft beer creates also encourages novices to try something new. After all, beer doesn’t have the intimidation factor of fine wine, but can be just as sophisticated and swank. Event planners can feature a single unique brew, add a couple of the clients’ favorites to the bar list, offer tastings of a variety of craft brews or even pair beer with food.
“I would say the best advice for event planners would be to find a product similar to what the client prefers or, if they already have a favorite craft beer, go with that,” says Krystal Logan, associate banquet manager at Kirkwood Station Restaurant & Brewing Co. in Kirkwood, MO. “I think the possibilities with craft beer at events are endless.”
No matter how they incorporate the trend, event planners playing up the craft beer connection should be knowledgeable about the beers they are offering, experts say. They should make sure the brews are true craft beers rather than craft-style offerings from big-named brewers. Local breweries are often a great place to start since brewers are looking for ways to promote their brand, can offer detailed information about their product and can often provide a plethora of support for events, especially if they sign on as co-sponsors.
“Not only do the co-sponsors throw their name and support behind the event, but they also help us ensure a great crowd by supplying rare beer and unique raffle prizes,” says Gallagher.
That’s one reason event planners shouldn’t be concerned about the cost of craft beers. Local breweries are frequently willing to negotiate with event planners in the area in order to build their brand. What’s more, many clients are willing to pay a premium for unique offerings and experiences and true beer connoisseurs see it as an investment in a good time and a good product.
“I don’t think event planners should be concerned at all about cost,” says Logan, whose brewery-restaurant offers its own space for meetings and events as well as catering services and about a dozen of its brews on tap. “As an event planner myself, I think it makes the events more unique, and the beer truly is at a great price. Not only do you get your money’s worth, you are also supporting your local economy.”