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Starting a Homebrew Festival with Hoppy Possum

The Going Pro Article Series brings interviews with homebrewers just like you who took a leap of faith and opened breweries or other businesses in the beer industry! Today we’re excited to share Gavin’s story of how he started The Hoppy Possum Southern Brewer’s Cup – a new kind of beer festival.

Thanks for joining us and congratulations on going pro in the beer industry, Gavin! Our hope is that other homebrewers who are interested in how to create a beer festival can learn from and be inspired by your experience in this process.

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Tell us a little bit about Hoppy Possum!

A Hoppy Possum Beer Festival competitor.

The Hoppy Possum Southern Brewers Cup is a new type of beer festival. Imagine a festival where all the beer is something unique, something you have never tasted before, and likely never will again. It has all the best parts of a beer festival (unlimited samples, fancy tasting glass, exciting new beers, great food trucks and killer live music) but all of the beer is created and served by amateur brewers competing for $10,000 in cash prizes. The Hoppy Possum in Johnson City, Tennessee features only the best amateur brewers from around the country, serving exciting beer, cider, and mead they created. Brewers and their offerings are carefully selected by festival staff to bring you the best and most unique libations.

The event is limited to 75 brewers who can offer up to 3 entries. This means over 150 different beers, ciders, meads, seltzers and more for festival goers to enjoy. Festival attendees pay an entry fee and vote on their favorite offerings, the top 5 beer entries and top 3 non-beer (cider, mead, etc) entries will move on to a final judging panel where the final finishing order is determined. The judging is different than a normal competition, too. No style guidelines, no BJCP judges, just your beer up against that of your peers. Winners receive the following prizes:

  • First place $5,000
  • Second place $1,600
  • Third place $800
  • Fourth place $400
  • Fifth place $200

The top three non-beer entries will be determined by popular vote. Those top three entries will move on to a final judging panel to determine winners.

  • First place $1000
  • Second place $700
  • Third place $300
a Hoppy Possum competitor pouring a sample.

Why did you start Hoppy Possum?

This event set out to accomplish several things that other events do not:

  • A means for amateurs to share their craft and story with the public (which not too many opportunities for this exist).
  • To elevate homebrewing in a way it never has before through truly honoring what these brewers do and awarding them with worthy prizes.
  • Create a festival around the competition and throw out what I never liked about competitions (you just mail it in then get scores back, useful information but no memories made, no experience)
  • Breakdown some of the stigma the general public still has surrounding homebrew.
  • Showcase the talents of brewers to the casual beer drinker so they can see for themselves homebrew is as good and often better than commercial.

What sets Hoppy Possum apart from other beer festivals?

We set out to create a festival experience unlike anything else. One that pulls in the casual craft beer enthusiast and the hardcore/obsessed homebrewer and allows them to interact in a way that does not happen at other comps or festivals. The people’s choice format is very intentional as it encourages brewers to offer experimental, exciting, and off the wall flavor combinations in order to stand out among the field. At Hoppy Possum we want “instagrammable” moments where people get to taste beer they have never tried before, and likely never will again. Homebrewed beer is as good or better than commercial and we are here to showcase the talents of brewers from across the country. 

What is the experience like as a competitor?

Competitors apply to serve and compete at the Hoppy Possum. Applications open early in the year and close in April. Once the application period is closed, event staff review them and make determinations on who will be invited to the event. At the festival, brewers check in, then set up their booth. Brewers always get there with plenty of time to interact with and sample beers from the other brewers before that gates open. It has a bit of a homecoming feel. Brewers that often do not get to see each other catching up, people from across the country meeting each other and bonding over a shared love. It is really a great atmosphere. Once gates open its game on and brewers are serving non stop for about 6 hours. Once tasting is over, the votes are tallied, final judging occurs and then the real fun: awards and cutting checks. 

A group of Hoppy Possum beer festival competitors.

Where can people sign up to attend the next Hoppy Possum festival?

Tickets are on sale now at www.hoppypossum.com and are only $35 through September 18th!

The festival sounds awesome and I think the BrewTogether Crew is going to need to make a trip down to Johnson City, TN in September! We’ll see you all there!

Tell us a little bit more about yourself and the business side of things.

Hi, I’m Gavin! I started brewing about 6 years ago. My friend was brewing an extract kit, I helped and was hooked. I started with a cooler mash tun, propane burner, and kettle. The first thing I brewed was black IPA and it was awful. Between lack of temp control during fermentation and not filtering my tap water, it was pretty undrinkable. I have not brewed a black IPA since. Now I brew on a 2 vessel recirculating electric system and focus on hoppy beers and funky farmhouse ales. I used to brew about twice a month until I took on this new adventure. Now the vast majority of my free time is spent working on Hoppy Possum or our garden.

How did you get started on this project?

Having been a homebrewer for many years, everyone always seems to ask “when are you going to open a brewery?” The idea never really appealed to me but I am very entrepreneurial by nature. I am always looking for a good business idea, and my love for craft beer led me to look for ideas in that market. While I was at another beer festival serving with my homebrew club, I noticed something: the homebrew section was as busy, if not busier than the commercial section of the festival. This got the wheels turning and in 2017 I started researching if a home brew only festival would be feasible, would it be profitable, and would it be legal. Through months of research, I was able to determine the answer to all of those questions is yes and we launched our inaugural festival in the fall of 2019. 

I am lucky enough to work for Visit Johnson City as my day job. I work in sports tourism and have been involved in event management in Johnson City since 2014. This really set me up for success as I already have many great relationships in the community and event management experience needed to host a festival. That is not to say there were no hurdles. With a brand new type of event, there was a bit of a learning curve for several community partners.

What are your goals for the future of the Hoppy Possum?

Right now we are focusing on fine tuning the competition and festival experience. We want to create an event that people look forward to all year and a competition that is really a household name among homebrewers. I think we are well on our way with brewers coming from 12 states and as far away as Washington State. In 3-5 years we will begin looking to bring the Hoppy Possum into other markets. Not all brewers can travel long distances so a Southern Brewers Cup, Northern Brewers Cup, or Western Brewers Cup would make this event more accessible to more brewers. 

What was your greatest success starting Hoppy Possum?

I think the greatest success is the experience I am able to create for brewers. IF they have the opportunity to serve at another festival, they tend to be an afterthought and overshadowed by the commercial brewers and tucked into a low traffic corner. At Hoppy Possum they are the star. There is a VIP section, there is a band, there is a whole celebration around them and showcasing their talents to the public. I think it resonates with them, plus a shot at $10K helps too. 

What was your greatest failure in starting Hoppy Possum, and what did you learn from it?

The inaugural event went so smoothly all day, I should have known I was due for a screw up. During the very last 10 minutes of the event, at the award ceremony I accidentally called out the wrong name. It was hugely embarrassing for me as well as the person I called out. I still can’t believe it happened but I own it, it was a transposition error on my part, and it will never happen again. Lesson learned, have someone double check your work when it’s the end of a 16 hour day. 

What is one common myth about creating a beer festival that you want to debunk?

I think there are a lot of misconceptions about event planning and promotion in general. I plan events every day as my full time job and it is still a huge challenge. There is no formula, planning an event is always a moving target and I think that really trips people up. How you did it last year, is likely not how it is going to go next year. It is not for everyone. 

What is the number one piece of advice that you would give to someone who is interested in creating their own beer/brewing festival?

I would say create something different. Most communities have the run of the mill beer festival. Create something outside that box that gets people excited and moves the craft beer community forward.

Where can people connect with you?

Hoppy Possum is on:

The Hoppy Possum Southern Brewer’s Cup is September 26, 2020 in Johnson City, TN. Tickets are available at www.hoppypossum.com. We’ll see you there!


Thanks for Stopping By!

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