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Suwanee Beer Fest to feature more selection, cooler temps

File Photo Beer enthusiasts Kim Foote, left, and her husband Mike, both of Suwanee, toast each other with samples of Sam Adams beer while attending the 2011 Suwanee American Craft Beer Festival held at Town Center Park in Suwanee.

File Photo Beer enthusiasts Kim Foote, left, and her husband Mike, both of Suwanee, toast each other with samples of Sam Adams beer while attending the 2011 Suwanee American Craft Beer Festival held at Town Center Park in Suwanee.

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In this 2011 file photo, Daren Hoeffner of Suwanee tosses a bean bag while attending the 2011 Suwanee American Craft Beer Festival.

SUWANEE -- Less sweat and more beer choices are on tap for this year's Suwanee American Craft Beer Fest.

The second annual event, which was moved from July to March 31, has already drawn overflowing interest as 200 VIP tickets -- at $85 each -- sold out in less than a month. The event is put on by the Veugeler Design Group, and sponsored by The Beer Growler, a new business which expects to open in April.

Ask anyone who attended last year's inaugural fest, and they describe it in one word: hot. With a busy calendar for events around Suwanee, the beer festival was squeezed into late July. Coincidentally, it happens to be the first major event of this year at Town Center Park.

"We knew after last year that we definitely didn't want to have it in the summer," said Angela Veugeler who, with her husband Randall, puts on the event.

It was Randall Veugeler, a beer hobbyist, who travels to beer festivals, who decided to have one closer to home. He hopes the selection will give the festival more recognition around the Southeast.

The festival will debut at least six new beers, including a Red Ale from BottleTree Brewing Company.

More than 250 beers are expected to be sampled from 101 breweries at three ounces per glass. Kroger chefs will also be on hand to share and demonstrate recipes to make with beer. Representatives from the breweries will also be there to explain details about their beers.

Randall said beer distributors and brewers said the turn of the season gives way to seasonal beers, and beer enthusiasts are anxious to try spring beers.

The Veugelers said they prefer a spring event over the fall because of less competition with other beer fests and college football.

Ticket sales have been strong, and Randall said he expects close to a sellout of 5,000. General admission tickets are $35 in advance and $45 on the day of the event. They can be purchased at suwaneebeerfest.com, at Mellow Mushroom or Beverage Superstore.

One of the new twists to this year's fest is a home brew competition. Two hundred participants were judged in 22 categories and the top three winners will be recognized at the event as "Best in Show." The preliminary competition was narrowed to finalists last weekend. The most popular category was an India Pale Ale.

Robert Carlson, who owns Brew Depot in Alpharetta, coordinated the home brew competition. Carlson said more beers were considered very good to excellent than any other judging category. That meant they fell in the 30 to 40 range on a scale in which the highest is 50.

"Over the years the quality of beers has gotten a lot, lot better," Carlson said. "There used to be some clunkers. (Now) it makes it difficult on a judge."

The home brews were judged by Phil Farrell, a grand master according to the Beer Judge Certification Program, John Roberts, head brewer at Max Lager's and Kevin McNerbey, head brewer at 5 Seasons Brewing Company.

This year, a ticket will be required to enter. Last year, the festival was open, but a ticket was required for a tasting. This time, a designated driver ticket is $10, and only those who are at least 21 are allowed to enter.

The VIP area will open at noon, and feature 13 beer casks that are specially made for the fest, Randall said. The VIP area will also be catered by Cinco, including a menu that pairs food with beers.

The fest will also donate a portion of the proceeds from the festival and the home brew competition to Kingdom Kids, a Gwinnett charity that helps children and families who are fighting diseases, abuse and neglect. Home Depot will sponsor a silent auction of beer related products that also will benefit Kingdom Kids.