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Suwanee Beer Fest offers a taste for all palates

The fourth annual Suwanee American Craft Beer Festival draws a large crowd to the Town Center Park in Suwanee on Saturday. (Photo: Chris Roughgarden)

The fourth annual Suwanee American Craft Beer Festival draws a large crowd to the Town Center Park in Suwanee on Saturday. (Photo: Chris Roughgarden)

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Alain Eboli of Suwanee tries a sample of Jekyll Beer during the fourth annual Suwanee American Craft Beer Festival at Town Center Park in Suwanee on Saturday. (Photo: Chris Roughgarden)

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Brooke Browning of Suwanee spins the wheel at the Jekyll Brewing tent during the fourth annual Suwanee American Craft Beer Festival held at Town Center Park in Suwanee on Saturday. (Photo: Chris Roughgarden)

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A wide variety of beer was poured at the fourth annual Suwanee American Craft Beer Festival held at Town Center Park in Suwanee on Saturday. (Photo: Chris Roughgarden)

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Michael Douglas, of the Harlem Legends, left, shows Stacey Vining how to spin a basketball on her finger as Lee Sanders takes a picture during the fourth annual Suwanee American Craft Beer Festival held at Town Center Park in Suwanee on Saturday. (Photo: Chris Roughgarden)

Gaye Kanitsch is a fan of IPA, but her tasting glass Saturday was filled with something decidely darker than her usual Indian Pale Ale choice of beer.

“That’s the whole point,” Kanitsch said of coming to the Suwanee Beer Fest. “I love meeting all the different people, tasting all the different beers I normally wouldn’t taste.”

With bottle caps decorating her purse and her ears, wearing a chainmail-type vest she took 30 hours to construct out of more than 100 bottle caps, Kanitsch is more than just a Budweiser woman. She was on a mission Saturday to get another taste of Monkey Wrench, an up-and-coming brewer she can’t find in stores.

“It’s just like hot wings,” she said of the various types of beer. She has experimented with home brewing herself. “It’s fun.”

The beer fest, which drew about 5,500 people to Suwanee Town Center Park for the fourth year in a row, caters not just to the average weekend warrior, said Rachel Fasig, an organizer with Veugeler Design Group.

With more than 100 kegs, thousands of bottles and more than 300 kinds of beer represented — and 13,000 pounds of ice on hand to keep the beverages cold — the festival helps small brewers reach a new audience and introduces craft beer fanatics to dozens of new products.

“There are some that aren’t on the market, that no one has ever tried,” Fasig said, adding that a group traveled from as far as Dallas to enjoy the event, which has reached national acclaim as one of few with unlimited tastings. “If you’re a beer fanatic, it’s a really unique experience.”

Praja DeSilva said she had never seen anything like it.

Sipping a New Belgian while she and her daughter ate some barbecue and listened to music, the 71-year-old said she had many Irish friends when she lived in England, so she had an appreciation for a good beer and a fun St. Patrick’s Day weekend event.

“But usually we can’t do this in England. The weather isn’t this nice,” she said, grateful that her daughter had volunteered to be the designated driver. “It’s quite nice.”

The festival is so popular that its 250 VIP tickets sold out in 13 minutes when they went on sale. Fasig said the participants are often passionate about their favorite beers.

The beer offerings take months to devise, Fasig said, adding that organizers work with 12 distributors and wittle down a list of thousands to come up with the perfect selection, even adding some gluten-free options to the mix. And VIPS are offered tastes from casks brewed specially for the festival.

With a Cornhole tournament, other games and music, the day is enjoyable for the designated drivers, too, she said, but in the end, it is about the brewskis.

“There’s a whole culture around the craft beer scene,” she said, alluding not just to the pretzel necklaces around many of the guests’ necks. “(You may) think of the old standards like PBR and Budweiser, and that isn’t even like real beer for us. … Once you taste a good beer, you want to learn more.”

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