Chef n’ Brew Festival Filled With Great Pairings, Poor Planning

The first annual Chef n’ Brew Festival was held at the Oriental Theater on Saturday night. The purpose of the event was to highlight the complementary flavors of locally brewed beer with dishes from some of Denver’s finest chefs. In total, twelve breweries and twelve restaurants were present, several of whom were offering two pairings each. Said pairings ranged from average to divine (our favorites are listed below), but I’ll get to them in a minute.

In one of the poorer run events I’ve attended in quite some time, the layout and overall flow stifled what the chefs and brewers had worked so hard on. When we arrived, there was a line out the door and down the street. Initially, I was excited.  After all, it is typically a great sign when so many people show up for an event. We made it through the doors a few minutes later, grabbed our souvenir glasses, and picked the nearest line.  Twenty five minutes later we had our first dish.

Normally I’m incredibly tolerant of waiting in lines for beer. Years of practice at GABF and countless other festivals have honed my skills and my patience. What happened on Saturday was far worse than even the most rain-drenched and overpriced festival one could imagine. After the first hour, anarchy set in. Many people were skipping the lines altogether leading to numerous confrontations. Then tables began to run out of food halfway through the allotted time. The bar must have made a pretty penny as more and more people chose to carry around PBR tall-boys so they’d have something to sip on while waiting in line. The sad thing is all could have been prevented. While the Oriental Theater is a very unique venue, it is not equipped for a beer festival. Narrow hallways and limited sitting/standing room forced patrons to devour their beer and food pairing while waiting in line for the next. All could have been alleviated if they’d picked, say, Mile High Station (or pretty much any other non-theater) as their venue.

Was the whole experience a bust? Of course not. Plenty of positive notes are to be had. Here were a few of our favorite pairings:

Elise Wiggins of Panzano’s Pastiche (baked pasta dish with handmade meatballs, cheese tortellini, cinnamon custard and savory pie crust) – paired with Prost Brewing’s Dunkel.

Taylor Drew of Russell’s Smokehouse’s Spiced Carrot Cake with “First Cast” macerated golden raisins and cream cheese frosting – paired with Elevation ”First Cast” IPA

And here was the crowd favorite (so good I wasn’t able to snag any before they ran out):

Jensen Cummings of Row 14 – The Power Rangers Meatball: (each ingredient represents a different power ranger’s color) – paired with Caution: Brewing’s The Green Tease infused with tea and fermented with sake yeast.

Caution: Brewing’s The Green Tease also took home some hardware as the most creative beer of the night.

I hope this becomes an annual event and I really hope they take the time to improve it next year.  Chef n’ Brew could be a fantastic event if given the right venue and a little bit more planning.  Here’s to hoping it succeeds.

Check out the slideshow for more photos:

About Sean Buchan

Sean is a Physical Therapist and Photographer living in (and loving) Denver, Colorado. He enjoys shooting just about anything but his true passion is capturing the craft beer culture here in Denver. If you enjoy his photographs check out Beertographer.

  • s21607

    Sean – I know a lot of people that went to the event are looking for refunds. Have you talked with the organizers at all? Have they said if they are planning on offering refunds?

    • Sean M. Buchan

      I have not but I’ll email them now and see if I can get any info for you.

  • Chris Washenberger

    Funny that you mention Mile High Station. The Summer/Winter Brewfests used to be held at the Oriental and moved to MHS for the same reasons. In my experience, you cannot have an interactive festival with more than maybe 100-200 people at the Oriental without bogging down.

    • Sean M. Buchan

      Yeah, it wasn’t good. They sold 500 tickets but I overheard someone say (and it could have been made-up) that they sold another 100 at the door.

  • Lhayward

    We left after 45 minutes of bedlam – especially after people started butting into the line. I wonder if the fire dept had been there if it would have been shut down.
    I’m planning on refusing the charge on my credit card since we could not get food and drink in a reasonable manor. Never will attend this event again.

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  • Lorraine Mcsheehy-Kruse

    Have the organizers call me I am a meeting and special events manager and planner. Or I will get in touch with them. No excuse for this.
    L. Kruse

  • JKL04

    I disagree with your article here Sean, this was a great festival and is something I am proud to see happening here in Denver. The only down side was obviously the space being too crowded but I highly doubt that was due to lack of planning. Events like this take a lot of work to put on and to expect the very first one to be perfect is naive. I also believe that your lack of respect for people so willing to create something like this for Denver is shocking.

    • Sean M. Buchan

      I did not state that I expected this event to be perfect. Nor did I say anything that should question my respect for those in the industry. The idea behind the festival was a great one, but the execution was lacking. Like all blogs, this is my opinion of an event. Take it or leave it.

    • Christopher Day

      You’re free to disagree with Sean’s story, but doing so makes you ignorant of the facts. This event had manifold failures including:
      -picking a small venue with a terrible layout for mobile crowds
      -exacerbating this problem by arranging vendors and tables in the least efficient manner imaginable and making many asinine decisions such as placing vendors on a stage and then allowing exit/entry from only one side which created terrible bottlenecks to traffic flow
      -overselling tickets by at least 30% (likely more) and admitting patrons until the venue was dangerously full of angry people who couldn’t eat or drink anything
      -making no attempt to control or manage the crowd (event staff couldn’t even explain where the line began!)
      -not being prepared to issue refunds or compensate attendees when the whole thing went South

      If you feel somebody other than the event planners are responsible for these problems, I’d love to hear your explanation.

  • drew

    Loved the concept, hated the execution. If it’s not at a more crowd-friendly venue next time, I won’t be buying tickets. Not going to ask for a refund since I got my money’s worth of food/drink, but the organizers need to be aware of how poorly this was executed.

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  • BeerCraving

    Response from the Organizers:

    We never intended for the venue to be as crowded as it was. We sold 100 less tickets than Winter Brew Fest when it was hosted in the same venue in the hopes of allowing plenty of room for guests to enjoy the event. An event of this caliber deserves plenty of space for the proper experience and enjoyment. All comments and feedback are taken very seriously in the hopes of hosting the best Beer and Food Event possible. We have already begun planning for the 2013 Chef N Brew Festival. Next years event will take place in a much, much bigger venue and guests will be given program guides with dishes and beers listed. All 2012 Festival Ticket Holders will be given a discounted rate to next years festival for their loyalty and understanding. Thank you to all those who attended and participated in this years festival.


    Mike Burns
    Chef N Brew Festival Organizer

  • Geoff