The premature ending of Saturday evening's St. Louis Brewers Heritage Festival has turned into a public-relations nightmare for organizers of the annual beer celebration in Forest Park.
The festival that features beer samples from some twenty breweries was in full swing around 9 p.m. on June 15 when a powerful thunderstorm moved through the region. The rain and winds forced the hundreds of festivalgoers in attendance to seek shelter under three massive tents in the park's Central Fields. There the crowd continued to drink even after organizers quit pouring fresh beers.
According to Gut Check's man on the scene, attendees soon began shouting "We want beer!" and then, "Rain or shine!" in reference to the event's policy that refunds would not be issued due to precipitation. The thunderstorm quickly moved on, and the beer began to flow once more. It wouldn't last long. After a few minutes organizers turned off the taps for good and told everyone to leave around 9:30 p.m. -- 90 minutes before the four-hour event was scheduled to end.
That's when things really turned ugly.
Some people began shouting their disapproval and throwing their souvenir beer glasses. Police wrestled one attendee to the ground after he refused to leave the scene. (St. Louis police confirm to Gut Check that the individual was arrested for resisting an officer and failure to obey the reasonable order of an officer.) But those complaints pale in comparison to the outpouring of criticism left the next day on the Facebook page of the St. Louis Brewers Guild that put on the event.
As one commenter wrote on Facebook, she was allowed to purchase a ticket for $40 just moments before the event was shut down.
Others complained that the storm no longer presented a danger when organizers closed down the festival.
Patrick Hughes, director of the Brewers Guild, tells Gut Check that he understands the frustration but says that there was still lightning in the area and a threat of more severe weather.
"Safety was our number-one concern," says Hughes, who notes that the festival's tents have a metal framework that could prove deadly if struck by lightning.
The Brewers Heritage Festival ran for its first six years under the operation of Fusion Marketing. This year's event was the first time that the newly formed St. Louis Brewers Guild operated the festival, and Hughes acknowledges that it wasn't a great debut for the organization.
"We are a nonprofit whose mission is to promote beer tourism in St. Louis and beer education," says Hughes. "The festival was about kickstarting our fundraising."
Still, Hughes and the guild hope that they can appease those who left Saturday's event angry. Today the Brewers Guild announced that it would offer half-price tickets to next year's festival for those impacted by Saturday's cancellation. In addition, the guild has teamed with its member breweries to offer two free beer vouchers at places like 4 Hands Brewery, Urban Chestnut and Schlafly.
"Hopefully, this shows good faith on our part," says Hughes.
Continue on for a press release from the guild with information about the rebate offered to Saturday's festivalgoers.