Fresno Beehive

The sudz are back in the city. Fresno’s original beer fest gets a revival this weekend

Chester Roberts socializes with friends while sampling brews during the Sudz in the City beer fest on the Fulton Mall, Saturday afternoon,  October 20, 2012. The event returns Sept. 22, 2018.
Chester Roberts socializes with friends while sampling brews during the Sudz in the City beer fest on the Fulton Mall, Saturday afternoon, October 20, 2012. The event returns Sept. 22, 2018. Fresno Bee

There was a time when Sudz in the City was a sure-fire event for downtown Fresno.

Before its hiatus in 2015, the beer festival had run for more than two decades and had served as a lynchpin for both the beer scene and downtown revitalization efforts.

Thousands of people streamed into downtown Fresno each year for the beer and music event.

On Saturday, Sudz in the City has its revival, which organizers describe as a “merging of a beloved event from years past with Fresno’s thriving modern craft-beer scene.”

Here’s a look back at the much-loved event, along with what festival goers can expect this year.

The brews

When Sudz in the City started in 1995, “the Great American Beer Revival” was is in full bloom, according to a story in The Bee at the time. That first year, the festival hosted 40 micro-breweries, all from California. The lineup was put together with the help of Jeff Wolpert, who owned the Fresno brewpub Butterfield Brewing Co.

The “micro” part fell away as the event became more popular and drew popular breweries from across the country. In 1998, that included Sierra Nevada, Red Hook and Anchor.

Also, Samuel Adams, which even then was considered too mass-market for the beer snobs.

“Microbrew? Not,” was the quote in The Bee that year.

It’s not only the type of breweries that have changed in the two-plus decades the festival has been around.

It’s also the beers themselves.

Take 2007, for instance, when several brewers were asked to preview that year’s event by talking about what the types of beer they were doing at the time.

Visalia’s Brewbakers was serving an oatmeal stout at its restaurant and that was considered far out.

“You can’t really taste the oatmeal, and it’s not just for breakfast, either,” brewer David Spencer said. Also, he really wanted to try a chocolate porter. “Porter is a British beer style that has been revived,” Spencer said,. “Adding chocolate to it is kind of an American innovation. Not too many people do it.”

Compare that to 2017, when Tioga-Sequoia made a peanut-and-cracker jack beer for its FresYes event.

Kevin Cox, who was the brewmaster at Sequoia Brewing Co. in 2007 (he’s now the head brewmaster at Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Co.) said it was all about the hops and local breweries were making beer that were “hoppier” than what drinkers could find in a can or bottle.

“Once people get into the really aggressive hop beers, it’s kind of like spices,” he said. “They’ll very rarely drink anything else. They kind of work their way to that niche, and then they stay there. That’s when we have them. We set the hook: customer for life.”

The number of craft breweries in California keeps growing. Here are some key statistics on the one of the state's most popular beverages.

This year, the festival partnered with Central Valley Brewers Guild, which looks to educate beer enthusiasts about craft beer, ease communication between the breweries and beer lovers and organize and host events.

“Our goal is to represent the common voice and organize support for local, independently-owned craft breweries,” the guild’s executive director Annette Gomez-Bencomo says in a news release.

The breweries at this year’s event run the gamut of state and regional favorites (Ballast Point, Lagunitas, 21st Amendment, Drake’s and Barrelhouse) to locals including Riley’s, House of Pendragon, Full Circle Brewing Co., Zack’s, Zone 9 and Tioga-Sequoia.

The locales

Most people will remember Sudz in the City from its days at Chukchansi Park. It was the first non-baseball event to happen at the stadium.

That was back in 2002, when the place was still Grizzlies Stadium. It was held at the stadium until 2006, when it was moved due to a scheduling conflict.

It was back the next year and stayed at the stadium until 2012, when the Downtown Fresno Partnership moved it to the Fulton Mall, back when it was still on outdoor mall.

But the event started at Eaton Plaza, next to the iconic Fresno water tower. That location has remained part of the festival’s iconography – notice the festival’s beer-stein logo.

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Johnny Cocco from Philadelphia, and Caitlin Huffman , 2, of Fresno listen to jazz at the First Annual Central California Micro-Brewery / Music Festival held in downtown Fresno. The event was called Sudz in the City. DIANA BALDRICA THE FRESNO BEE

This year, it happens at the Cultural Arts District Park on Fulton Street. The park, with its signature white canopies and pulsating lights, has become a hot spot during the monthly Art Hop.

Note: Fulton Street will be closed Saturday between San Joaquin and Calaveras streets.

The celebration for the new Cultural Arts District Park showed off the motion-activated and programmable colored lights amid a party atmosphere Thursday night, December 1, 2016 in downtown Fresno, Calif.

The tunes

While Sudz is technically a beer festival, it has always had a strong musical component. In fact, it started as the Annual Central California Micro-Brewery Music Festival. The name didn’t stick, obviously.

Traditionally, organizers put a focus on local, booking a who’s-who of local musicians plus some of the best-known Fresno acts of the day (and then bringing them back every year).

See: Straight Up Sinners, MoFo Party Band and Sippy and Old Guzzler.

MTD JRW MARDI GRAS GO GO.JPG
Remember Sippy and Old Guzzler? The band played Sudz in the City often over the festival’s 20-plus year run. Archives

This year, the lineup includes the Lucky Lopez and John Clifton blues band, plus the classic rock tribute act Foreigner Unauthorized and pop-punk tribute Blink 180 True.

Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee

Sudz in the City

  • 2-7 p.m. Saturday
  • Cultural Arts District Park, 1615 Fulton St.
  • $30-$35; $10 designated driver tickets available
  • www.eventbrite.com, search Sudz in the City

Meanwhile ...

Six other noteworthy events happening this week:

  • Cirque du Soleil Corteo 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday. Save Mart Center. $42-$128. 800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com
  • Reel Pride through Sunday. Various screenings at Tower Theatre, VISTA Theater and the Backroom at the Revue. $10 per screening, $95 festival pass. reelpride.com
  • Fashawn 8:30 p.m. Friday. Frank’s Place, 1432 Fulton. $15, 21 + www.livemusiccity.com
  • Aquabats 6 p.m. Friday. Strummer’s, 833 E. Fern. Ave. $23, all ages. 559-485-5356, www.strummersclub.com
  • Snoopadelic 4 p.m. Saturday. The Wakehouse, 850 Kings River Road, Reedley. $45-$105. www.livemusiccity.com
  • Superhero Soundtrack 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Saroyan Theatre, 700 M St. $25-$79. 559-261-0600, fresnophil.org
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