For today’s special edition of ABV, we chatted with Mark Turic – lead organizer at Beers of the Burgh – to learn about the intricacies of putting together the area’s largest annual craft beer festival.
ABV is our weekly beer column where we highlight local beers and brewery news. Check out our past editions of ABV, here.
If you’ve ever attended the annual Beers of the Burgh, then you know what we’re talking about when we say BIG.
- Nearly 60 western Pennsylvania breweries
- Over 2000 attendees
- All at a historic venue that (at one time) produced 1250 tons of iron a day
We checked in with lead organizer Mark Turic about the state of craft beer in Pittsburgh and how he spearheads this annual endeavor.
ABV, volume XXII
Q&A with Mark Turic, lead organizer at Beers of the Burgh
Aadam Soorma: For folks who are unfamiliar, what is Beers of the Burgh?
Mark Turic: Beers of the Burgh is an annual spring beer festival exclusively featuring breweries in and around Pittsburgh. We also do a smaller scale event in November called the Beers of the Burgh Winter Warmer.
AS: How did Beers of the Burgh start?
MT: Shortly after we started dating, my wife (and partner in BOTB) bought us a pair of tickets to a beer festival in Washington D.C. At the time there weren’t many beer festivals in Pittsburgh and we loved the event so much that we wanted to bring that experience back home with us.
AS: How many years has it been going?
MT: This was our sixth annual event and our third time at the Carrie Furnace. We absolutely love it there and really enjoy working with the folks at Rivers of Steel who preserve and maintain it as a historical site.
[AS: FYI, Very Local PGH was one of the sponsors for this year’s Beers of the Burgh Festival. We provided the fun facts about Carrie Furnace on the commemorative glassware. Learn more about the connection between Carrie Furnace and the Empire State Building]
We actually started out in the old Lawrenceville warehouse that is now The Foundry. From there, we went to the Scott Electric Building on the other side of 40th Street, and have also had the chance to host the event in some other really unique spaces like the Hunt Armory and 31st Street Studios. It’s always cool to check out a new venue but we’re really hoping the Carrie Furnace will be home to the festival for years to come.
AS: How do you choose which breweries are part of it?
MT: This event is an opportunity to showcase the amazing craft breweries we have right here in Western PA, so it’s really locals only. We usually don’t go too far outside of a 50-mile radius around the city. Anyone in that radius is welcome to be a part of the event.
AS: How much has the festival grown over the years? (I believe BOTB is now the biggest beer festival in Pittsburgh)
MT: Is it?? Crazy. This year we had our biggest crowd ever with just over 2000 attendees and almost 60 breweries. At the first event we had 1200 attendees and 30 breweries. So the industry has really enabled us to double the amount we’re offering, but we really try our best to keep the crowd a comfortable size and minimize lines inside the fest as much as possible. I personally do not enjoy waiting in lines, and I don’t want that to other people to have to do it.
AS: Mark, how did you get into beer?
MT: My wife got me drinking craft beer pretty much as soon as we met. She gets 100 percent of the credit.
AS: Walk us through a date night with your wife. What are some of your favorite spots to go for a bite or a drink?
MT: Date nights are few and far between at the moment; we are just really enjoying spending time with our 11-month-old son Rhys. But when we can sneak out, we always love the Allegheny Wine Mixer, the new Cinderlands Warehouse is awesome, and, since it’s right up the street from us, the Bulldog Pub (Morningside) is also a go-to.
AS: Looking back at the 2019 Beers of the Burgh, what do you think were the key takeaways?
MT: Our local brewing community is stronger than ever, and I don’t think it’s going to slow down any time soon. Every year, we have several new breweries pouring for the first time at the festival and we can already tell that the list will be expanding in 2020 as there are a bunch of new breweries getting ready to open in and around Pittsburgh. It’s always awesome to see the camaraderie between breweries; it’s really such a supportive industry.
As far as the actual styles of beer at the event, there was definitely a very heavy focus on the Hazy IPAs and Sours.
AS: Would you have done anything differently?
MT: Honestly, not too much! The food trucks were slammed all day, and I did notice that the lines got pretty long. It’s tricky because the trucks only have a short window of time to sell their food, and we want to make sure they do well at the event. So it’s always difficult to figure out the right number of trucks to have, but next year we will probably add a few. Other than that we have really been working on the logistics of transportation out at Carrie Furnace.
Depending on where you’re coming from, it can be a bit of a drive and the venue is on a dead end road with limited parking. Getting people in and out, dealing with Uber drivers; it can get tricky. This is the second year we worked with a local shuttle service to implement a free system that transports attendees into and out of the event. They did an awesome job with it this year and it’s only going to get better.
AS: What has been your favorite part of Beers of the Burgh?
MT: There are two. The first is that I am always amazed that this event seems to bring the whole brewing community together. There are owners, representatives, and employees that come from every brewery to pour at festival – not volunteers, but actually people from the brewery! We love our volunteers, but having the people who actually make the beer onsite pouring it means attendees get to meet their brewers, ask questions, and really engage with them. Plus, it gives the brewers and other industry folks a chance to hang out and see some people they might not often get a chance to see. Without the awesome local brewing communities support for the event, we would just be another beer festival. They are really what the event is all about and having them there definitely makes it special.
The second part is that I feel like we do our best to offer attendees a pretty awesome experience for a fair price. Since the start of the festival, we have never raised ticket prices. We hold a presale every year at a different local brewery where we offer tickets to the event for just $35. I think that’s a pretty good deal to hang out at a place like Carrie Furnace and sample a bunch of beer from 50+ different local breweries.
AS: What was your favorite beer at Beers of the Burgh?
MT: I really don’t get to drink at Beers of the Burgh; I usually sample 3 to 4 beers in the last half hour of the event if I’m lucky, but that’s really it. We get one shot to try to put on the best 4-hour event possible for both the brewers and attendees. There is a ton of effort that goes into the pre-planning of the event and still so many variables that can cause things to go wrong on event day that it is super important for our team to be on their A-Game. So for those four hours, we do our best to make sure that the brewers and attendees are taken care of… and when it’s all over we get to have some beer.
AS: What’s next?
MT: Right now, my wife Grace and I are working on a new event called Rosé All Day PGH. It’s August 3rd at Nova Place and will definitely have a craft beer presence with some local breweries pouring rosé-inspired ales and ciders.
Header Photo: Alina Katase