Sudz in the City is this Saturday and, if you’ve been paying attention you know this annual Fresno brew fest comes with plenty of changes this year. It changed seasons (from May to October), locations (from Chukchansi Park to Fulton Mall) and focuses (from the beer big boys to smaller microbrews).
The woman at the center of the Sudz switch is Kate Borders, the CEO of the Downtown Fresno Partnership. It’s her first Sudz since coming to Fresno to take her post last year. Re-tooling the popular annual event is another of the bold ideas she’s brought with her — ya know, like the downtown ice rink that’s opening soon or Over the Edge, which sent people rappelling down Fresno’s biggest building.
I wanted to ask Borders about the changes for Sudz, to get in her head a little bit. She was happy to oblige.
In the past, Sudz in the City seemed like a chug-all-you-can beer fest, more of a Hometown Buffet type of beer fest. That’s changed this year, right?
Absolutely. Our goal this year is to have some serious craft beer people who love the art of it. We know that the event was heading in the wrong direction so we grabbed the reigns – and did some reconstructive surgery. When this event started 18 years ago, it was about recognizing the beer that was coming out of the valley and introducing people to quality brews. We want to get back there.
If you are in the event business, you know that all events have cycles, and when anything goes astray we have to be wise enough to recognize it and find a new direction.
But making this switch has reiterated many lessons – you can’t disappoint people and expect them to continue their loyalty. We had some people leave the event last year with a bad taste in their mouths (maybe a bad analogy with a beer tasting event). This year we are going to admit those mistakes, learn from them, make our apologies, and regain our following. We know people will love the new Sudz.
Given so much change with the event, in your mind, what’s the most exciting change?
Where we can go from here. Imagine a festival that moves each year toward the promotion of the smaller breweries. What if if all the breweries start brewing something special just for this festival and if we can get Sudz in the City to essentially be a release party for new brews. We are in wine country, so we need to educate people on beer and the intricacies that are present. Picture food pairings – what beer and do you drink with great chocolates? What if we engage a select number of craft vendors that have beer inspired products – black and white photography, bottle cap jewelry. I envision that we move beyond just tastings to a large festival that takes people on a beer adventure. I know – maybe a little bit lofty – but why not? And while we are at it, let’s do this thing better than anyone else and get people from around the state talking about us – that’s the five-year plan.
Do you think the Fulton Mall as a venue will give the event a different energy?
There is no question the Fulton Mall is a wonderful event venue. The space is easy to navigate, the trees provide shade, and there is a reciprocal effect for local business. This is why we do events – to get people to check out what’s in the area. The North end of the Mall is where many claim the resurgence is rooting. CartHop happens in this block every Thursday at lunch and it is easy to feel that something is taking hold here. The event has moved around quite a bit and I am excited to see how people take to being on Fulton.
For those who wonder what might happen if Fulton is opened to vehicular traffic, the event could continue without a hiccup. Cities regularly close streets for special events all over the country and this would be no different.
As someone who came from Milwaukee, a city whose beer legacy is so well-known there’s a baseball team named after it, does your experience there inform the changes to Sudz?
Beer is as much a part of Milwaukee culture as wine is to California. Oddly enough, there was not a craft beer fest in Downtown Milwaukee until we (my previous Milwaukee team) kicked one off a few years ago. That fest focused on breweries in Milwaukee proper, of which there were 14 when we started three years ago. But people don’t realize the quantity of small craft breweries that are making great beer in California. My goal is to get all of them participating in this fest by that five-year mark.
What’s the most important thing you think people need to know to get ready for this year’s Sudz?
Just know that it is going to be a great day. There’s not much more to it. This is a laid back day … sunshine, music, cool people and lots of beer. Try beers that you might not normally order and see if you like them. I have to mention parking – people always worry about parking in downtown. This Saturday meters are free and all public, city operated garages are free (of course we expect you to bring a designated driver). Really, this is your deep breath, just enjoy!
Sudz in the City is 3-8 p.m. Saturday on the Fulton Mall, between Fresno and Tuolumne. Tickets cost $40 or $65 for VIP, which includes early admission (2 p.m.), free food and a VIP reception. Designated driver tickets cost $15. Sudz also features live music (MoFo Party Band, Jimmie & SOS, etc) and food (Dusty Buns, Tako BBQ, etc). If you buy tickets today (Thursday, Oct. 18), you can get $8 off by using the promo code “FBsudz8.” Tickets are available here. More details here.