ROCKINGHAM — Beer and wing-lovers from Richmond County and beyond carved out their own piece of the world Saturday for Hoptoberfest 2019.
The fifth iteration of the festival was held on the Rockingham Dragway property, allowing room for more craft beer vendors and wing teams — and more room for revelers to revel. There were more than 65 different beers to sample from more than 20 breweries and 13 teams in the wing competition. Perdue Farms provided 4,000 pounds of chicken wings for the wing competition, up from 1,600 the first year of the event.
New in the beer lineup this year were Wicked Weed Brewing of Asheville, Sugar Creek Brewing Company which is new to the Fayetteville-area market, Golden Road Brewing of Los Angeles, and Salty Turtle Beer Company of Surf City.
Andrew Closs, who was tending the Wicked Weed tent, said most of the events they are a part of are more “on the vendor side” where other brewers and hardcore “beer nerds” grill each other on the brewing process, whereas Hoptoberfest was more about the community.
“It’s nice to have a more intimate event, it feels like there’s more love in it,” Closs said, attributing the broader public’s attendance to the wing contest. “Usually (we’re serving) big beer nerds but most people here just want to get their beer.”
Wicked Weed was highlighting their Sandiaca beer, a 9% ABV gin barrel-aged sour ale fermented with watermelon and basil. Closs warned that the flavor was similar to the popular sour candy “Warheads” and can be a shock those who aren’t expecting it, but that initial intensity gives way to a smooth and refreshing brew.
Don Mandel, a manager with Healy Wholesale, which brought a truck equipped with about 20 different beers on tap as it has every year of Hoptoberfest’s existence, said he’s seen Richmond County and the surrounding area “grasp” the event and “make it their own,” which is why the variety has increased every year.
“People are recognizing and appreciating the value of a full-flavored beer for when you want to sit back after a hard day’s work and enjoy it, not ‘slamming’ your beer,” Mandel said.
The more craft beers have hit the mainstream, Mandel said, he’s noticed a move away from the often tough IPAs and more towards sours and low ABV ales. For example, he pointed to the Day Drink Rosé, a “blush beer” that is more like wine; not too fruity but more “refreshing,” Mandel said.
Taylor Diggs and Chris McDonald of Rockingham have been drinking craft beers for about four years and very different tastes: Diggs goes for less hops, McDonald goes for more. But Sugar Creek’s “The Big O” Blood Orange India Pale Ale, a west coast-style IPA brewed with California grown moro blood oranges, changed Diggs’ mind.
With more citrus than hops, Diggs found the IPA preferable to less hoppy beer.
“For me to say that, that’s saying something,” Diggs said.
This year’s Hoptoberfest had the largest amount of entries in the wing competition in the event’s history with 13. The Rockingham Fire Department is always a crowd favorite, and Assistant Chief Vernon McKinnon knows how to please them.
“The main ingredient is chicken,” McKinnon said. “If it’s too hot you can’t taste the chicken.”
But they didn’t skip out on the spices. Martin Hovland, who prides himself on taking on the spiciest of food, said after tasting all but one of the wings, “RFD definitely had the ‘fire.’”
Hovland, of Aberdeen, said he’s done spice challenges all over the area and this was his first time at Hoptoberfest thanks to the recommendation of a friend. He told the story of once eating a ghost pepper, allegedly one of the hottest peppers in the world, whole and remarking, “Yeah, it’s pretty hot.”
“The older I get the harder it gets (to eat spicy food),” Hovland said.
Butch “The Hogfather” Bouldin, of The Hogfather wing team, said Hoptoberfest is a chance once a year for he and his childhood friends to get together. Their sauce came together through “trial and error,” Bouldin said, adding that it’s still a fun day even if they don’t win because they’re competing against other members of the community.
“When you compete out of town it’s not as fun,” Bouldin said. “(Hoptoberfest 2019) has more people, more teams — it’s good for the county.”
The winners of the overall wing contest were as follows:
1. KR Stupidly Good BBQ
2. HC Fire and Water
3. The Rockingham Fire Department
Judy McEntire, who was credited with the win for KR Stupidly Good BBQ, said they’ve continued to evaluate their sauce for at least the last six years and this year picked between 15 different options before deciding on the one they would compete with.
HC Fire and Water won the People’s Choice Award for their wings made with pear jam from the family pear tree of Stephen Booker, project estimation manager for Hayden Construction, who accepted the award Saturday. It was the first time competing in the contest for Booker, who said they made the “rookie mistake” of not making enough wings, causing them to run out.
Everybody on the dance floor
Once the contests were won and the beer was turned to backwash, the Voltage Brothers took over. They electrified with a cover of “Old Town Road” by Lil’ Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus and other hits while band members Donair Perry and Shelton Kelly hyped up the crowd. Kelly started a conga line of more than a dozen people that snaked joyfully through the picnic tables and tight circles of people talking.
“We just want to bring people together with everything that’s going on in the world, we need good energy,” Kelly said. “People all over the world need to start a love train.”
Perry attracted a small crowd like moths to his light, showing off his moves while they formed a circle around him. At one point, Perry had them line up as he quickly choreographed a dance. Then, while they moved in unison, Perry did a running back handspring (or some variation on the move) to the awe of the crowd.
Richmond County Chamber of Commerce President Emily Tucker said the cool weather was a welcome relief from the 100-degree weather during setup on Friday. She thanked Steve Earwood, owner of the Dragway, for being a gracious host and said this new location could allow the event to grow to from the roughly 900 attendees this year to 2,000 in the future.
“It just keeps growing,” Tucker said.
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]