Early spring brings a slew of state wide beer festivals. Funky Buddha's Maple Bacon Coffee Porter festival was last week in South Florida. Tampa kicks their season off with The Florida Brewers Guild Craft Beer Festival on March 3 and Cigar City Brewing's Hunahpu's Day on March 10. But if you don't feel like a road trip, the First Coast's first Festival, The Riverside Craft Beer Festival kicks off our season on February 24.

We've been to this one for a couple of years now. It has grown and improved each year we've attended. I recently checked in with Chris Croft co-founder and organizer of the event about this year's festival.

READ MORE: Last year's Festival

80 Breweries from around the state and further are represented PHOTO: Stephanie Danley

First I wanted to know what was going to be new this year, Chris said, "This year we are grouping breweries by regions. Florida Only, Southeast, Northeast, Mid West, West Coast and International, rather than by distributor." He adds, "Hoping that will help people find new beers and favorites."

Also new this year are "Craft Beer Culture vendors", selling beer related items like apparel, jewelry etc. We can expect some new breweries too, some of which haven't even opened their doors yet. Legacy Ale Works has been brewing beer, while they look for the perfect Mandarin Location. Fishweir Brewing Company has just begun renovations in Murray Hill as a Sour specific brewery, this will be their first tasting event.

Chris says, "We are excited to be able to have local undistributed brands be part of the event."

Joining them will be new local favorites, Hyperion Brewing, Main & Six Brewing, Crooked Rooster out of Macclenny, as well as our older local breweries.

The Riverside Craft Beer Festival sets up at the Riverside Arts Market, under the Fuller Warren Bridge. PHOTO: Stephanie Danley

As in years past, there will be food trucks providing food for purchase and for the fifth year in a row, Grandpa's Cough Medicine will be bringing the jams.

"There will be about eighty breweries and most bring two beers. That's a lot of different choices." Chris adds. "We have beers from all the distributors in the area."

Everyone working at the festival is a volunteer, either a Rotary member or a brewery representative. PHOTO:Stephanie Danley

Ticket sales have been brisk, Chris anticipates the VIP will sell out before the event. VIP allows entry one hour earlier at three o'clock, General Admission starts at four o'clock. All the breweries will have a special VIP beer to serve during that first hour. Those beers don't last long, like last year Intuition Ale Works brought a keg of Underdark that was quick to kick!

Chris adds, "We always have special hard to find beers that if you don't have a VIP Ticket they will be gone by Four when General Admission opens"

VIP tickets are only sold via the Eventbrite web page and the cost is 60 dollars, General Admission can be purchase online for 40 dollars or at the door for 50 dollars, you save money purchasing online. Ticket can be purchased here

Most breweries provide at least 2 different beers to sample. PHOTO: Stephanie Danley

What makes the Riverside Craft Beer Festival so special is that it is done entirely for charity. The past few years, the Rotary has donated the funds to PedsCare, a palliative care and hospice program for local children.

"PedsCare is such an incredible service. While you never want people to have to use them, what they do for those that need them is incredible." Chris says. The goal is to try to give more money than they did last year. That's a challenge because last year they gave 100 thousand dollars to the charity, with another nine thousand split between the Riverside Arts Market non profit and the Rotary's own charity.

I asked Chris, what makes this festival so special. "Food Trucks, great music and lots of beers. And the knowledge that all the moneys raised are donated to PedsCare and the Riverside Rotary Foundation"

Food Trucks and other vendors provide a break from the beer sampling PHOTO: Stephanie Danley

We are definitely looking forward to this years event.

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