The North American Organic Brewers Fest, founded by Roots Organic Brewing owner Craig Nicholls, is happening this weekend in Portland, and I know very little about it. Why? Well, for the last 3 years I have counted myself among the staff/organizers and part of the elite "Keg Assassins" crew that keeps the beers flowing. But not this year. What is different? In previous years the festival organization has been headed up by Abraham Goldman-Armstrong, a well-respected writer, brewer, sustainability and organic expert, BJCP Judge (by the age of 21), and all-around brewery handyman in construction and deconstruction. If you have been to a festival in Oregon, you very likely have seen Abe running around behind the scenes and keeping things running smoothly.
Without Abe's leadership on this year's fest, the entire staff has been shaken up, with few to none returning. Though it is in competent hands with Chris Crabb, I still wanted to get a chance to speak with Abe about what is different this year and why he is not involved in a festival that has consumed most of his time over the last few years. The answers may surprise you...
Q: You're not involved in the NAOBF this year. Who is running it?
A: Craig Nicholls has hired Chris Crabb and Teddy Peets of the Oregon Brewers Festival to run the event for him.
Q: Why are you not heading it up this year after so many successful years?
A: I was very concerned with the way Craig Nicholls handled the finances last year and the way he treated myself and the others on the team that put on the event. He had still not paid the charities and one of the breweries from the 2009 event in January, and I told him I would not be working with him on the event unless the brewery in question and the purported beneficiaries (Leukemia Lymphoma Society, Oregon Tilth, and the Willamette Riverkeeper) were paid by February. He did not pay the charities until after I apprised Chris Crabb of the situation, and had still not paid the brewery in question in April when I spoke with them, after passing them two bad checks. Craig Nicholls took a two-week family vacation to Disneyland directly following the 2009 NAOBF and did not pay the crew who put in countless hours to make the event such a smashing success until one month after the event. He paid everyone else the same as they had been paid the previous year, after promising to double their pay during the event, and paid me less than 1/3 of what I was paid in 2008, assuring me that I would be paid in full in by the end of August. I have yet to see a penny of that money, and Craig Nicholls has repeatedly ignored my attempts to contact him in person, via phone and email.
I love organic beer, and I loved putting on the NAOBF. I helped put it on since day one, and am sad not to be involved, but I could not continue to work with someone who has clearly lost touch with the ideals that the event stood for. I worked to grow the event from a one day affair in Gresham in 2003 to the successful 3 day festival of sustainability and beer it was in 2009. Unfortunately, I did not feel that the finances were handled in a sustainable manner. This has been a problem for several years, when the seed money set aside for the next year's event always seemed to get funneled into Nicholls' brewery, Roots. I felt that further association with Mr. Nicholls would have been detrimental to my professional reputation and good name in the industry. I feel I gave him every opportunity to do the right and legal thing and pay the brewery in question and the non-profits, but he did not seem to feel that was a priority. I felt stupid having to ask someone to do what was not only the responsible thing, but what by law he was required to do, and getting the response of "oh yeah, that'll happen" but continually refusing to set out a timeline.
(Abe speaking at a previous year of the NAOBF, photo from The Oregonian)
Q: I also noticed many of the partners and breweries are not there this year...
A: That's really a question for Chris Crabb. I was not involved in the selection of breweries for the event this year. I heard from one very upset importer that the NAOBF chose not to do the bottle garden this year as a cost-saving measure.I know several breweries were not involved due to ethical concerns about the event. (I worked very hard to bring in special beers from out of state, which is a lot of paperwork and headache, but when one of these breweries has still not gotten paid from the previous year's event, you can see where the reluctance to send beer might originate). As for the beneficiaries, I'm not certain, I know Willamette Riverkeeper was very concerned about not getting paid in a timely manner last year.
Q: What do you think is the future of the NAOBF?
A: As someone who has been locked-out of any organizing of the event this year, that is hard to say. Chris Crabb and Teddy Peets run a tight ship at the Oregon Brewers Festival, and they will no doubt handle the NAOBF in a similar manner. There are a lot of rumors flying about what will happen with the proceeds, but I am too far removed from the event to speculate about what that portends for future years. I would hope that Craig Nicholls has a change of heart and remembers why he wanted to convince other Oregon brewers to make organic beer. The symposium that he organized in 2002 at the Lucky Lab was truly a watershed for organic beer, and the first organic beer festival in North America in 2003 was definitely a major step forward for organic beer.
Q: Are you thinking of starting any new projects?
A: Yes, I'm flying to New York in August to try to get an organic beer festival going there. I've also been talking to a couple of local brewery owners about putting on another festival locally. I took the spring off from festivals this year, as in recent years I spent about 20 hours a week working on the NAOBF from March through May, and 40 or more hours a week in June. I've gone back to work doing deconstruction full time. I love saving lumber, trim, and fixtures from old houses and keeping them out of the landfill. I'll still be helping out with other beer events around the state as well.
Keep up with Abe and his doings at his site Brewsville.
The 6th annual North American Organic Brewers Festival is this weekend
June 25 - 27, 2010 in Overlook Park in Portland, Oregon.http://www.naobf.org/
Noon to 9 p.m. Fri & Sat
Noon to 5 p.m. Sun
Noon to 9 p.m. Fri & Sat
Noon to 5 p.m. Sun