© Ball and Albanese

The future of the beer festival is unclear.

Mike Pomranz
May 11, 2017

Any lingering questions over which breweries will and will not be attending Wicked Weed Brewing’s annual Funkitorium Invitational event this year have officially been answered: No one will be attending. The sour beer festival has been canceled – at least for its scheduled date and in its current form.

Originally launched in 2014, the Funkitorium Invitational found its footing by focusing on the less common style of sour and wild beers. Hosted by Asheville, North Carolina’s Wicked Weed Brewing, who has its own robust wild beer program, this angle helped bring out breweries from all across the country excited to show off their funky creations. The same seemed set for this year – with over 70 breweries (very good ones, no less) – scheduled to attend the July 8 fest… but then the bomb dropped: On May 3, Wicked Weed announced that the company had been acquired by Anheuser-Busch InBev. Though often times these kinds of moves can be subtly telegraphed within the industry, by all accounts, almost no one – not even some of the Wicked Weed’s closest friends in the beer world – saw this coming. The fallout was swift and seemingly even more brutal than usual.

Part of that fallout was that breweries immediately began backing out of the Funkitorium Invitational. By Tuesday, nearly 50 breweries had confirmed they would no longer attend, with a mere one reaffirming its commitment to the event. That same day, Wicked Weed admitted defeat, posting an update on its website that the event had been canceled.

“The mission of this festival has always been centered around the sour beer community and giving back,” the brewery wrote. “This year, it has become clear that we can no longer host the festival with the original vision in mind. We respect the decisions of those who have decided to no longer attend, and we understand that the impact of bringing this community together is more important than Wicked Weed.” Those final words are devastating –Wicked Weed essentially acquiescing to being ostracized from the community it’s held so dear.

Still, Wicked Weed said the festival will hopefully continue in some form, in part because the brewery doesn’t want to let down the charity it supports. “Just like the sour beer community, Eblen Charities is still of paramount importance to us,” the brewery continued. “With that in mind, we will evolve the Funkatorium Invitational and host a reimagined festival to raise money for Eblen’s cause on September 16, 2017.” More details, Wicked Weed said, are forthcoming.

Though I could speculate as to why Wicked Weed has seen an especially intense rebuke of its sell out – and plenty of reasons exist – I’d instead like to point out that other AB InBev-owned craft breweries have still continued to hold beer festivals. Just last month, Long Island, New York’s Blue Point held its 14th Annual Cask Fest, featuring over 60 breweries. Granted, I’m sure plenty of brewers would refuse to attend that event as well – but the participants were a healthy mix of breweries, both independent and not. So maybe in the future, craft brewers will come to accept the path Wicked Weed has chosen, but for now, the wound is certainly fresh.