It Takes a Village… (but sometimes you only have a few people)
Even before J Wakefield Brewery officially opened its doors in 2015 there was an aura of mysticism surrounding it. John Wakefield, head brewer, had long garnered a reputation throughout the craft beer community for his particular iterations of old faithfuls and completely new styles alike. I guess it should be no surprise then that they now deal with the kind of internet scrutiny that’s become commonplace for anywhere with notoriety.
Despite rave reviews from the vast majority of people who try their beers or visit the brewery, it seems like there’s inevitably some people who find reasons to complain (never about the beer itself mind you). Whether it’s their bottle releases throughout the year, or more limited special events trolls come out of the woodwork on social media giving them flack for one thing or another. Generally it’s related to logistics, an area ripe for hiccups when you’re constantly dealing with huge turnouts and way more demand than supply. I’ve looked on in wonder over the years, every now and then my attention being called by a particularly vehement batch of comments. As someone who’s dealt with organizing events, I know how challenging it can be and given that I know the guy who’s responsible for dealing with their social media, I had to reach out and ask how he handles it.
Here’s what Alex Gutierrez, Brand Director, had to say:
YO: When exactly did you start at Wakefield?
AG: I joined the JWB team on July 10, 2015, just 5 months after we had opened to the public.
YO: Has your role there changed since you started? What are your responsibilities?
AG: When I first joined the team, I was hired as the Brand Director, but at the time my energy was focused mainly in assisting production, along with the social media and day to day in the Tap Room. Present day, my areas of focus are on community management, social media director, tap room manager, and general administrative duties, but I still get the opportunity to get down and dirty and assist in production and work events.
YO: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed since you started there, specifically for
you guys at Wakefield but in the general Wynwood/Miami beer scene in general as well?
AG: Some of our biggest changes have been the packaging of our beer in 16oz can 4 packs. This has allowed our community to further enjoy our product in the comfort of their home, with family and friends and has allowed us to test out the packaging market. Within the neighborhood we continue to see the growth of craft beer and seeing new breweries and/or brewery concepts opening up.
YO: How far in advance do you start preparing for an event like Wakefest?
AG: This year we started planning back in July 2017 to insure that we had all the logistics in place. We knew we wanted to do something bigger and better for our community, so that required more work behind the scenes.
YO: How many people on the team work behind the scenes on planning for the festival?
AG: There are three of us that handle the majority of the event planning, but in the end we are a team of 6 behind the curtain getting all the pieces together.
YO: I attended the first ever festival you guys did, and it’s definitely evolved over the years; take us through that growth.
AG: Back in year 1 when it was dubbed Wakestock, we had about 50 breweries and several hundred people attended. It was a completely different format then. In 2017, the second year, WakeFest 2017 had over 80 craft breweries from around the world with roughly 1500 attendees. This year, we have well over 100 independent craft breweries and have already sold about 1500 tickets as of the end of January, but that number rises daily.
YO: What’s it like seeing some of the negative feedback online from people when you guys are just doing your best to put together a great experience for everyone?
AG: You learn to just laugh it off. Sometimes there can be negative feedback that we evaluate and helps us improve, but most of the time it’s just an online trolling community with nothing better to do. We know we’re doing everything in our power and we learn and grow daily so we can continue to offer our best to our community.
YO: What are your favorite additions to the festival this year?
AG: Personally, I love that we changed the format to an invitational event showcasing independently owned craft breweries from all over the world. Also we’ve given patrons the opportunity to purchase bottles online in advance rather than at the end of the festival when everybody is responsibly inebriated and tired.
YO: What are your thoughts on the trend of craft breweries getting bought out (in part or in full) by larger breweries/distributors?
AG: I say, good for them! Some breweries are created with a passion to create handcrafted beers and others
are created by a concept to join the rise of craft beer solely for the profits. What’s really important is that our community is educated so that they can make their own choice as to who and what they want to support.
Personally, I think it’s safe to say that the guys and gals over at J Wakefield fall squarely in the passionate category, and look forward to basking in the glory of all their hard work and effort this Saturday during the festival.