Austin Beer Fest Turns Into Houston Beer Fest Disaster, Redux

This past June, the inaugural Houston Beer Fest at Hermann Square Park outsold the space by 8,000 tickets, infuriating attendees. But that was just the first of many problems for the event.

Lines to get in stretched for blocks as many guests suffered heat exhaustion. Lines inside the event were equally long, and the festival quickly ran out of both beer and water. Its organizers were initially unresponsive to requests for explanations or refunds, but quick to remove complaints from their Facebook page, prompting angry guests to set up a Facebook page of their own: I Hate Houston Beer Fest.

Over the weekend, some of the same organizers responsible for Houston Beer Fest created a nearly identical fiasco in Austin at the Travis County Expo Center. Within hours of the Austin Beer Fest, attendees were writing vicious reviews of the festival on Twitter, Yelp and the festival's Facebook page. Wrote one festival attendee on Yelp:

1. Ticket prices were high, and you only got 6 2oz tasters with a ticket
2. Parking was $10, which combined with the ticket prices felt like gouging
3. The line to actually park a car was about 30 minutes
4. The line to enter the Fest once we parked was about 20 minutes
5. The event was listed as an "International" Beer Fest, but I did not see many of the beers actually out. The few ones from other countries were a couple of bottles sitting out in the sun.
6. Once the event got crowded, lines to get a 2oz taster were over 20min
7. During the event, trucks were unloading beer bottles/cans in the middle of the lines of people. I was honked at several times to move out of the way for a truck that was clearly in the middle of where people were supposed to line up for the beer tents
8. Tickets for more tasters/one full beer were $7, which once again felt like gouging

Houston-based Brent Villareal with Llama Productions LLC was one of the organizers involved in the Houston Beer Fest, and was also responsible for the Austin Beer Fest. Initially, the Austin Beer Fest organizers sought to distance themselves from the Houston Beer Festival fiasco, but Eater Austin called them on this and got Villareal to admit his involvement with both. His partner in the Houston Beer Fest, Timothy Hudson, was not involved in the Austin festival, however.

On the Austin Beer Fest's Facebook page, the organizers appear to have taken a similar tactic against bad PR as they did last June; many angry comments from festival-goers have since been deleted, although a large handful still remains.

"This was a ridiculous waste of my time and money," wrote attendee Kelly Verdin. "Poor organization, pay to park, tiny samples, long lines, misleading information... I want my time and money back!"

Until this afternoon, the organizers appeared to have taken active measures to distance themselves from the event while refusing to acknowledge the situation at hand.

Meanwhile, the same Austin Beer Fest organizers saw their L.A. Beerathon cancelled over the weekend in Los Angeles after they failed to obtain any basic licenses for the festival...such as a liquor license.

"The organizers do not hold any licenses authorizing them to sell alcohol," said John Carr, a media-relations officer for the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. "Selling alcohol without a license is a misdemeanor in California."

The only silver lining in the Austin Beer Fest / L.A. Beerathon scandal is that the organizers appear to have learned from an earlier lesson while hosting the similarly fail-tastic Houston Wine Fest: Don't call your organization a 501(c)(3) charity when you haven't been approved by the IRS.

After days of radio silence, the organizers finally took to their Facebook page this afternoon with a long screed that blames nearly every mistake on the venue, the breweries they invited and even the guests themselves.

"This is now a legal matter, and we are dealing with it accordingly, and due to this we can't go into complete detail on every part of the event," said the long explanation. "We do not expect people to understand our frustration and how upset we are that this happened, but know we are taking a proper course of action."

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Katharine Shilcutt