Screenland Armour operators Adam Roberts and Brent Miller wanted to meet at Rock & Run Brewery, in downtown Liberty, to talk with me about their second Arts & Crafts festival. A year ago, when the two were planning their first such event — uniting craft beer, music, art and film — Rock & Run hadn't yet opened its garage doors or poured its first hoppy, 14-percent-ABV double IPA Saminator.
Screenland's North Kansas City neighbors Big Rip and Cinder Block weren't at full steam yet, either; those new breweries had to sit out the party. Across town, KC Bier Co. was still building out.
Now, everything is different.
"Since Arts & Crafts, there have been three or four breweries that have opened, which is night-and-day from last year," Roberts says between sips of his Saminator. "Year over year, the entire beer scene is 100 percent different."
Right after last year's festival, Roberts and Miller began assessing how to make year No. 2 better. Instead of brainstorming add-ons, they started by tossing a failure. Midnight mystery movies — an obvious idea that turned out to be poorly attended — got the ax. And they decided to concentrate the entertainment rather than spread it wider.
So the second Arts & Crafts rolls out over two days, August 22 and 23, at Screenland Armour (408 Armour Road, North Kansas City). Unlike last year, all 275 ticket holders will experience every event together (aside from a pair of dueling movie screenings). But the emphasis on craft beer? That's where the more is.
Friday night is dedicated to the aforementioned local breweries — along with one yet to come. That means tappings from Rock & Run, Big Rip, KC Bier Co. and Cinder Block, as well as Crane Brewing Co. The latter is homebrewer Michael Crane's operation, which he says is going pro in Raytown next year.
"It's the best opportunity to try all of these local breweries, that are scattered across the city, in one place," Roberts says.
Doors open at 5:45 p.m. Friday, with showings of Happy Christmas at 6:30 and a choice of Stop Making Sense or Coherence at 8:15. The music starts at 10 p.m. with Jim West, followed by sets from Patrick Woolam and La Guerre.
The festival resumes Saturday afternoon (doors open at 3 p.m.) with a showing of Craft, Craig Noble's documentary on the booming craft-beer industry. A craft-beer forum follows, at 4:30 (I'm moderating), dressed up with a special tapping from Cinder Block. The Tallgrass Short Film Festival starts at 5 p.m., and the beer drinking begins in earnest at 5:30, accompanied by a Deco Auto performance. The rest of that night's music: Various Blonde, Schwervon, Now Now Sleepyhead, and the American Life. It wraps up at 10 p.m. with a second showing of Stop Making Sense, opposite the local debut of the new movie Frank.
Craft beer is also the focus of the short-film festival.
"Our rules [for submissions] are pretty simple," Roberts says. "It's four-minute movies. And you have to involve craft beer in some way."
The winner gets to make an ad for Tallgrass, which will then run at Screenland's Armour and Crossroads locations for six months.
At its heart, Arts & Crafts is a beer festival, and it does some expected beer-festival things. Each ticket holder gets a 4-ounce tulip glass for sampling the wares of some 25 craft brewers. Bandwagon Merch is printing a shirt for the festival.
But that heart also beats with charity in mind; this year, a portion of the proceeds goes to one of three nonprofits: the Ryan Beye Memorial Foundation, CancerviveKC or Social Heart. (Festivalgoers will be able to give to each of those charities on-site.)
"Our whole thing with Arts & Crafts has been, let's not be every other beer fest," Roberts says. "Let's be inside. Let's be air-conditioned."
"It's not about drinking all of the beers that you can drink in three hours and getting wasted," Miller adds.
"Last year, we found that people want to try different beers. They want the rare stuff," Roberts says. "And we think people want to be educated on the beers. And that's kind of our highlight this year, is beer education, from start to finish."
Part of that is Saturday's panel discussion, with representatives from distributors (Central States Beverage's Jordan Millam, North Kansas City Beverage's Brian Duff, MoBev's Andy Jenkins), brewery owners (Tallgrass' Jeff Gill, Rock & Run's Gene DeClue), brewmasters (New Belgium's Cody Reif), marketing directors (Mothers' Holly Mills, 4 Hands' Heath Manson) and an area manager (New Belgium's Adam Satz) all onboard. Want to know how to come up with a beer recipe? Just ask. Want to know how the breweries are handling hop shortages? Ask away. (While the audience ponders questions for that group, they'll be able to sample Cinder Block pilot brewer Andrew Hicks' special-session ale, made with ella hops.)
"One of the things that we've always hated [about beer fests] is, you don't get to know anything about the company or the breweries," Roberts says. "It's just, here's a sample, move on. And if you do, it's in a pamphlet."
"There are other beer festivals that have tried the education thing, but they do it in a way that nobody cares," Miller says. "They do it during the beer fest. They do it over loudspeakers, and nobody cares."
Last year, Roberts admits, the festival's beers were a little obvious.
"This year, we wanted to get not only brands that are more rare but brands that all consider themselves artisanal in some way," Roberts says. "Our biggest one is New Belgium. When New Belgium came to us to ask to sponsor this year's festival, we said, 'Awesome. We like your beers, but you are a huge brewery. We want to showcase your weird stuff.' And they make a lot of weird stuff. They're pretty much responsible for bringing sour beers to the mainstream. And they seem enthusiastic, and they're bringing a lot of interesting stuff."
Among that offbeat array: Le Terroir (a dry-hopped sour ale) and Transatlantique Kriek (a "spontaneously fermented lambic ale made with Polish cherries," the company says).
Among the other brewers slated for tastings are Jolly Pumpkin, Prairie Artisan Ales, Mikkeller, Evil Twin Brewing and more than 20 others.
"We're offering beers that you can't get at any other beer fest," Roberts says. "Evil Twin, Prairie, Mikkeller — they've never done beer fests in Kansas City. They're really highly sought-after breweries."
Arts & Crafts is also tapping kegs of 2013 Boulevard Rye-on-Rye, 2013 Southern Tier Choklat, and more. In addition, there will be firkins from Mothers (Smoked Porter with bacon), Tallgrass (8-Bit Pale Ale with pomegranate), 4 Hands (Resurrection IPA with mango and pineapple), Prairie Artisan (Cherry Funk, a barrel-aged sour that you'll be able to drink only in KC at Arts & Crafts), Empyrean (Dark Side Vanilla Porter brewed with chocolate), and Cinder Block (a brown ale with whiskey, honey and medium-toast American oak that won the brewery's homebrewing competition). Some of it you probably won't see again.
"If I saw this lineup — and it wasn't our event — I'd be there," Roberts says. "It just sounds like what I want to do. If you want all your hipster badges in one swoop, then you spend $60 in two days and you get it all."