Beer fuels downtown discovery

Seth Gregory, South Bay Territory Manager from Mendocino Brewery, pours some Eye of the Hawk beer inside Cherisse's Hair Salon during the Brew Crawl event Saturday.

Beer enthusiasts flocked to Morgan Hill’s first-ever downtown Brew Crawl with such gusto Saturday that Morgan Hill’s Downtown Association said they look forward to making it an annual event.

Solo guitarists played music throughout the mildly sunny day, while the crowd of about 750 moseyed up and down Monterey Road, popping into businesses to have their mug filled with local and imported ciders, ales and lagers.

“Craft and unique beers have become a craze these days and we thought ‘let’s try it in our area,’ and it worked out great,” said Raquel Crowell, Morgan Hill’s downtown event coordinator.  

After hosting twice-a-year Wine Strolls in the fall and spring for four years, Morgan Hill’s Downtown Association noticed that fall ticket sales consistently lagged behind spring. So this year, they decided to keep the spirits flowing, but swap that glass of local red wine for specialty ale – and they are more than pleased with their results.

The crowd was slightly younger and peppered with more men than the wine tasting crowd, Crowell said, exposing different types of people to downtown that may have not experienced it before.

But don’t be mistaken: This gathering was not your typical county fair beer garden crowd. Beer drinkers – or connoisseurs – take their tasting as serious as wine lovers, Crowell said.

“I myself watched them. They would smell it, swirl it, taste it,” she said.

About half of the people who attended the came from all over the Bay Area, while the other half were Morgan Hill residents, Crowell said. But even among the locals, many beer drinkers raised their foamy glasses Saturday in a downtown they’ve never experienced before.

“This is fabulous,” said Brew Crawl attendee Michelle Francis, 36 of Morgan Hill, as she stood in front of the Good Fork restaurant with a beer in hand. “I never come downtown so this has let me find some places I did not know were here.”

Her neighbor, Mike Rodrigues, 39, concurred.

“I’ve been here three years, and this is the first time I’ve ever walked up and down downtown in its entirety. It even brought me in the stores,” Rodrigues said.

Shop owners were pleased with the foot traffic they had throughout the day.

“We had a lot more foot traffic than we normally get, and the people who came in would not normally be the kind of customer we would normally get, but we had a lot of people telling us, ‘Oh, I must come back later and get this or that,’” said Honnie Murphy, owner of Murphy’s Mercantile, an antique shop on Monterey Road.

Morgan Hill’s event featured 21 breweries each pouring from a different participating downtown business.

The most popular local brew, which was poured at Fast Frame custom framing store on Monterey Road, was the deeply malted, smoky and caramel Full Boar Scotch Ale from the Devil’s Brewing Company in Belmont.

Morgan Hill’s brewery, El Toro on Main Avenue and Monterey Road – which is also the closest brewery to Gilroy – was also represented at the Brew Crawl.  

Last weekend’s success has perked a few ears in Gilroy, causing a few people to wonder if the craft beer culture can be monetized in Gilroy as well.

“I definitely think that a beer crawl is a good idea, I know there are people in Gilroy who really enjoy their beer and would probably like it a lot,” said Melanie Corona, Gilroy’s Downtown Business Association coordinator.

But right now, Corona said there are no plans in the works for a beer crawl.

“There are always ideas, our running list of ideas is quite long,” Corona said – but at least for now, a beer crawl isn’t priority.

“It takes a lot of work to put on these kinds of events,” she said.

Jane Howard, Gilroy’s Welcome Center director thought that a beer crawl is a great thing to idea to throw on the table for downtown Gilroy.

“We’re going to take a real good look at how to expand events, and that might be a great thing to talk about,” Howard said.

Gary Walton, downtown property owner and business advocate, said he hopes Gilroy’s Downtown Business Association will up the number of events they do annually, and consider things they haven’t tried before.

“A beer crawl has some merit, and it could be a nice little fundraiser, an alternative to a wine stroll,” he said.

Susan Valenta, president of Gilroy’s Chamber of Commerce, said that it’s always good to look to other communities to see what kinds of events they have had success with.

“It’s good to look at new ideas that could switch things around a little bit, maybe offer something newer or more trendy,” Valenta said. “After research we could determine if an idea is a good fit for Gilroy.”

When asked if Morgan Hill’s Downtown Association would mind if Gilroy copied their idea, Crowell laughed.

“We take ideas from everybody else too, how ever each city can help and benefit each other is great,” she said.

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