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WaZoo Beer Fest crowds prompt Lowry Park Zoo to consider a cap

TAMPA — Tampa's oldest and biggest beer festival was a little too well attended this year.

The 16th annual WaZoo Beer Fest had record attendance Saturday night, with about 4,600 people crowding in to sample 280 beers from 80 breweries and small bites from 15 local restaurants. They paid anywhere from $55 to $75 for a ticket.

And crowd in they did. Parking lots were overflowing, food lines were long and some beer taps went dry.

While the event raised about $210,000 for animal care and education programs at the zoo, the fest's Facebook page drew some stinging complaints.

"What a miserable time," Amanda McCusker wrote in one of the harsher critiques. "It started out with them losing my friend's ticket and running out of cute cups. Once we got in there (it) was so crowded it took forever to get a sip of beer. We tried to get food but the stations were either already out and shut down or ran out of food while we were waiting in line for 20 minutes. … Worst event I've ever been (to)."

She doesn't speak for everyone, of course. Plenty of people had a good time and some left praise on the event's Facebook page. Still, the zoo is considering capping attendance next year to lessen the crowded conditions, said spokeswoman Rachel Nelson.

"It is fair to say that demand was tremendous this year," Nelson e-mailed in response to an inquiry about the complaints. "Technically, we don't have a 'capacity' at this event, other than the indoor lodge (VIP-level ticket), which did sell out about a week before the event. General admission numbers have not been an issue in past years. … After this year's event and guest feedback, we are considering a 'cap' for next year."

The zoo is large and can accommodate a lot of guests. Nelson points out that 16,500 people attended during the day on July 24 for one of its quarterly $5 admission days. The zoo hasn't decided what the WaZoo attendance cap will be next year.

The big attendance is yet another sign of the growing interest locally in craft beer, with new pubs and fests starting up.

Last year's Craft Beer Expo at the Coliseum in downtown St. Petersburg had similar problems, with unexpected crowds and no cap on attendance (though it ran out of beer a lot faster than WaZoo). Capping attendance seemed to work for this year's expo, which was well attended — and didn't run out of beer.

Swamp Head Brewery from Gainesville drew a healthy following during the event and won best in show for its Smoke Signal Smoked Porter.

WaZoo Beer Fest crowds prompt Lowry Park Zoo to consider a cap 08/09/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 10, 2011 11:10am]
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