ROCKINGHAM – The Richmond Plaza parking lot was “clucking” Saturday as hundreds of people congregated for the third annual Hoptoberfest celebration.
Hosted by the Richmond County Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with Tri-City, Inc., Hoptoberfest is a combination of a craft beer and wing festival. The two organizations were able to bring in 29 event sponsors, some of which included Purdue of Rockingham and Tri-City. Superior Cranes, also a sponsor, had a crane on site that boasted an official banner and an American flag.
With all 650 available tickets sold out weeks in advanced, event goers were able to sample dozens of originally crafted beers and wines from 10 breweries, two wineries and a beer truck. Each guest was also allowed to sample chicken wings from all the cooking competition teams, while listening to the grooves of The Black Water Rhythm and Blues Band.
Guests sampled dozens of craft brews during Saturday’s event; pictured is vendor Dirtbag Ale.
In what began three years ago as a way to fulfill the Chamber’s desire to host a local fall festival, coupled with Tri-City’s want to promote the plaza’s redevelopment, Hoptoberfest has progressed into a community spectacle that beer and food enthusiasts anticipate every year.
Neil Robinette, CEO of Tri-City, Inc., and who also serves as the event’s chair, was thrilled about the turnout and is encouraged about the community’s overwhelming interest.
“This event really helps provide (the Chamber) with the resources and exposure it needs to do the things it does,” Robinette said. “This event helps the community grow, and in that aspect, we’ve done really well. It’s also great for Tri-City because it brings awareness to what we’re doing.
“Hoptoberfest has been received extremely well by the community,” Robinette continued. “Folks have really turned out, and we’ve been ramping up the number of admission tickets (each year). This event is different; we offer a wing competition, we always have a great band, and craft beer is something different. It’s been a fun event to put together.”
As Hoptoberfest has exploded into a must-attend annual event, attendees from all over North Carolina, as well as South Carolina flock to Richmond Plaza in search of their next favorite beer and wing combination. Patrick and Ashley Lupfer traveled from Moore County to enjoy the festival.
“I personally love the beer and wing combination,” Patrick said. “This area is such a tight-knit community in the first place, but Hoptoberfest is great because it helps bring people together and allows them to reconnect.”
“The atmosphere is great,” Ashley added. “There is something here for everyone, whether they drink beer, cider or wine. And there are so many volunteers helping out, so it’s good to see the community coming together.”
On site during Saturday’s three-hour festival were breweries from all over the state. Guests could try as many sample-sized brews as they wanted, with the option to pay additionally for full pint drinks. The breweries included: Aviator Brewing Company, Bear Creek Brews, Deschutes Brewery, Dirtbag Ale, Fainting Goat Brewing Company, Foothills Brewpub, Fortnight Brewing Company, Mash House Brewery, Railhouse Brewery and YesterYears Brewery.
A beer truck was also on tap, that offered over a dozen more craft and nationally recognized beers, some of which were from Southern Pines Brewing Company and Hi-Wire. For non-beer drinkers, Dennis Vineyards and Rocky River Vineyards joined the action and offered a selection of wines.
Eleven teams competed in the signature chicken wing competition, and cooked approximately 12,000 chicken wings, which was made possible by Purdue. With each team cooking up its own recipe, flavors ranged from smoky to sweet, mild to hot. There were two judging formats for the competition, as there were official judges, as well as a “people’s choice” award, in which guests could cast a vote for their favorite wings.
Winning the judge’s competition, and taking home the $750 cash prize was Rockingham-based duo The Screaming Memes. Mike Hall and Scott Warner used their own concoction of a sweet dry rub to win over the judges. Kenneth Robinette, who is the asset manager and COO of Tri-City, finished as the runner up. Garnering the most votes in the people’s choice format was The Hogfather Barbecue.
The Screaming Memes team poses with their first-place trophy voted on by Hoptoberfest’s judges.
“We are shocked that we won,” Hall said smiling as he held onto the grand-prize trophy. “This was our first time trying this (recipe), and I think it was the sweet heat that helped us win.”
Emily Tucker, the Chamber’s president, noted at how successful Hoptoberfest was. She acknowledged all of the vendors, and said the event couldn’t be a success if it wasn’t for them. She continued by saying the wing teams are the “real superstars” of the event because they spend all day preparing the food. Tucker also expressed how the event benefits Richmond County’s constituents and its progression.
“The mere fact that my job allows me to contribute to the quality of life for a community I love says it all,” Tucker said. “It’s not about what I, or the Chamber or Tri-City does. It’s about how we can come together as community partners to accomplish something for the community.
“We don’t have any breweries located in Richmond County,” Tucker added. “Yet, we can bring them to our community through events like Hoptoberfest, and as a result, they are now looking at us as a place of growth.
With several volunteers on staff to help run the festival, Blair Fetner, who drove from Wilmington, N.C., to lend a helping hand, spoke of how she loves returning to be a part of Hoptoberfest.
“Last year was my first year volunteering, and I loved it because Richmond County was actually bringing something here that people look forward to,” Fetner said. “My favorite part of the event is the music, but the volunteers are what make the event for me. They’re awesome and they all do a great job.”
Seth Allen, who is the membership director with the Chamber, called Hoptoberfest a “major success,” and stated that all of the events proceeds go toward the Chamber’s programs and services. He also said the two host companies are excited about getting the works started for next year’s festival.