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Why two Americans have brought the keg party to Stockholm

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Why two Americans have brought the keg party to Stockholm
Mark Stein (left) and Austin Davis (right). Photo: Personal
06:59 CEST+02:00
What's a 'kegger', you ask? A combination of the word keg with the American expression 'rager' (a crazy party). The US organizers of Stockholm craft beer festival Katarina Kegger hope that their new event can help bring together a community of brewers in Sweden.

Mark Stein and Austin Davis are the two founders of the company behind the Kegger, the Stockholm Brewers Festival. The Local met them at Katarina Ölkafé in the Swedish capital, and they enthused about why they both felt like a craft beer festival in the US style was something that needed to be done here.

"We were homesick, so to save money on flights we just created it here," Stein explains.

"This event is really fun for us because we're bringing part of an American culture, we're not really relabeling or re-boxing it, it's just a real fun American experience. It's going to be really straight up, bringing the community together to become basically whatever Stockholm wants it to be, which is the fun part I think," says Davis.

The promotional poster for the event. Photo: Stockholm Brewers Festival

It not only has a US style, but according to the duo, the festival is supposed to be in a West Coast style.

"There are other festivals in Sweden that care more about buying and selling and restaurant people, it's not really about fun and exposing beer to people that are maybe afraid. This is more of a laid-back block party," Stein notes.

According to him a large choice of beers in a bar or restaurant can sometimes be overwhelming or intimidating to people who perhaps don't know much about beer.

"When you go to a bar and there's too many choices, it makes you feel kind of lost because you don't know where to start, and just that fear for some people is enough to not walk into a bar," his partner adds.

Enjoying a particular beverage. Photo: Personal

That's where the West Coast part is important, in their eyes. The West Coast breweries, in Davis' words, "tend to support their neighbourhood and throw a neighbourhood party" and are more focused on "experience points" and getting their name out through good exposure.

"That's a classic, recurring theme in the western US. People drink local and try to do something fun with that," he finishes.

Stein is a Canadian-American who moved to Sweden with his wife five years ago after spending most of his "important life" in Seattle, where the craft beer culture and supporting local beer making is a big deal.

Davis, an American from Flagstaff, Arizona, moved to Sweden on a "love visa" after meeting a Swedish girl in college. Here, he established the well known bar Katarina Ölkafé with two other guys. He is now the only one of the original owners who remain however. "It has been fun watching it grow, it did not look the same three years ago," he stresses.

The company they founded – Stockholm Brewers Festival – is based on an American business model, meaning they hope that it will one day be owned by the breweries who participate.

Created specifically to hold beer festivals, the founders plan to hold three or four a year, giving the breweries a platform to be creative in terms of beers (think harvest beers, pumpkin beers and so on).

"We didn't structure it as a business to make a lot of profit, but rather to carry itself," reveals Stein.
The company's logo. Photo: Stockholm Brewers Festival

Not making any money from the festival for themselves, it is more of a passion project than a job for the two.

"Most of the breweries don't want to work with a for-profit festival, they want to do it for the community, partake in a more face-to-face way with the customers," Davis claims. "It should be about the beer."

It's important to take care of the brewers, too, so they want to participate next time as well:

"The brewers are a little wary, I don't think they get treated very well at certain festivals, so you have to show them a good time, give them a good experience too."

Having some friends who have done other festivals watching out for them doesn't hurt. "We have a lot of people in the restaurant industry watching our backs, making sure we don't do something silly," Davis laughs. "It's nice to have people looking out for you."

Beer tokens from the festival. Photo: Stockholm Brewers Festival

The festival itself is divided into three separate sessions for a simple reason – to fit as many people in as possible, adapting the downside of small venues.

"It would be nice to just let a thousand people in there and let them tear it up for five hours," Davis muses, but "if you have an open day there's a tendency that everybody shows up on Saturday, between three and eight. We can only let like 400 people through the door, legally, so what would happen is we would have 200 people waiting outside maybe, if they showed up at the same time."

In the spirit of being local, musicians from around the neighbourhood will be playing at the festival too. "(The venue) Orion theatre is a really great sounding location, so everybody would jump at the chance to play there," Davis points out.

READ ALSO: Why these Kiwis set up their own brewery in Stockholm

Because the musicians will essentially be performing for free, the organizers wanted to find a way to pay them back and promote their music at the same time. Working with a division of Spotify called Soundtrack Your Brand, they're creating a vinyl record of music played at the festival. All the money from the LPs sold will then go to the artists.

"We want to make sure everybody gets taken care of basically, but we don't have the money to pay all the artists," Davis bemoans, adding that the musicians selflessly shared "some of their best songs" for the record.  

The record from the event's acts. Photo: Stockholm Brewers Festival

Proceeds from a beer flavoured ice-cream to be sold at the event go straight to a foundation called Do Good Now, which fights human trafficking and child sex slavery.

"It's a cool charity," Davis notes, "one of the guys has been fighting this stuff for like 20-30 years out in Asia, but now they're getting international. They're getting help from academics, trying to get money going for safe houses and stuff."

Asked about special beer made for the festival, the reaction is one of secrecy. "We can't really talk about the beers."

READ ALSO: Stockholm's brewpubs rated and slated

They do reveal however that there will be beers sold exclusively at the festival, though if there's any left over after might be sold later at Katarina Ölkafé.

The goal is to go through the last few kegs in the last hours of the festival if possible. "That's the whole reason for showing up!" exclaims Davis, "I know that everyone is making some crazy stuff. This is why you do these festivals. The brewers have the opportunity to make a love project basically. I'm excited to see what happens".

Beer-wise the festival is still a mystery then, but since it's seasonal, something with a bit more love and creativity is to be expected. "It's a beer celebration," Davis says, "you don't bring your house beer, you bring something you've beer really burning to get out and have everybody try".

"The only bad thing about this is that we legally have to be sober during the whole festival," he finishes, laughing.

Liquid gold. Photo: Stockholm Brewers Festival

Beer will be the only alcoholic drink available at the festival, but an exception is one night where there will be some bourbon involved. Festival activities will range from beer-related mini-golf, specially designed for the occasion, to beer flavoured polkagris (Swedish candy), which according to Austin is "about as good as a snickers bar," and the beer ice-cream of course.

Beer sweets. 

The festival will take place at Orionteatern in Stockholm on June 2-3rd. More information is available on their website

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