Beginning a booze-based fundraiser in a region soaked by wine parties and charity events shouldn’t be so easy, but last year’s Zoo Brew benefit bash for the Santa Barbara Zoo immediately hit legendary status. Maybe it was because of the fine breweries brought in for the affair, or perhaps it was the fact that the wild animals were all around, but the sold-out crowd was most likely a success due to the combination of the two — we’re talking about the Channel Islands Fox Tail Pale Ale, of course, the endangered species-inspired concoction specially developed for the event by Pete Johnson of the Brewhouse on East Montecito Street.
This year’s Zoo Brew — which takes over our zoological gardens’ grassy knoll Saturday, June 11, from 2-6 p.m. (or starts at 1 p.m. for the VIPs) — promises a new Brewhouse-meets-beast beer that’s been in the works for months now: Daniel’s Longneck Lager, an amber-hued brew that features on its label the baby giraffe whose surprising birth at the zoo earlier this year caught national attention.
“The baby giraffe was all the rage,” recalled Johnson, who quickly hit upon the idea of longneck as an ode to both the spinally endowed ungulates and old-school brewing traditions. “It’s like an American Octoberfest,” said Johnson of the style, “a little hoppier than the typical German version.”
Special suds aside, the fest — the motto of which is “Drink Beer. Save Wild Life.” — goes down in one of Santa Barbara’s more memorable locations, surrounded by gorillas and goats, meerkats and macaws, palm trees and birds of paradise. “It’s probably one of the most beautiful beer festivals,” said the zoo’s marketing director, Dean Noble, who explained that more than 500 people had to be turned away last year, even though they’d only sold 40 tickets two weeks before the event. This year, they’re upping attendance by 400 people to 1,600 max, but that may even sell out prior to Saturday.
The fun is expected to bring in more than $50,000 to support ongoing work and exhibits, money that’s especially critical because the Santa Barbara Zoo is not a wing of the city, like most other municipal zoos. “We’re a private nonprofit zoo, which is very unique,” said Noble, who refers to his employer as the “Green Bay Packers of zoos,” because a city our size should not be able to support a zoo of this caliber. The biggest fundraiser of the year remains the Zoofari Ball — held every August, this year with a Moroccan theme — but Zoo Brew boasts a distinct advantage: attracting a younger crowd. “It’s a great entrée back into the zoo,” said Noble, who hopes the twenty- and thirty-somethings in attendance will one day return with their kids-to-be.
On tap this year are even more regional breweries than last year, as well as additional port-a-potties, better and more food, designated-driver tickets, four-ounce tasting glasses made out of recycled beer bottles, and a VIP hour from 1-2 p.m. where guests who pay a bit more will be treated to a special tasting, appetizers, and face time with the best brewers.
That’ll include Pete Johnson, but be careful that he doesn’t try to get any of the giraffes drunk, for as he claimed from last year, “That fox would totally drink beer with me!” Noble, meanwhile, assured, “That fox did not drink any beer,” but added that this year’s Longneck Lager does fit the bill most appropriately. “For a baby giraffe,” laughed Noble, “Daniel is a little bit hoppier.”
Zoo Brew 2011 takes over the Santa Barbara Zoo on Saturday, June 11, 2-6 p.m., with special VIP events at 1 p.m. For more info, see sbzoo.org or call 962-5339.