By Nate Strauch
In the three months since a who’s-who of local leaders unveiled an initiative aimed at uniting and branding the area’s burgeoning beer, wine and spirit industries, much of the work on the Texoma Craft Beverage Alliance has been handled behind the scenes.
The group has a snazzy, modern website, the backing of virtually all local government leaders and a clearly defined mission. What it has lacked, however, is a signature event — something that will provide a yearly yardstick of the organization’s success.
“We’re going to be the world-renowned center for fermentation science,” said Denison Development Alliance President Tony Kaai, a founding member of the Alliance. “That’s the goal.”
Enter the Texoma Craft Beverage Conference.
The Alliance will bring together a wide-ranging coalition of companies, outside presenters, and drink enthusiasts at the new Hilton Garden Inn Event Center for the first annual Texoma Craft Beverage Conference this summer. From June 11 to 14, organizers will celebrate the recent success stories around the area and brainstorm ways to improve the industry further still.
“Within the next two weeks, people should be able to register,” said Anna McKinney, president of the Denison Chamber of Commerce. “Part of the conference is to hope people who are interested in this will come and see what buildings, what properties are available … to continue to expand this.”
The Conference will begin in Sherman on Thursday, June 11, with a reception at 903 Brewers, as well as live music sponsored by the Sherman Chamber of Commerce through its Hot Summer Nights concert series. On Friday, the Sherman brewery will host classes for those interested in finding out more about what it takes to make an award-winning beer.
Ivanhoe Winery in downtown Denison will host similar informational sessions for wine lovers, while the city’s Ironroot Republic Distillery will take a small number of reservations for an in-depth look at crafting spirits.
“Anytime you have (civic) support when you’re trying to start up a craft beverage brand, it makes all the difference in the world, it really does,” said Robert Likarish, who co-founded Ironroot with his brother Jonathan in 2013. “It’s kind of cool because if people are coming up to visit — some people like wine, some people like beer and some people like spirits. So to be able to have a place where it showcases all three different groups, I think it’s really kind of cool and unique.”
On Friday night during the Conference, Denison will integrate its Music on Main program into a “Brewfest” event near Heritage Park. Main Street Program Director Donna Dow said the brewfest will give attendees the chance to taste the work of numerous local producers.
“We’re going to be able to have local representation of wine, beer and distilled spirits, so basically, it’s a taste of Texoma,” said Dow.
Saturday, exhibitors and speakers will gather at the Texoma Event Center for a day’s worth of events and an evening tasting, said McKinney.
Alliance organizers hope the Conference will provide numerous benefits to the area, drawing tourists up from the Metroplex, as well as showcasing the area to potential entrepreneurs looking for a place to locate or relocate.
“We need to get the attention, get the marketing out there and do this type of activity to draw people here,” said Will Myers, who runs retail recruitment for the Denison Chamber. “There’s only one or two other conferences (in the United States) that feature all three of the craft beverages. … We looked around to see who else was doing something like this, and there really weren’t many.”
Though the Conference will technically be held in Denison, its benefits will extend across the region, explained Sherman Mayor Cary Wacker. A key component of the Alliance is a spirit of cooperation among not only Sherman and Denison, but communities large and small, she said.
“In addition to the wine, beer, and spirits sessions, the conference will showcase the rich cultural experience we offer visitors,” said Wacker. “Good food and drink combined with local culture make every experience more memorable. I believe that conference attendees will take away a strong impression of the region as a destination worth visiting again.”
If local leaders have their druthers, the Conference will become a flagship event in Texoma, enabling the Alliance to set and meet ever-higher goals.
“We have two missions: One is to become recognized as the go-to region if you want to learn about fermentation science,” said Kaai. “And the second mission is the overall economic development of the area. And (the Conference) is just one of the tools to bring in that development — those people, those entrepreneurs — here to Grayson County.”
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