CrocodileDog Marketing – the guys behind Hibrewnation – show us how to put on a cool beer festival (even in the coldest months)
A Wednesday morning in November finds Matthew Davis on a mission. He’s one half of CrocodileDog Marketing – the duo behind some of Central PA’s biggest and best beer and wine festivals – and he’s driving the 80-mile round trip from York to Lancaster in search of a whale. He’s like Captain Ahab from Moby Dick, if Captain Ahab put on hugely successful beer and wine festivals instead of manically chasing a rogue whale across the sea. (That would’ve been a totally different book.)
The whale that Davis is hunting is the rare Narwhal – the barrel-aged Sierra Nevada imperial stout. After making a few stops, he finally finds his white whale (11 bottles worth) at Dominion Pizza on Columbia Avenue. But he’s not doing all this just for himself – he’s doing it for you. The 11 bottles will equal 22 sample pours at Hibrewnation – CrocodileDog’s winter-themed beer festival.
“That’s 22 more people that get to try that beer,” says Davis.
This winter, CrocodileDog Marketing – led by Davis and his uncle, Brian Dudley – expands its popular beer fest Hibrewnation to include two more festivals in Gettysburg and Harrisburg, along with the original event in York. Davis’ dedication to personally selecting and procuring a wide range of craft beer – including ultra-rare beers like Narwhal – is one of the things that sets Hibrewnation apart from other beer festivals.
“I like to do business the old way, which is, ‘Under-promise, over-deliver,’” says Davis. “You come to our festivals, and we’ll have those extra beers that we didn’t tell you about. It’s the little cool things like that. You walk away from the festival, and that’s the story you’re telling.”
Ducks Swimming in Puddles
Brian Dudley is a home winemaker and has been a dedicated member of the Sons of the American Legion for 20 years – at times holding positions at the state and national levels of the organization. Dudley’s stepfather – Robert Dahms, a veteran of the Vietnam War – inspired him to join the SAL and help causes benefitting veterans and children.
“We used to do pit beef and sandwich sales to raise money, and sometimes we were lucky if we made a hundred bucks,” says Dudley. “You wanted to help out the community, but you only made a hundred bucks. I’d been going to wine festivals, and I thought, ‘I could probably do one of these things.’ The guys said, ‘Sure, go ahead and try it, we’ll be there to help’.”
In May of 2008, the first Taste of Pennsylvania Wine Festival took place. Dudley rounded up some local wineries, secured the York Fairgrounds and began preparations for the event.
<<<GO: Hibrewnation makes its Harrisburg debut at the Farm Show Complex on December 13.
Click here for tickets.>>>
“We got rained out,” says Dudley.
“It rained so hard there were ducks swimming in puddles in the middle of the event,” says Davis.
They lost $5,000.
“I had to go back to these guys who are used to making a hundred bucks or breaking even and say, ‘Guys, we lost $5,000,” Dudley recalls. “They all said, ‘It was a great time, and we can’t control the weather. Let’s do it again’.”
After the washout at the first festival, Davis sat down and crunched the numbers.
“I looked at all the numbers and projected everything out and saw it had the potential to make money,” says Davis. They secured another loan and set out to try again.
In 2009, they not only made enough money to completely repay the loan, but they even saw a little profit – and a business was born. Over the course of the next seven years they would host three unique festivals and raise more than $60,000 for local nonprofits.
The Crocodile Dog Umbrella
The guys were happy with the results of Taste of Pennsylvania. But Davis – an economics and web design instructor at the Art Institute of York – realized their branding wasn’t what it needed to be. He rebranded the Taste of Pennsylvania with a retro-futuristic look including the iconic/ironic ’50s-style couple Bob and Alice and a robot. It became a great marketing and merchandising tool.
“Some people say, ‘I don’t get your branding. What’s up with the robot?’” says Davis. “I say, ‘Did you notice it? That’s what’s up with the robot.’”
Davis and Dudley, fresh off the success of the second Taste of Pennsylvania festival and the new rebrand, began to conceive other events. Davis is passionate about craft beer, so they came up with Yorktoberfest – a German-themed beer festival that debuted in 2010. For this year’s event, they bought memberships to Spring House Brewing Co.’s Barrel Reserve Society just to ensure that they’d be able to provide the local brewery’s special offerings.
In 2013, they launched what was originally conceived as a Viking-themed winter beer festival that became Hibrewnation. They planned the entire festival in less than three months, including crowdsourcing the festival name from fans and creating the mascot – a giant beer-chugging polar bear named Growler. The event was an instant success.
In the summer of 2014 they partnered with Foodstruck – the York-based food truck festival – to create the Treasure Island beer garden.
Davis and Dudley created CrocodileDog Marketing – named after a whimsical drawing made during a party game – as an umbrella covering all the festivals under one recognizable name.
Polar Bears with Beer
Don’t be scared if you go to Hibrewnation and a man dressed in a polar bear suit approaches you. It’s just Davis, and he might offer you a taste of a rare beer like Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout or maybe Sierra Nevada’s Narwhal.
“It’s about exploring beer. I want someone to come out to the festival who isn’t really into craft beer yet and try two versions of every beer style we have represented and really understand what kind of beer they might like,” says Davis. “And I want people like me to come out and see 20 beers they’ve never even had.”
“We hand-select the beer. Most beer events just invite the brewery in and let them bring in whatever they want – mostly their flagship stuff,” says Dudley. “We bring in those beers that you can’t get anywhere else. We join societies to get certain beers. I guarantee that we are the only festival that serves some of the beers that we get.”
This year’s festival features offerings from Sierra Nevada, Dogfish Head, Tröegs, Spring House and many more. And after the success of last year’s Hibrewnation in York, the guys decided to expand to Harrisburg and Gettysburg. The Harrisburg and Gettysburg events will also feature local food trucks.
It’s the passion for what they do that really sets CrocodileDog festivals apart. It’s driving 80 miles just to get enough of a rare beer for 22 samples. A post on Davis’ Twitter account sums it up perfectly: “I’m tired of festivals that blatantly don’t live up to their marketing hype. It’s my mission to make festivals that do.”
Thirsty? You have three chances to experience Hibrewnation Festival of Beer this winter: at the PA Farm Show Complex (2300 N. Cameron St., Harrisburg) on December 13; at the Allstar Complex (2638 Emmitsburg Rd., Gettysburg) on January 17; and at the York Expo Center (334 Carlisle Ave., York) on February 7. Click here for more info.