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By C. Richard Cotton
Published: Friday, March 21, 2014 9:21 AM CDT
Beer lovers should have plenty to love Saturday in Tupelo. The second annual Tupelo Craft Beer Festival kicks off in Fairpark at noon and lasts until 5 p.m.

“We are back for year two,” said Matt Leff, producer and promoter of Nashville-based Rhizome Productions Inc., which puts on the Tupelo event. “We have relocated to Fairpark due to the support of the city of Tupelo.” He said Veterans Park, where the inaugural event was held last year, was great but the downtown location works better for the festival.

“We were asked by downtown merchants to bring it downtown,” Leff said.

“Downtown Tupelo Main Street is excited to be partnering with Rhizome Productions to bring the second annual Tupelo Craft Beer Festival back and to downtown Tupelo,” said Debbie Brangenberg, Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association director. “This is a great event and Fairpark is the perfect venue. We look forward to a great weekend.”

Mayor Jason Shelton said the festival moving downtown – “to Tupelo’s front porch” – is a natural for the city: “It’s a festival obviously designed for beer lovers. If Tupelo is going to continue to recruit young, working families, we need to have these types of events.”

This year’s festival appears to be somewhat more pleasant than last year’s, as far as weather is concerned: “Despite weather in the low 30s and snowing all day, it was good,” Leff said of the 2013 festival. Fire pits burning around the main tent kept attendees warm as they sipped beer and nibbled food.

Saturday’s forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-60s and partly sunny skies.

“We expect a larger number of guests this year,” said Leff, who added the festival is limited to 1,500. He expects it to sell out before Saturday; if it does, there will be no tickets sold at the gate. Tickets – $40 each – are available at the DTMSA office, Neon Pig, Blue Canoe, Papa V’s (downtown), Todd’s Big Star and online at rhizomeproductions.com/craft-events/tupelocraftbeerfest.

A ticket includes a 5-ounce souvenir tasting glass, unlimited 2-ounce samples of about 120 beers, free drinking water and education seminars.

Leff said at least 30 breweries will be in attendance and offering their beers. Among them are three new Mississippi breweries: Yalobusha, Southern Prohibition and Oxford Brewing Co. He noted that New Belgium, a popular craft brewer, will be making its first appearance at a Mississippi festival. Leff also promised “a couple of brewers will be making their debut at the festival,” but didn’t name them so it will be a surprise for attendees.

Live music will be provided by Bon Fire Orchestra and Damn It Boys. Food vendors include Neon Pig, Local Mobile food truck and Two Dudes Mexican Foods truck.

Neon Pig owner Seth Copeland said last year’s event “was great despite the snow” but he’s looking for an even better festival this weekend, when he’ll be selling Smashburgers, salmon tacos and Zapp’s potato chips.

“This year is going to be bigger,” said Copeland.

He is also putting on the Friday Night Beer Fest Dinner at his Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen. The menu comprises six courses: wood-grilled artisan pizza, Umami Burgers, charcuterie plate, pork buns, farm-fresh vegetable plate, a “secret” dessert and at least three different beers. Cost for the dinner is $60 per person.

Leff said a combination ticket for the dinner and festival runs $95, a savings of $5. Designated Driver tickets for the festival are $15 and include water and snacks but no tasting glass.

The festival will be making donations to DTMSA and Tupelo-Lee Humane Society; Rhizome donated $1,000 to the humane society last year.

Hilton Garden Inn and Rhizome are offering packages for the weekend. A one-night stay (Saturday) for two and two festival tickets is $220; a two-night stay (Friday and Saturday) for two and two festival tickets is $330. To make a reservation, call the hotel at 718-5500.

Tickets purchased through the website include a service charge.