Craft Brews Galore at Saturday Festival in Novato

Three bands and more than 60 microbrews will be available for sampling at Stafford Lake County Park.

About 4,000 people attended the California Beer Festival's shindig down in Ventura last weekend, and the organizer is hoping for a similar turnout this Saturday in the festival's stop at Stafford Lake County Park in Novato.

"We're excited to bring this to Marin," said Vincenzo Giammanco, president of the three-year-old California Beer Festival series. "Stafford Lake is gorgeous, and I'm so stoked to be able to bring it there."

About 35 breweries will pour upwards of 60-70 selections between 12:30 and 5 p.m. Saturday. On stage will be standout blues guitarist Chris Cain, the 14-piece Michael Jackson tribute band called Foreverland and the Highway Poets, formerly known in the North Bay as Hillside Fire.

For many years Marin had two beer festivals — the Fairfax Brewfest in March and the Breastfest in the summer months. But the Breastfest, a fundraiser for a nonprofit breast cancer clinic, moved to Fort Mason in San Francisco three years ago.

Giammanco, a filmmaker from Monterey, staged his first California Beer Festival two years ago in Ventura and has since expanded to Santa Cruz and San Dimas. The Novato event is perfectly placed, he said, because of award-winning local breweries such as Moylan's in Novato, Marin Brewing Company in Larkspur and Lagunitas in Petaluma.

"It's about educating people about good beer," he said. "In the Bay Area you have a lot of people who love to talk about great craft beer and the styles they like. I started in January looking for the right location, going up and down between San Rafael and Petaluma. I saw Stafford and said, 'Wow, it's perfect.' The scenery doesn't get much better. It helps create a great vibe — a great location, great beer, great food, a great music lineup and a great vibe with your friends and making new friends."

Giammanco, 27, said his ah-hah moment about artisan and microbrewed beer really rocked his world.

"When I tasted my first craft beer, I realized, holy sh--t, that's amazing," he said. "I think it was a Sierra Nevada. My dad always drank MDG and Coors Light, and I thought that's what beer was until then. I just got inspired and learned more and more about craft beer."

With that spirit in mind, he urges the crafter brewers to send employees and preferably the brewers themselves to staff the tap handles and help answer questions from beer geeks.

"That's a pretty important element of what we do," he said. "That's why we set up a VIP section where 300 people get in an hour before the doors open so they can mingle with the brewers and the brewers get a chance to talk with other brewers, which they really enjoy. Our festivals turn out to be pretty strong opportunities for them to be able to market themselves because they don't have big money behind them to constantly advertise."

The festival is also about an important cause that's dear to Giammanco. His sister, Gen, died in car crash at the age of 17 and his mother started a foundation to help student-athletes in her honor. The foundation helps line up students with tutors and provides college scholarship money. Gen Giammanco was a standout volleyball player at Salinas High School when she died.

"Every city we're in, we're going to be raising money for kids in that city," Giammanco said. "We will contact the local school district and set up a grant program. That's important to me and my family, and it keeps my sister's name out there."

The cost is $50 at the door, $45 online and $65 for the VIP session. Non-drinkers can get in for $25.

Click here to register.

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