Hey, y’all! At Notable Kentucky, we love featuring conversations with Notable Kentuckians. A prime example? One of the masterminds behind one of Kentucky’s most beloved festivals: the Tailspin Ale Fest. I’m excited to share this interview with Tisha Gainey, a Kentucky Craft Beer Champion. You can learn more about Tailspin Ale Fest here.
Interview: Tisha Gainey, A Kentucky Craft Beer Champion
First, please take a minute to introduce yourself:
Tisha Gainey, Co-producer of Tailspin Ale Fest, Co-owner of Crowler Catering & Small Batch Events. 15 years’ working in the craft beer industry with a passion for craft beers, craft cocktails, and food. I tap into my marketing and graphic design degree from Purdue University, which allows my experience to flow and work seamlessly with my business partner, Trevor Cravens. Together we’re able to execute creative endeavors, like our newest one, “Thirst Aid,” a retro outfitted ambulance that is a mobile bar bringing the Party to You!
The Tailspin Ale Fest is quite the event. Talk to me about the inception:
The inception of Tailspin started with meeting Trevor over beers – lots of great things happen when enjoying a beer. Trevor came from the Craft Beer marketing/publication world, and I came from Craft Beer Distribution and Beverage Director side of the industry, both having either created beer festivals or working the operations side. We knew Louisville was missing something, a Winter Warmer Beer Festival. Other big cities or beer centric cities like Asheville, had beer festivals in the winter and Louisville’s festivals were all in the summer, plus there’s not a lot of events happening in the winter other than cheering on your favorite sporting team. Places like Michigan and Wisconsin have outdoor beer festivals with a foot of snow and firepits, but also have their events on a frozen lake. I had my eye on Bowman Field after looking for a wedding venue for my own wedding – did not fit that theme, but, knew it would be a phenomenal place for a beer festival…. I absolutely fell in love with the history of Bowman Field. It was one fateful night when Sam Calagonie, founder of Dogfish Head Brewing was in town – Trevor and I met up. We decided that night to pull the trigger on what is now today is Tailspin Ale Fest. Taking chances, connecting with the right people, and simply believing – we took the chance.
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What’s your favorite part about Tailspin?
That’s like asking who’s your favorite child, but it must be the beer to start. Having worked as a distributor gifted me the ability to build many relationships with the brewery reps and folks in the industry, so most of the beer vendors are old friends creating an incredible line up allowing me to share with thousands of people in one afternoon. On top of that, we program in a hell of a lot of fun and food too. Being Craft beer lovers at heart, we ensure Tailspin is for the most discerning beer connoisseur, but also that there’s a fest element for everyone’s palette. We have live music, Drake’s Silent disco, photo opportunities, ESPN Sports Lounge so folks don’t miss their favorite team playing, a variety of local food trucks and you can’t forget partying on a historic airfield with a few vintage planes on display. Plus, we get to give back to our community and charity partner, the HOP Foundation (501c3), which helps employees in the brewing industry in need.
The nature of the event begs the question: why beer?
I love craft beer. It is a passion and a lifestyle. I worked enough beer festivals for other people that Trevor and I started our own. We put our personal touch to a festival that we would want to attend. Tailspin Ale Fest has grown from being simply inside the WWII era hangar to over 44,000 sq ft of tented space plus all the additional outdoor interactive elements. In the past nine years, we’ve always paid tribute to the national founders of craft beer, but always included a feature of locals for our “Brews Brewed in the Bluegrass” or Kentucky Tent for short. We added the Bourbon Barrel Beer Bar featuring all beers aged in bourbon barrels, which stem from our roots of Kentucky. We added the Cider and Sour Bar for a gluten free option as well as the craft of making ciders and to include the sought-after sours. Did I mention, I love beer?
How did you get your start in the beer world?
You may have already noticed a pattern, but I love craft beer. In college in the early 90’s I didn’t drink domestics but started off my palette with porters, stouts, and wheat ales. My true start in the craft beer industry was an opportunity to move home. I was living in Florida working as a Walt Disney Imagineer, then followed my project team to a high-end development and my personal life was changing. I used to fly back and forth from Louisville to Florida with a suitcase of craft beer because at the time finding great craft beer in Orlando was difficult. My cousin owned The Keg Liquors in Indiana and told me that a local distributor was looking for someone for the area. I applied. I took a couple of beers to the interview, a few hours later they were showing me around the warehouse and going over what would be my territory. I got the job.
What’s it like being a woman in the beer industry?
Challenging. The boys club still exists. Although the landscape has changed quite a bit and it is exciting. We are seeing more female reps now than ever before as well as female brewers. Women must prove themselves in one way or another either simply by performance, knowledge, or with brute strength, but there are more and more women entering the commercial space and the brewing arena. They are badass, honestly. Louisville has two female brewers/owners, plus there are a few other women that are brewing here too. When I started as a Craft Beer Sales rep in 2007, I had many men try to explain craft beer to me. As a woman, you tend to read the situation and question, is it worth the challenge to correct this person or just smile and nod… At the end of the day, I just want people to enjoy the beer experience. Tempt people to taste something they think they would never like and see that “AH-HA” moment expression appear. I absolutely love that still to this day. It’s part of that favorite thing about Tailspin with beer and getting to see those expressions right and left.
I’ve noticed that beer culture is on the rise; where do you see it going in a few years? Any trends that you have a pulse on?
Craft Beer culture has been on the rise for the past decade where it has become almost mainstream having craft beer options in not only your local bar, but national chains have partnered with breweries to have their “house” beer crafted and on tap. Large-scale craft breweries will have satellite taprooms outside their home territory. Larger breweries will merge or continue to be sold to global entities. Local breweries/brewpubs/taprooms will continue to open with no distribution and the only goal will be to sell it across the bar… although there may not be room for more beer on retailer shelves or tap handles in bars and restaurants, there’s always room for more local breweries to open their own locations.
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What should we be looking forward to experiencing at the 2022 Tailspin Ale Fest?
We are returning to our normally scheduled program and location! As a small business owner and event producer, COVID put everyone’s plans into a Tailspin for sure. After the March 2020 Tailspin- the world shut down three days later. We didn’t know When or IF we would be able to return. October 2021, we hosted a Tailspin with a Spooky Spin on the festival for Halloween and reduced the capacity. The fest was in a different location across the airfield. It was an operation challenge, but our guests brought the costumes and the joy of craft beer back to the forefront, the Spooky Spin version has legs and might continue… stay tuned.
When is the event and how can beer-lovers purchase tickets?
Saturday, March 5th, 2022, located at Bowman Field, Louisville, KY. VIP admission at 2 PM, General Admission at 3 PM. The event ends at 7 PM. Tickets can be purchased online at www.TailspinAleFest.com.
What’s your dream for Tailspin in the coming years?
To become the marquee event in the region. We’ve had the honor to be recognized as the Top Ten Beer Festivals by the Readers Choice of USA Today for 5 years running. Additionally, to be able to grow the footprint with more planes and possibly make it a multiple-day festival.
Lastly, a lighthearted + fun question: You get to have 5 beers in your refrigerator. What are your choices?
It’s not a fun question for me, it really is a tough question honestly…Bell’s Two Hearted IPA is one for sure. Classic and industry standard. Tripel Karmeliet by Brouwerij Bosteels, a Belgian Tripel. This beer was used as our wedding toast, and I love Belgian Tripels. A new local favorite, Atrium’s Nuer Kolsch, you can’t beat a clean crisp German-style beer. Although seasonal, Terrapin’s Moo Hoo Milk Stout tastes just like a Yoo-hoo for adults, when that’s not available I’d go for Against the Grain’s 35K Milk Stout. For the lawnmower or lake beer, classic Miller High Life in a bottle. I typically don’t drink domestic brews, but this one is an all-malt beer brewed with champagne yeast. It’s not only easy on the wallet but easy to drink.
I had a really lovely time meeting Tisha at Drake’s in St. Matthews. Over a drink, we discussed her life, her career, Tailspin, and all things craft beer. One thing proved certain quickly: Tisha is fervently passionate + undeniably an expert.
I was also very much impressed with the impactful punch that Tailspin packs. In the first year of the event, attendees stemmed from 11 states. They have had as many, however, as 23 states in attendance. From Boston, to Seattle, to Colorado, to Alaska — Tailspin is not just a regional festival, as only 45% of attendees are from Kentuckiana. It’s a nationally-recognized festival — and one that we are blessed to have in our own backyards.
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