McALLEN — A slew of people gathered in the outdoor area of Roosevelt’s at 7 here just before 7 p.m. Saturday. There, a large inflatable projector screen showed a Facebook page with a video embedded.
Before long, KRGV Chief Meteorologist Tim Smith and McAllen school district board member Tony Forina appeared on the video screen with a 30-second timer.
As the timer entered single-digits, a group of patrons began to count down gleefully: Five. Four. Three. Two. One.
They cheered together and celebrated the start of the 12th annual Brew-seum, the first to be held virtually.
A craft beer and food festival that normally draws hundreds of attendees, Brew-seum is one of the largest events hosted by and benefiting the International Museum of Art & Science in McAllen and requires months of planning. The benefit has raised as much as $100,000 in the past.
This year’s Brew-seum was kicked off with its Empty Barrels campaign, in which local artists painted empty barrels donated by 5×5 Brewing Company in Mission and Hilmy Cellars out of Fredericksburg before being placed at various locations throughout the community. The cause: collect food and monetary donations for the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley.
As excitement grew for the event, organizers were thrown a curve ball in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic.
IMAS President and Executive Director Ann Fortescue, who began her tenure with the museum last July, described her excitement for her first Brew-seum and having to adapt in the current climate.
“We were heartbroken when we couldn’t all come together in person,” Fortescue said. “We cannot be defeated by something that is outside our control. We can figure out what we can control and create something for people to come together even though we have to stay apart.”
Anastasia Perez, development and marketing director for IMAS, said it was around mid-march when conversations about the future of this year’s event kicked off, including changing the date.
“We made the decision in March to postpone the event to June,” Perez said. “We were making plans for this event that was two months away and really not knowing what June would look like.”
The museum closed its doors March 20. With pressure mounting over the future of the event, the museum and the Brew-seum committee began brainstorming new ideas — a virtual festival among them.
Previous events featured tasting opportunities from craft breweries throughout the state, as well as different foods from many local restaurants.
The inaugural Brew-seum was a dueling pianos event, bringing people into the galleries of the museum to help raise funds.
This year, beer kits were distributed to participants with six different craft beers from participating breweries and livestreams of musical performances, segments about each featured beer, and a presentation from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, were made available.
“The first time you hear about the virtual event, you think, ‘What? How’” Perez recalled. “Once you wrap your head around it, this is the new normal right now for a lot of people.”
At Roosevelt’s at 7, participants filled small cups with whichever beer was being presented on the videostream, taking in the unique taste and craftsmanship as representatives from each brewery gave brief descriptions of their products.
Among those participating in the event at Roosevelt’s at 7 was Aylaia Sifuentes of McAllen, a development coordinator for Brew-seum.
She described the event as bittersweet. She said that normally she would be running around behind the scenes, making sure that everything was going smoothly, but she said it was nice to be able to sit back and enjoy Brew-seum while enjoying some cold ones.
“It’s so nice to be able to actually enjoy the fruits of our labors for once,” Sifuentes said. “We’re kind of just kicking back and we’re getting to taste some good brews and see the event. It looks so different as a spectator as it does behind the scenes. It’s really nice to see it this year.”
When asked what her favorite beer had been so far, she distinguished two in particular.
“Honestly, Fubar by 5×5. It’s a high ABV (alcohol by volume), and it’s a stronger profile beer. I really enjoy that one,” Sifuentes said. “The strawberry one from Southern Star, Strawberry Blonde, was surprising. I did not expect it to taste so fruity without being sweet. It was a really interesting beer.”
IMAS will have a soft re-opening on Tuesday for members only from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., with only 25% capacity being allowed inside. It will re-open to the public on Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. On Fridays and Saturdays, the museum will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The museum will be closed on those days from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. for cleaning.