PALM HARBOR — With the country still coping with the coronavirus crisis, community leaders have to get creative in hosting special events that are so vital to the local economy during the pandemic.
For the Palm Harbor Chamber of Commerce, that meant turning a raucous annual beer festival into an online version that could be dubbed “Social Distance Drinking with Friends.”
On Thursday, Oct. 22 from 6 to 7:30 p.m., the chamber is hosting the Virtual Beer Oktoberfest with Palm Harbor brewers, a free event where attendees are being encouraged to visit participating businesses and purchase beverages the brewers will discuss — and drink — during the 90-minute Zoom session.
Participants include de Bine Brewing Co., Stilt House Brewery, Two Lions Winery & Palm Harbor Brewery and the Palm Harbor House of Beer.
The idea was the brainchild of Palm Harbor Chamber President and chief executive Dean Maratea, who said he’s been forced to come up with creative ways for the community to have fun while supporting local businesses that have been suffering through the crisis.
“I frequent a lot of local businesses and I know people are bummed out there’s no Oktoberfests this year,” Maratea said by phone recently. “Many are having a hard time keeping their head above water because of the (crisis), so I felt we had to do something out of necessity. And since I’m in a position to help and support them I decided I’m going to do it.”
Maratea said the ground rules for the Virtual Beer Oktoberfest are simple: Attendees should visit any of the participating establishments prior to Oct. 22 and purchase the designated beverages. At 6:00 p.m. on Oct. 22, attendees can log onto the virtual taste tour via a Zoom link on the Palm Harbor Chamber of Commerce website, where the brewers will then “walk” the participants through each entry, explaining the stories behind their beers and their businesses while fielding questions from the audience.
Maratea said the Halloween-adjacent event is representative of how organizers have been forced to mix things up when it comes to hosting events this year.
“This unprecedented time has led us to think outside the box,” he said. “We’ve had virtual bingo and virtual happy hours, and I helped organize a similar event at Palm Harbor House of Beer earlier this year. So I think it will lead to even more unique events like this, and we plan to do more outdoor events as the weather gets cooler. We’re going to get creative in an outdoor way!”
Maratea said the last virtual tasting session with PHHOB in June had about 30 participants, and he expects the attendance to be roughly double that number for the Virtual Beer Oktoberfest.
“More people are going out with many of the (indoor dining) restrictions being lifted, so I don’t expect it to be four times the size of the first one,” he said. “But with four breweries participating I expect it to draw double the original amount. If we get 50-75 participants, I’d consider it a success.”
He added that regardless of how many revelers log in on Oct. 22, the purpose of the event is to draw more patrons to local businesses year-round.
“Some people have never been to these places, so even if they don’t participate on Oct. 22, they might visit at another time,” he said. “It’s all about keeping the community engaged and the (chamber) members engaged while helping local businesses.”
For more information on how to participate, visit palmharborchamber.com.