Locals enjoy brews, barbecue at sixth annual Hops & Hogs

Jun. 6—Large gatherings in downtown Aiken have been scarce over the past year, but Saturday evening's scene represented a swing back toward festivity in bigger numbers, with the sixth annual Hops & Hogs festival taking place in Newberry Street's festival area.

The 2020 event was scratched, due to COVID-19 precautions, and the Aiken Downtown Development Association put the pieces back into place over the past few weeks, helping create an atmosphere where dozens of volunteers representing a variety of businesses could accommodate thousands of visitors for beer, barbecue, brisket, wine, ice cream and other options, all with a soundtrack courtesy of bands Lost Dog, Briggs Alley and Redfoxwood.

Haley Knight, the association's executive director, said the event under normal circumstances represents about six months of preparation, but due to pandemic concerns, the 2021 process was compressed into "about six to eight weeks." Attendance, she said, seemed to be at the traditional level of about 8,000.

"We're super thankful with how everything's turned out. We usually try to tap into at least 20 different breweries throughout the region — North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. This year, we had about 26. One of them, which ended up being a huge sponsor, was Steel Hands Brewing, from Cayce, South Carolina."

Other alterations for 2021 included changing the event hours from the traditional window of 6-10 p.m. to 4-9 p.m. The idea, Knight said, was to allow more time and create less density, to accommodate people who might be concerned in relation to COVID-19, and also to create more opportunities for visitors who might want to shop in the afternoon or visit a restaurant or bar in the evening.

"From a vendor perspective, we've been busy the whole time. It basically seems like pre-pandemic, honestly," said Ronnie Garvin, owner of Whipped Creamery, in Grovetown, Georgia.

Garvin's specialities — creations such as cookie sundaes, milkshakes and ice cream sandwiches — got a friendly reception, he said. "We combine ice cream with our fresh-baked goods. We make everything in-house."

Among the long-distance visitors was Chadwick Stamper, from Kernersville, North Carolina, near Winston-Salem. "South Carolina has been a little sooner to open than North Carolina," he said, "so it was nice to come down here and be able to be outside, and we were very happy we were able to get down here and see some of the sunshine. We were worried about rain, but it ended up being quite nice, and the overcast skies made it bearable."

ADDA, the sponsoring organization, is "made up of members and volunteers who all work toward a common goal: to improve the economic vitality, enhance the beauty and preserve the historical inheritance of downtown Aiken," as stated on the website.