LOWELL -- One of the challenges Lowell has faced for decades is drawing people to its downtown businesses. Tobias Marx may have found a solution: craft beer.

On Saturday, as many as 500 people are expected to pour into the city's cobblestone streets for what is being heralded as the city's second annual Craft Beer Walk. This year's event features a major change, however.

While the inaugural jamboree was held inside Mill No. 5 on Jackson Street, Marx decided to open this year's walk to the entire downtown. Nearly 20 businesses will serve as craft-beer tasting sites, meaning ticketholders will get to pop into various shops and restaurants throughout the Market, Merrimack and Middle street areas as they sample a bevy of tasty brews.

"We can give our small businesses and small shops the opportunity to participate to show what they have to offer," said Marx. "By pairing them with the breweries, people will have to go into the shops. I think that's a great way of bringing them down there and increasing the foot traffic."

The event is being organized by Made In Lowell, the organization Marx founded to spur economic development and consumer spending in the city.

The group is also behind the popular Lowell Food & Wine Festival. Its Craft Beer Walk in November 2014 and another beer tasting event held in March, Beards & Brews, which as the name suggests, doubled as a beard-growing competition, attracted several hundred people each.


Last year’s Lowell Craft Beer Walk at Mill No. 5
Last year's Lowell Craft Beer Walk at Mill No. 5 (Photo courtesy of Made in Lowell)

Half of the people who attended those events live outside the city.

"Made In Lowell is about showcasing what Lowell has to offer," said Marx, a trained chef who grew up in Germany and moved to Lowell in 2009 after living in Los Angeles. "We want to help each other to increase the draw and visitor counts into Lowell."

Marx said he modeled this year's Craft Beer Walk after a popular event some of his friends organized in California.

One of the newest Lowell offerings is Merrimack Ales, a brewery that began operating this year out of a brick factory building on Bolt Street. Owner Adam Pearson of Westford said Saturday's walk will be his company's "first big event" in Lowell.

Merrimack Ales will be pouring its beer inside City Bicycle Company, a bicycle shop tucked away inside 181 Market St. Pearson said attendees can expect to sample a chocolate oatmeal stout, a maple cream porter, a pale ale and maybe a seasonal pumpkin ale.

Pearson hopes Saturday's event gives his new venture attention in a market that is exploding with start-up breweries. Lowell is also home to Navigation Brewing Company on Meadowcroft Street and Lowell Beer Works on Cabot Street. Another Lowell brewery, Do Can, was forced to close this year after its owner, Pat Slattery, was killed in February in a workplace accident.

Pearson, an engineer by trade, moved to Massachusetts six years ago. He decided to leave his job at Philips Healthcare in Andover, where he worked in the quality department, to pursue his passion. He found a location in Lowell, purchased tanks and fermenters, and in September finally completed a lengthy permitting process.

"Now it's right where it's supposed to be, ready to go," he said of his venture. "In the next month or so we'll be calling on a lot of retail places and a lot of bars and restaurants to get the beer out to people. It's events like the Beer Walk that are very much going to help us get that brand exposure."

Also looking for exposure are the businesses that have agreed to host the brewers.

One of those is Little Delights Bakery, located at 132 Merrimack St. Owner Lee Taing said she wanted her business to be involved with the walk in hopes that it will bring potential customers through her door who may not have known about the business otherwise.

"It's foot traffic," said Taing. "We've got to get something in their hands, whether it's a coupon or showcasing what we do to get them to come back."

Little Delights will be hosting Sebago Brewing Company of Maine. Taing is planning on making some baked goods using Sebago beer as an ingredient.

"We're probably going to do a stout cupcake, and we may try to do a brownie," she said. "We're going to experiment."

Other pouring sites include ALL Art Gallery, The Flower Mill, LTC Lowell, Persona Boutique, Brew'd Awakening, Eyeful Beauty, Owl Stamp Company, Ayer Lofts, Gentleman's District, Sweet Lydia's, Humanity Boutique, Mill City Tobacco Shop, AWOL, Lowell Jewelry and Loan, Lowell Makes, Bishop's Legacy Restaurant, and Cobblestones.

Some sites will serve non-alcoholic beverages. Others will serve snacks in addition to beverages. There are 16 participating breweries.

There will also be live music. Ticketholders will receive a map of participating businesses, an event badge and a wristband at check-in. Sample cups will be provided at each site.

Advance tickets cost $25 per person and can be purchased at www.CraftBeerWalk.com or by calling Made In Lowell at 978-364-1132. Tickets purchased on the day of the event will cost $28.

All proceeds will go back to Made In Lowell so that the organization can continue to host events and develop programs designed to promote the city, said Marx.

"This is one of the most livable cities in Massachusetts," he said. "Let's tell everybody about that. Our vision is we can help Lowell become a top destination for culinary culture and community, not only in Massachusetts, but on the East Coast."

Follow Chris Camire on Twitter @chriscamire.