Wow. One word can easily sum up the Columbus Winter Beerfest that took place at the Greater Columbus Convention Center on January 11th and 12th. As one festival goer lamented, “I wish craft beer was still low key,” while swimming through the crowd of united beer lovers, it was clear to anyone who attended Friday and Saturday night that microbrews have become a beloved part of the Columbus culture.
Friday night was attended by more than 2,500 people. VIP members were admitted an hour before the doors opened at 7:30 for other ticket holders, but they didn’t need to worry much about trying to fit all their favorite or never-tried-before beers in before the night was over. The crowd flowed easily and there was a general laid back feeling among attendees and brewery representatives alike. Pours were plentiful and generous. Of the more than 300 craft beers available, several stuck out as real winners, especially to those who love their tried and true IPAs and even to those who appreciate the creations of brewmasters thinking outside the box.
Columbus breweries were really on their game, and while having to share the space of the convention center with sometimes larger and more notable breweries such as Dogfish Head, Founders, Magic Hat, Ommegang and Bell’s, they certainly delivered exceptional beers that would make some famous brewers like Sam Calagione say, “Now that’s some damn fine beer!”
Columbus Brewing Co. was hard to miss since it was one of the first local stops after entering beerfest. Their Sohio Stout did not disappoint, with a solid presence of the promised vanilla bean flavor, along with the expected smoky savor of a stout. Their dark IPA, Nightstick, had a smooth hoppy essence and aroma. On down the line, other Columbus breweries such as Zauber Brewing Co., Four String Brewing Co., Elevator, and Barley’s allowed hopheads an opportunity to really see what our Cow Town has to offer. Four String offered Backstage Blonde, an excellent Belgian that had strong notes of banana, but not overwhelming and highly enjoyable. Neil House Brewing’s Cranberry Cider was a welcomed change to the typical offerings of IPAs and lagers, but also offered a solid, tame and easy-down-the-hatch Milk Stout.
Barley’s was a popular stop for craft beer tasters with their Sexual Chocolate Alexander’s Russian Imperial Stout that offered not only a good beer conditioned with cacao nibs and Madagascar vanilla beans, but also a good laugh at the “Coming to America” reference. Gordon Biersch brought beerfest-goers back to thoughts of summer with a refreshing and coriander-strong Hefeweizen. Weasel Boy Brewing out of Zanesville also offered a similar Imperial Stout, but it was their Barrel Aged Sour Cherry Stout that caught more than a few attendees’ attention. With just a hint of cherry, it also carried a bit of smokiness as well, which raised a few eyebrows. Elevator Brewing had two highly notable offerings – their Winter Warmer that delivered on a promised flavor of nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger, as well as the Horny Goat Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter that one imbiber described as a combination of chocolate and grapes.
Friday’s night beer offerings allowed patrons to get a city-wide taste of the ever-growing selection of local microbrews and really take in the flavor without bouncing quickly to the next line, giving tasters a chance to slightly clear their palate before the next selection. For those who attended Saturday, that was a whole new ballgame.
More than 7,000 people converged on the GCCC Saturday evening, a far cry from the “just having another beer with my buds” atmosphere on Friday. VIP members hurriedly tried to get as much of their chosen beers in while counting down the clock and looking over their shoulders to see if the rest of the regular ticket holders had been unleashed yet.
Once 7:30 arrived, the Columbus Winter Beerfest became a hot, sweaty orgy of beer tasting. Attendees trying to get from line to line were like worms, weaving through or making their own tunnels through the sea of people. If you wanted to stop and take in your beer or have a short conversation of yelling with friends, you had to find a pocket of open space. This night was not for the faint of heart or the antisocial. Personal space was non-existent and plenty of bumped beer landed on the floor. Occasional grumbles or cheers shook the venue as many watched the Ravens go into overtime against Denver.
Early in the night, one poor soul tossed their proverbial cookies, and if that weren’t gross enough, one man threw a $20 bill into the mess as a dare, which was happily accepted by another beerfest fan who shook off his new monetary prize and displayed it for the grossed out but highly amused onlookers.
This night, ladies and gentlemen, was for the absolute hardcore craft beer drinkers dedicated to the cause.
While Columbus’ microbrews were certainly the breakout stars of the two-day event, other nationwide breweries also offered an impressive selection of America’s finest craft beers. IPA-lovers seemed to enjoy Philadelphia’s Victory Brewing Co.’s rendition of a Ranch R, a limited release all-Citra hop IPA. Another limited release, Zeltbier, which was described by one pourer as a “good choice” and did not disappoint with a hop finish that lingered.
Uinta Brewing, out of Salt Lake City, garnered more than a few nods from hopheads with their Hop Notch IPA, which offered pristine clarity, a light nose and a solid hop flavor, but not overwhelming. Brooklyn, New York’s Six Point Brewing offered a “Spice of Life Series” that included Summerhop. Newcomers Kona Brewing from Hawaii impressed with their Longboard Lager and KoKo Brown that was slightly more palatable with their tropical theme since the weather in January was a comfortable 65 degrees.
More breweries certainly deserve recognition and admittedly, some disappointed as well. However, one of the best aspects about 2013’s Winter Beerfest is that it offered palate pleasers for everyone in attendance. Saturday night proved that craft beer tasting is worth being bumped, stepped on, and in one witnessed case, accidentally smacked in the face. While some crowd members appeared annoyed and disgruntled for having to force their way through the masses, others threw back their 4 oz. beer, smiled and traded with their friends so as to not miss out on yet another tasty beer to add to their list of favorites.
The 2013 Columbus Winter Beerfest was an undeniable success, in large part due to the hard work of volunteers, staff and promoters who worked their rear ends off to make sure we all had a great time. Good job, guys and see you next beerfest!