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2014 Columbus Winter Beerfest brings craft beer to the masses once again

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This year's Columbus Winter Beerfest again brought a wide and interesting selection of craft beer creations to Cow Town once again. However, there were some noticeable differences from last year's winter beerfest that made the festival more enjoyable and much more Columbus-oriented.

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In the past year, several new breweries have sprouted up in our wonderful little metropolis and it was definitely nice to see them represented at this year's festival. Four String, Columbus Brewing Company, Barley's, Weasel Boy, and a few others returned to bring their best microbrews to the masses. While some breweries were noticeably absent, such as Zauber, Actual Brewing Co., Zaftig, Sideswipe, it was a reminder that these breweries need time to grow as being able to pour huge amounts of beer such as what was demanded by festival attendees is a serious undertaking. However, with continued local support and success, it's highly probably we will see these other breweries in upcoming festivals.

I started off my beerfest experience with Speedbump Kolsch by Fifty West Brewing Company out of Cincinnati. This was a perfect starter beer because not only was in by the entrance, but it was a light, crisp Kolsch ale to get the party started and still leave a pretty clean palate. This was a pretty tame microbrew that is perfect for someone seeking a quality beer without a lot of bells and whistles.

Lost Coast Brewery out of Eureka, California, got my attention next. Their Great White was another safe, mild choice, but it was pleasing all the same. I followed this up with Founder's Curmudgeon which delivered a syrupy/oak taste that for me, got the real party started. I decided to go Rogue, so to speak, and try something I had never had before - their Morimoto Soba Ale. While this beer has been around for a while, I found the dynamics of this particular microbrew to be interesting and pleasing to the palate. However, I was looking for something more creative, perhaps even, more off the grid.

New Belgium, which has entered the Ohio market with a bang, delivered with their Dandelion Ale. This "dandy" (see what I did there?) little beer is the brainchild of a collaboration with Salt Lake's Red Rock Brewing and is a part of their Lips of Faith series. Some of you may have been like me and sucked on dandelions as a kid (no? was that just me?) and I remember it being not too bad, which is probably why the idea of a dandelion microbrew had me intrigued. After giving me a small taste to see if I wanted a full pour, I decided I definitely wanted to go back for more. The Dandelion Ale was inspired, according to New Belgium's website, by the Great Hop Shortage of 2008 which I'm sure we will all tell our grandchildren about someday. Personally, I found the beer itself to be inspirational - clean, crisp, a bit fruity and just a tad tart, but not overwhelmingly so.

Looking for more off-the-beaten-path types of beers, I stumbled upon Rockmill Brewery's Saison Noir. Their aroma and flavor promised candied fruit, sweet potato crème brûlèe, hints of caramel and a mild tobacco finish. This is a lot to take in while sipping down a brew and I can say that I did find all those flavors there. While I liked this beer, I found it to be just a little too much for me to handle and a wee bit heavy; something I would order just a taste of but probably couldn't handle an entire pint.

While there were many, many more beers that offered a creative flair as well as a pleasurable drinking experience, it would be difficult and honestly a bit long-winded to try and describe them all, but honorable mentions go to Blue Mountain Brewery's (Virginia) Local Species, Cutters Brewing Company's (Indiana) Empire Imperial Stout and Hinterland's (Wisconsin) Luna Coffee Stout.

As for the festival itself, this year's Winter Beerfest promised twice the amount of room and it definitely delivered. While I enjoyed being able to navigate throughout the event without constantly bumping into someone, sweating my butt off and being able to speak to people without screaming, it also made the festival seem a bit more empty and perhaps a little less intimate. Depending on what you're looking for when attending a beerfest, this could be good or bad. Personally, I enjoyed the extra room.

Attendees received a wide variety of beers from all over the country, the pours were generous and the volunteers or on-site staff were more than helpful in figuring out which beer suited my tastes. All-in-all, I would call this year's Columbus Winter Beerfest another huge success.

Thanks again to Craig Johnson and staff for putting on another great festival and allowing me to partake in the festivities. Looking forward to Summer Beerfest! Cheers!

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