If success is measured by the event being a sellout, the first Cleveland Winter Beerfest was a rousing success, with all 7,000 tickets sold for Saturday night. If success is measured by everyone having a good time, then it was a success on that score, too.
Over 300 beers and over 90 breweries and the huge venue made for a great event. Karaoke was going on in one corner, live band performances including a jazz band in other areas, and a silent disco. The venue was so large that even with 7,000 people; it never seemed to be crowded. Lines were not extreme, and there were even a couple of mobile portable kegs wandering around with red flashing lights to care of any “beer emergency” known as an empty glass. (If you’re interested in the portable keg, check out www.portabeer.com). There were two food markets staffed by the convention center, so food was available. There were a couple of vendors selling T-shirts, and one selling historic photos of Cleveland and Cleveland’s breweries. You could also get an airbrushed temporary tattoo, if you wished.
Most northern Ohio breweries were represented, along with some from the rest of the state that we don’t see that often in Cleveland. Millersburg Brewery (Millersburg) was present and evidently popular as they were nearly sold out by the end of the evening. Buckeye Lake Brewery, Elevator, Four String, and Columbus represented the center part of the state, along with Rockmill (Lancaster), and Jackie O’s (Athens). Cincinnati area was represented by Rivertown, Christian Moerlein, and Mt. Carmel.
Other breweries from around the U.S. and a few from Europe were also on hand, but way too numerous to mention them all, although a good percentage of them were from Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, or California. And yes, you could get a Coors Light f you felt so inclined.
There was a twist at this festival I haven’t seen before called Quickie Stations. Twelve of these were set up around the hall with just one beer at each. Beers were poured in advance just stop by and pick one up. It still cost you a sampling ticket, but I didn’t see too many people that used all 25 tickets that came with the admission.
The Ohio Craft Brewers Association, one of the sponsors of this festival, had a booth promoting Ohio beers and offering a “beer enthusiast” membership which gets you first dibs at tickets for upcoming events and a T-shirt. If you’re interested see their website (www.ohiocraftbeer.org).
Deschutes Brewery (Bend, Oregon) showcased their beers newly available in Ohio. Black Butte Porter was a favorite, as was their Mirror Pond Pale Ale (#2 selling pale ale in the nation), and Hop Henge IPA (only available during Friday’s session), and Inversion IPA. The Mirror Pond was the beer being served in the above mentioned portable beer kegs.
New Belgium (Ft Collins, Colorado) is also new to Ohio beer drinkers and six of their beers on tap, including three from their “Lips of Faith” series.
New “Saison Noir” from Rockmill Brewery (Lancaster) was one of the most complex beers tasted. It’s a Belgian style they describe as such: “aroma and flavor of candied fruit, sweet potato crème brulee with hints of caramel and mild tobacco in the finish; appearance is rich black with a raspberry fringe lacing” I’m not sure I could taste all that, but it was wonderfully complex and tasty!
A one-off from Christian Morelein (Cincinnati) called Sandwrecker was another favorite, and another complex strong Belgian ale (about 9% abv). This one was similar to Saison Noir in appearance, and also very complex with hints of black currants and cranberry, and not too sweet.
Columbus Brewing’s Bodhi (a double IPA with a 99 rating on ratebeer.com) with coconut was just amazing…maybe my favorite of the whole thing, but with so many outstanding beers, it’s hard to say which was favorite. Main Street Brewing (Garrettsville) had a Birch Beer was also amazing; tasted just like non-alcoholic root beer, but was 5.9% alcohol.
Elevator Brewing (Columbus) had a couple of outstanding IPA selections. Both Mogabi and Big Vic (an imperial wheat IPA) were excellent.
I don’t mean to neglect the offerings of the Cleveland/Akron area breweries, but I found myself more drawn to the beers I haven’t tasted before, or can’t get that often. We already know that Northeast Ohio breweries have great beer, right? I mean, Great Lakes and Fat Head’s even had their own Quickie stations!
All in all it was a great festival and the venue was good. The downtown Cleveland location presented a bit of a parking issue ($10 parking fee in the Willard garage), but easy access to all freeways made it easy to get to from all areas of northeast Ohio. Although sold out at 7,000 tickets, I think the venue could actually have held more and not been overcrowded. I also think there was plenty of room for more vendors and/or breweries. Maybe next year?