It was a rousing success for beer lovers... the 8th Annual Winter Warmer Fest, that is. Held this past weekend at the Windows on the River in the First Energy Powerhouse, it featured 32 Ohio breweries and just a little over 100 beers. Most were on draft or cask, and I was wowed by the quality and variety presented.
My tasting started with Elevator Brewing's (Columbus) Mocha Plum Stout, and it was outstanding. Next I ventured outside to the Cask Tent (weather was in the 40's, so not too cold), and continued to be wowed by Thirsty Dog's (Akron) Coconut Rum Porter, and Belgian Tripel with raspberries. And just when I thought it couldn't get any better, I tasted a beer from Catawba Island Brewing Company (Port Clinton) called "Beer Draper Imperial Stout on Cacao Nibs with Ancho, Poblano, and Habanero Peppers." Quite a mouthful...and a delicious mouthful.
Columbus Brewing had a cask of Bodhi (IPA) infused with habaneros and apricots that was quite good. Buckeye's Turbo Ninja Cow Milk Stout tasted like fresh coffee beans smell. And outstanding IPAs were everywhere: Great Lakes' Chillwave double IPA, Brew Kettle's White Rajah and El Lupulo Libre, Buckeye's Whatever IPA, Catawba Island's Insularium Black IPA, a Basil IPA from Cornerstone, Jackie O's Mandala DIPA, Rhinegeist Brewery's Truth IPA, Portside's Ironclad IPA, Willoughby's Supernova DIPA, Hoppin' Frog's Hop Heathen Imperial Black IPA and Goose Juice Rye IPA, Cellar Rats' Pipers IPA and Rampage DIPA, and there were more. A hophead's dream. Oh, did I forget Fat Head's IBUsive (dryhopped and in cask)? Hard to pick a favorite here, but it was my first time trying Chillwave and El Lupulo Libre, so they stood out in my mind.
And then there were the barrel-aged offerings. Weasel Boy (Zanesville) and Thristy Dog each had a couple, Great Lakes had their barrel-aged Blackout Stout, Fat Head's barrel-aged Battleaxe, and Lager Head's (Medina) had a bourbon barrel aged triple. I'm not a fan of bourbon, so no favorite here, but that's not to say they aren't good.
What made this festival so great, is that nearly every beer was good. I'm sorry if I didn't mention your favorite, but I couldn't try them all! What I did come away with was some new favorite breweries. We (the beer lovers of the state) have been singing the praises of Hoppin' Frog, Great Lakes, Elevator, Fat Heads, Buckeye, Columbus, Market Garden, and others for a number of years now. But now I can add Catawba Island Brewery (Port Clinton), Little Mountain Brewery (Mentor), North High Brewing (Columbus) to my list of favorites. (A list that is getting very long.)
Seventh Son Brewing Company, Homestead Beer Company, the Actual Brewing Co., Rhinegeist Brewery, Buckeye Lake Brewery, Catawba Island Brewing, North High Brewing, Wolf's Ridge Brewing, and Little Mountain Brewing were all first-timers at this event I believe. (I may be wrong, and I might have missed one or two.)
I was quite impressed with Catawba Island and North High overall. I liked all their beers and some were truly outstanding. The White Wheat from North High was my favorite wheat beer at the festival. So many good beers...too bad this is only held once a year. It is sponsored by the Ohio Craft Brewers Association to showcase Ohio beers, and it certainly accomplished that in a big way. I know it's all about the beer, but I must mention the fine live blues music by Austin "Walkin' Cane" and the food trucks parked outside with gourmet tacos from the Fired Up Taco Truck, Cajun food from the Zydeco Bistro, and sweets from the Mobile Cupcakery. All combined to make a most enjoyable and memorable event. Don't miss it next year.