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Beards, Brew and Ballyhoo: The 2015 Columbus Winter Beerfest

The crowds were large and the venue sold out (at least on Saturday)
for the 2015 version of the Columbus Winter Beerfest.
For all the breweries that my spouse and I have visited since we've been together, we had never been to a full-fledged beer festival. That status was changed as we made the pilgrimage to the Columbus Winter Beerfest this weekend.

Now five years old, the biannual Columbus Beerfest (there is a summer edition as well) has grown by leaps and bounds each year, expanding on the number of vendors as well as number of attendees. This year's edition cover two days and featured over 350 beers from 100-plus different brands and breweries combined.

While there is a "Connoisseur" ticket package that allows you such privileges such as early tasting, a special/larger tasting glass, and a food/special beer pairing with local breweries and restaurants (from the research I did prior to the event, it seems to be worth the extra cash generally speaking), we decided the standard admission would be perfectly fine as we were meeting up with some members of my spouse's beer club, Brews and Betties (formerly the Hopyard Honeys) for dinner prior to the event.

As a newcomer to this type of event, I wanted to follow a general game plan and more or less stuck with it. I decided to split up from our group to get a feel of the layout and atmosphere (and grab some pictures in the process). I also made the decision to target porters and stouts (my general leaning and much more of a winter beer anyway). In addition, I had ferreted out some breweries and styles from the beer list posted on the event's website to break up that stout/porter taste profile every two or three samplings.

For my spouse, beer sampling power came in numbers - she and her beer club buddies got to sample multiple beer at various booths. This worked well at gaining maximum tasting of different beers with relatively sane levels of alcohol consumption as well as her strategy of asking for half-pours. Another option for lessening the intoxication factor that many people took advantage of was the various pour buckets or a random stray partially or fully empty cups.

As in past posts, I find images really help tell the tale of these types of experiences, so without further adieu, here are some pictures from our night at the Beerfest:

The folks attending the Anime/MMORPG Convention Ohayocon 2015 provided
a unique contrast to the beer aficionados attending Beerfest. That said, quite a
few Ohayocon attendees double-dipped and also dropped into the Beerfest.
The tasting glasses and tickets (25 total) for the regular admission
attendees. Your admission ostensibly got you a pour per ticket,
but few if any vendors were actually asking for them and only
those with robo-livers could even think about drinking that
amount of beer (roughly 10 beers) in roughly 4 hours.
Pretzels are a popular choice for giving your palate a break from multiple beer
samplings; hand-fashioned pretzel necklaces like this were commonplace
Beer list handed out of the event; the check-marked beers were those that
were in more limited supply, but even some of the more plentiful beers tapped
out early (such as one of my favorite porters, Great Lakes' Edmund Fitzgerald)
The folks at Zaftig Brewing pouring me a Bam Ba Lam, a breakfast stout made
with Ghirardelli Chocolate and Crimson Cup Coffee Beans. This proved to
a favorite beer for all our group members. This Worthington-based brewery
is due to celebrate its one year anniversary with an event on February 28
Deschutes Brewery, based out of Bend, Oregon, made it easy for folks
to avoid the long lines with this Mirror Pond Pale Ale portable keg/cart
The representatives of San Diego's White Labs, a leader in the development
and supply of yeast for the craft beer agency, were very happy to have folks drop
by and say hi. Unlike most vendors, they had some stickers and other fun
media (such as a beer geeky poster describing their yeasts) for the taking.
Some early action on the "dance floor" in the middle of the event space.
Not surprisingly, more people joined the group as the night wore on as
the liquid courage consumption built up in event-goers.
While portable canopies and table setups were common, several
breweries went for fancier setups. Vehicle-based taps were
sported by Zanesville's Weasel Boy and Columbus' own
Seventh Son and North High Brewing, among others.
One vendor I had pegged for a palate break was Hudson, Ohio's Spindoktor.
I ran into a few people at the event who liked their hard root
beer beverage, but alas I never did get around for a sampling.
One alternate non-beer beverage I did get to was cider from
Griffin Cider Works. Founded by a British ex-pat, this Cleveland-area
company's original cider provided a nicely crisp and not too sweet
break from my mainly porter/stout based quest.
My spouse and I had been questing for the 5 Rabbit Cerveceria (from
Chicago) El Bizarron collaboration with Tampa Florida-based Cigar
City Brewing to no avail. Lucky for us, this Cuban-themed porter
brewed with plantains was available (their rep said it was the
last three kegs available that he knew about) and was easily in
our top three beers tasted that night. 
Columbus-based Zauber Brewing's space was enhanced by hops supplied
by Marysville-based Grandpop's Hops.
Speaking of hops, Jackie O's Brewery's tent was hopping with activity.
This Athens-based brewery has recently returned to Top 100 Brewers in
the world by ratebeer.com, joining 4 other Ohio-based breweries. 
Fancy fonts preceded another palate-cleanser for me; in this case, it was the
Belgian White from Cincinnati-based Fifty West Brewing.
While there were plenty of people at the Beerfest, it never really did
seem too claustrophobic due to the large amount of space in the hall. One
exception was the men's bathrooms, which became more of a mess
as the night went on (this is nothing new, however, from what I've read.)
The chocolate-hints of Eugene Porter from Chicago-based
Revolution Brewing made it a winner in my porter/stout quest.
This teeter-totter from the Shandy-oriented Traveler Beer Company out
of Vermont proved to be a hit with Beerfest goers. Live music bands and a 

karaoke stage were other non-beer activities which attendees could partake.
I ended up on a mini-tangent in sampling two smoked beers:I sampled both the
Buchenrauch, a smoked lager produced by Columbus' Wolf's Ridge Brewing,
and Weasel Boy's smoked porter Rauchbier one after the other. Both were
very tasty, though I preferred the porter's fuller mouth feel a little more.
Overall, this seemed to be generally well-run event that has been helped out by its move to more spacious Columbus Convention Center. While Columbus was well represented, many breweries from around Ohio also had a presence there, making it a great event to explore beer from parts of the state to which they may not regularly travel.  If you don't mind what can be long (but generally quick-moving) lines and gobs of people, this event seems to be a fun way for those who are still new to the scene, those from out of town unfamiliar with Ohio-based beer, and just beer enthusiasts (especially if you're with a group of friends) to spend a night sampling lots of good beer.

My spouse and I both had fun hanging out with our friends this night, and agree this is an event any beer lover from around this area should do at least once. In addition, it also has given us some valuable experience on how to approach similar events in other cities in the future.

Columbus Beerfest (Winter and Summer)
Contact information at the following links
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