Compared to the major beer festivals in Columbus, this is much smaller. It's also handled slightly differently. Your $20 admission ticket gets you 10 sample tickets, a nice 16-ounce glass with the festival logo, and a $5 coupon for North Market food. Where the other beer festivals charge a single ticket for a sample-sized beer (and aren't so picky about always collecting tickets), this one charged anywhere from 1 to 4 tickets for a sample, with the rarer and more expensive offerings being more tickets than the rest. (You could also get a full 16-ounce glass at this festival, for a few tickets more.) Still, at 50 cents per ticket for beers that would cost you $5-8 a glass at the associated pubs, it's a bargain.
The crowds were pretty much shoulder-to-shoulder the whole time we were there. You didn't wait too long to get to any of the breweries and their products (except for one time at Barley's, where the popularity of their Blood Thirst Wheat required a wait for a change of keg). The brewery representatives were knowledgeable about the products, and very friendly.
This year's festival featured:
- Barley's Brewing Company (Columbus, Ohio)
- Barley's Smokehouse and Brewpub (Columbus, Ohio)
- Buckeye Lake Brewery (Buckeye Lake, Ohio)
- Columbus Brewing Company (Columbus, Ohio)
- Elevator Brewing Company (Columbus, Ohio)
- Four String Brewing Company (Columbus, Ohio)
- Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant (Columbus, Ohio)
- Great Black Swamp Brewing Company (Toledo, Ohio)
- Great Lakes Brewing Company (Cleveland, Ohio)
- Hoof Hearted Brewing (Marengo, Ohio)
- Mt. Carmel Brewing Company (Cincinnati, Ohio)
- Neil House Brewery (Columbus, Ohio)
- Thirsty Dog Brewing Company (Akron, Ohio)
- Weasel Boy Brewing Company (Zanesville, Ohio)
- Zauber Brewing Company (Columbus, Ohio)
Each of these breweries brought several products to the festival. The ones I happened to try, and my impression of them, were:
- Barley's Brewing Company – Beyond Infinity: This is a Grand Cru style beer (which I personally think is excellent) mixed with an IPA (which I don't really care for). The resulting beer is still good, just hoppier than I care for. Their "Infinity" beer (the Grand Cru without the IPA) is much better. I'd give Infinity a 8/10 but Beyond Infinity gets a 7.
- Buckeye Lake Brewery - American Wheat Ale: This was a pleasant, relatively mild wheat ale. It was a bit hoppier than I care for, but not so hoppy that I didn't finish the sample. Rating: 6/10.
- Buckeye Lake Brewery - Oktoberfest Ale: This was a nice Oktoberfest style Marzen. It's malty, and a touch hoppy, but nice. Rating: 6/10.
- Elevator Brewing Company – Oktoberfest 1810: Like the other Oktoberfest ales in this list, it was a decent one. Elevator's brews are a bit hoppier than I like in general, though this one was easy enough to drink. Rating: 6/10.
- Four String Brewing Company – Backstage Blonde Belgian Blonde Ale: This was one of the stand-out beers I tried at this festival. It was a really nice blonde ale with the typical Belgian spice flavoring. I look forward to drinking it again. Rating: 8/10.
- Great Black Swamp Brewing – Black Frog Stout: This was a fairly standard stout. It felt a little under-carbonated, but nothing especially bad (or, unfortunately, especially wonderful) about it. Rating: 6/10.
- Hoof Hearted Brewing – Permafrost Wheat Porter: This was very interesting. It wasn't as sweet as some porters can be. It reminded me of a milder stout. If they hadn't been out of their "coffee chipotle porter" I would have tried that also. Very good. I'd give it a 8/10.
- Mt. Carmel Brewing Company – Nut Brown Ale: One of the friends I was with really enjoyed this one. Based on her recommendation, I got a pint of it to have with dinner. While I enjoyed it, it wasn't as good to me as Thirsty Dog's Saison or their Barrel-Aged Wee Heavy. It gets a 6/10.
- Neil House Brewery – Happy Cow Milk Stout: I probably judged this one unfairly. In my mind, as I sipped it, I kept thinking about Left Hand's Milk Stout and Nitro Milk Stout. For me, those two beers were much better than this one. Still, I did like it, and it gets a 6/10 rating.
- Thirsty Dog Brewing Company – Barktoberfest: None of the Oktoberfest ales at the festival really overwhelmed me. They were all good, all very drinkable, just not outstanding in any particular way. (Ayinger Oktoberfest is my favorite in this category and gets a 8/10.) It gets a 7/10.
- Thirsty Dog Brewing Company – Saison: One of the stand-out beers at the beer festival for me. There was a hops presence here, to be sure. But this was offset nicely by the Belgian spice and the overall mix of flavors in the beer. A solid 8/10.
- Thirsty Dog Brewing Company – Barrel-Aged Wee Heavy: Hands down, this was my favorite brew of the entire beer festival. Strong malt flavor, sweet, not hoppy, a vanilla and perhaps even coconut note to it, with a warming alcohol presence. This is a beer that goes on my "favorites" list. A definite 10/10 (and the only one at this particular festival).
- Weasel Boy Brewing Company – Zuur Bruin Fret: This is a very unusual brew. On alternate sips, I couldn't decide if I really liked it, or didn't care for it. It's sour, but not in a fruity way. It's a touch bitter, but not particularly hoppy. I decline to rate it here because I think I need to sample more of it than a little 5-ounce cup to really decide what I think. (But I think I like it.)
All in in all, I (and those I was with) enjoyed the Columbus Microbrew Festival and look forward to attending next year. My only complaints, and I consider all of these very minor, were:
- There needed to be better signage to make it clear where the breweries were. As you can see in the image at the right, only a couple of breweries had signage above eye level. This made it difficult to find a brewery whose products interested you. A map might have helped as well.
- This isn't anyone's fault, really, but there were two or three beers I wanted to try that simply ran out before I had the chance to try them. One was only available on Friday night (and I arrived on Saturday).
- Some additional seating would have made it comfortable to stay longer than I did.