For instance, the 2012 Winter Beerfest became incredibly crowded after the general admission began. Finding the lines for beer samples, and distinguishing them from people merely standing around talking, was nearly impossible. It was loud, very crowded, and hard to navigate. VIP admission was an absolute must that year if you wanted to get to specific beers and breweries.
This year, the noise level (at least on Friday night) was tolerable. There was no real wait to get in, there were no significant lines (even during general admission), and there was plenty of room to walk around. It was possible to have a civil conversation there without yelling. Having the event in a larger section of the convention center made a big difference. Below is a shot of the crowds during the height of general admission. As you can see, it wasn’t terribly crowded and getting around was easy.
This year, the festival offered four types of admission. Designated Drivers had access to food and drink, but were not allowed to drink alcohol. Connoisseur admission got you in an hour early and provided access to food and beer not available to the other admission levels. VIP admission got you in an hour early and gave access to some samples that were not available for general admission. And, of course, General Admission got you in at the official start time and gave access to samples not reserved for the Connoisseur and VIP levels.
Below is a photo of the Connoisseur area. This area featured exclusive beers from Barley’s (including their incredible Barrel Aged Abbey Normal), North High Brewing (a Belgian style ale brewed with champagne yeast), Goose Island’s Lolita, a plum stout from Elevator Brewing Co., and several others. Along with these beers, there were foods from a variety of Columbus’ best and most popular restaurants, such as The Crest Gastropub. Food items in this area included duck pate on a plantain, habanero cheesecake, tacos, and several dessert items. Was it worth the extra admission money? Hard for me to say. A couple of my favorite beers for the night were in this area, but the rest were outside in the main hall. I sampled only a little bit of the food, but what I had was good. My friend who went into the area with me enjoyed several of the items being served.
It was a very enjoyable evening for the four of us who went. We got to sample some great food from local restaurants, and some great beer from around the world.
The folks in our group enjoyed the following beers (listed in no particular order):
- Barley’s Barrel Aged Abbey Normal
- Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence
- Epic Brewing’s Brainless on Raspberries
- Four String’s Firkin of Vanilla Porter
- Rivertown’s Imperial Oatmeal Cookie Stout
- Thirsty Dog’s Wulver Barrel Aged Wee Heavy
- Unibroue’s La Fin Du Monde
- Shock Top’s Chocolate Wheat
If you enjoy tasting different craft beers, or you’re a craft beer “newbie” who’s trying to figure out what you like, events like the Winter Beerfest are a great way to do this. For newbies, it’s possible to go around and sample a number of beer styles (e.g., porters, stouts, wheat beers, Belgian style ales, IPAs) and see which styles appeal to you and which do not. Craft beer lovers can try products from breweries whose beers they may not have tried before, without having to commit to purchasing a pint, growler, or multi-pack. And, of course, it’s a way to socialize with other beer fanatics and even meet some of the brewers behind your favorite beers.