July 2008 Issue
Brewing Up a Good Time
Good taste prevails at this celebration of Ohio's microbreweries.
This may be the ultimate definition of carrying coals to Newcastle: importing rivers of beer into a college town synonymous with partying.
But, like so many things in life, it’s all in the timing. The Ohio Brew Week Festival, July 14–19, falls during summer sessions at Ohio University, when the student body is at low ebb and Athens businesses can use a boost.
So this is the moment to tap kegs of Buckeye craft beers in America’s only weeklong beer festival. “The only other weeklong festival I can find,” says director Dan Gates, “is Munich’s Oktoberfest.”
Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing Company will belly up to the bar with Cincinnati’s Barrel House. The Marietta Brewing Company will pour samples alongside Toledo’s Maumee Bay. Akron’s Hoppin’ Frog Brewery will sidle up to Zanesville’s Weasel Boy.
One of the original organizers in 2006, Gates boldly predicts that this sudsapalooza “is going to be the biggest event in Ohio in five years.” Although it’s hard to quantify numbers as beer fanciers wander the red-brick streets of Athens, more than 6,000 sipped during Beer Week 2007’s street fair, Boogie on the Bricks.
This year, 25 microbreweries will pair with taverns and restaurants in Athens, most within walking distance of each other. Brew Week guests buy 2-ounce samples, then opt for a pint of the flavors they fancy. Designated drivers sip free soda. Bands start playing in the afternoons, and the atmosphere builds with meatball-eating contests and beer barbecue cook-offs to Boogie on the Bricks July 19.
Nearly every one of the state’s microbreweries will send its wares, so there will be plenty of zaniness in a week devoted to brewskis. Why else would Great Lakes Brewing salute the combustible Cuyahoga with Burning River Pale Ale, Thirsty Dog Brewing give us Old Leghumper Robust Porter and Black Box Brewing draw a frosty mug of Plumbers Crack Ale?
“This is not a beer blast,” says Jim Leverentz of Northfield, Ohio. His Leeners You-Make-Kit Brand will sponsor beer-, cheese- and bubble-gum-making presentations during the week.
“People are drinking beer that’s meant to be enjoyed, not chugging to get intoxicated. Most commercial American beer is brewed exclusively for intoxication.”
Microbreweries are different? “Ohio has such a diverse ethnic background. You get fresh, world-class beer that’s as good as any in a beer hall in Germany or a pub in Ireland,” Leverentz says. “Then you have the artisans, who take what’s unique to Ohio and put their twist on it. Black Out Stout from Great Lakes Brewing is its take on the Russian Imperial Stout that was brewed in England and shipped to Russia. Buckeye Brewing makes Hippie IPA (India Pale Ale), which has a cult following.”
In the cooking competition, travelers can taste some of these idiosyncratic brews paired with their beer-laced dishes. Last year, apricot ale sorbet, beer cheese ravioli with a stout mushroom sauce, and chipotle beer buster meatballs, from the Red Brick Sports Pub & Grill, were hits.
The Red Brick knows meatballs, sponsoring the meatball-eating contest July 16. Digestion slows down for the Brewers Ball July 17, a five-course meal with elegant pairings of beer in the glass and in the dish.
“I thought the wine snobs had a lock on pairings, but they don’t,” says Dan Chesborough, who takes a break from his Columbus banking job for the entire Brew Week.
“There’s a small-town atmosphere and everyone’s friendly. It’s the most relaxing vacation you can have without a beach.”