About 25 regional breweries showed up for this year's annual gathering hosted by , and 1,100 tickets were sold out well in advance. The event is scheduled to highlight American Craft Beer Week, and all proceeds go to the Media Youth Center. Since its inception, this event has raised more than $100,000 for the center.
Some came with umbrellas, but most were content taking their chances on the weather, and when the light spring showers started up, nobody seemed to mind. A few attendees even used the water to rinse their taster cups in anticipation of the next sampling. Spirits were high as the craft beer flowed from 1 to 5 p.m. in Iron Hill's parking lot and on the small section of State Street that had been closed off for the event. One area was reserved for designated drivers, encouraging responsible collaboration at the festival.
When asked about his favorite part of the beer fest, Iron Hill's brewmeister extraordinaire Bob Barrar smirked and replied, "Wednesday, when it's all done. There's a lot of prep work leading up to it, and a lot to clean up afterwards."
But he loves the event, of course.
"There used to be a lot of bad local beers out here," said Barrar, "but not any more."
Part of the reason for the upgrade is that the local craft brewers use the festival as a chance to sample one another's new inventions and bounce their combined creativity back and forth to come up with new and innovative concoctions year after year. Barrar explained that there is no sense of competition among the local brewers, and while they won't go as far as to hand over their recipes, most are willing to share ingredients and processes.
"We're all brothers here, that's how I see it," Barrar said of his fellow brewers. "It's all about knockin' around the big guys," he added, referring to the larger, mass market beer companies.
Lowercase Blues provided music in the background for the early stage of the festival, followed up by Lord Jive, who has played at the event every year since its inception.
"We love it," said Lord Jive guitarist/vocalist Jamie Tillman, "This is our favorite gig every year. Always a great crowd."
Local restaurant Pinocchio's Pizzeria, home of an impressive Beer Garden featuring more than 800 different beer labels, made its debut at the event this year. They decided to pour three Ithaca labels; Flower Power IPA, Apricot Wheat and Casca Zilla Red Ale.
Media native Tim Volikas, owner of Pinocchio's Beer Garden, said his decision to go with Ithaca out of so many labels to choose from came from their recent collaboration with Iron Hill on a beer that will debut later this year.
Volikas recalled his days on the other side of the tables at the annual beer fest. "Yeah, when I was delivering pizzas, I used to sneak in here and try a couple," he said with a smile.
Woody Chandler, a contributor to the Ale Street News, attended the event in full beer regalia. Check him out in the photo section—you won't miss him. Chandler has attended Iron Hill's event every year since the beginning.
It was Media resident Chris Dietrich's fourth time at the festival.
"I've noticed that a couple of the more established names here have started pushing their standard beers rather than their higher-end brands," Dietrich noted, "I guess to try and get more people interested in the stuff you're more likely to find in bars."
Dietrich was enjoying a sample of Weyerbacher's Verboten label, and found it "exceptional." He also enjoyed Weyerbacher's Blanche, recalling it as "crisp and fresh."
Kevin Boyer, of Media Borough, was attending the event for the third time, and was a fan of Troeg's Red Ale.
Ryan Hargrove and Krystal Kane walked over from their Monroe Street home to attend the event for the third time as well. Though they tend to head for Dogfish Head and Victory's tents first, this year Fegley's stood out to them. Hargrove praised their Hopilicious as well as Nodding Head's Old Sot Barleywine, and Kane was a big fan of Fegley's Blueberry Belch.
Twin highlights of the event occurred when head brewer Barrar twice mounted a small, central platform to raise a magnum (2-liter) bottle up to pour an Iron Hill brew into a small, clamoring army of tasting glasses held by outstretched arms like something out of a zombie movie. First came Iron Hill's Bourbon Russian, followed later by their Brett APA. Iron Hill also featured a sneaky, quietly advertised selection of beers for members of their Mug Club. The "secret line" featured their Flemish Red, Brett Saison, Brett Caprice, Bourbon Weizenbock, Bourbon Ironbound Ale, and Triple Sec (which was the clear favorite of yours truly).
The event, as always, was a rousing success where everybody won: local craft brewers drummed up more fans and spread word of their wares, local beer connoisseurs got to sample all the high-quality brew their hearts (and livers) could handle in one afternoon, and the Media Youth Center will surely benefit from another year's proceeds.