Yet another indication of the thriving beer scene in Asheville is the growing success of its winter beer festival, the Winter Warmer. The first one took place in 2008 at The Garage (located in Biltmore Village where the Toy Boat Community Arts Space is now) where the attendance was about 275 people. This year, on January 26, 2013, around 1,600 attendees gathered in the main arena of the U.S. Cellular Center downtown.
“Winter Warmer was a great success,” says Lauronda Teeple, one of the event’s organizers, along with Mark and Trish Lyons (owners of the Asheville Brews Crews from 2006 to 2010). Lauronda added that the organizers have received a lot of positive feedback from the public, brewers, and sponsors. “Everyone said it was the best year yet.”
That sentiment was echoed by Patrick Beeson, an attendee from Winston-Salem who is an avid beer lover and home brewer. “This is my third time attending the Winter Warmer,” Patrick says. “It’s one of my favorite beer festivals because it’s indoors (no summer heat stroke!), includes food, and tends to feature many great special-edition beers. This year was the best yet.”
The 2013 version of the Winter Warmer Beer Festival, sponsored by ThreeSheets:Design, Brews Cruise, Inc., and French Broad Brewing Co., offered 33 breweries, which is up from 25 the previous year. The festival features its share of Asheville (or soon-to-be Asheville) and Western North Carolina participants, including Altamont, BearWaters, French Broad, Frog Level, Heinzelmannchen, Highland, Lexington Avenue, New Belgium,Oskar Blues, Pisgah, Sierra Nevada, Southern Appalachian, Tipping Point, and Wicked Weed.
The new Asheville brewery Wicked Weed definitely gained at least one fan during the festival. “My favorite brewery was Wicked Weed,” Patrick says. “Not only is their story and marketing interesting—I love the King Henry VIII quote—but their Zealot IPA was delicious! I also enjoyed Pisgah’s special editions: Cosmos and Bacon Snout were both very tasty. The latter is a personal favorite because my wife used to use Benton’s Bacon in her baking business when we lived in Knoxville, Tennessee.”
Besides the local companies represented, most of the other breweries were regional, although a couple of guest breweries from outside the region were invited this year. Cigar City Brewing from Tampa, Florida, and Founders Brewing from Grand Rapids, Michigan, offered different perspectives on craft brewing for the Asheville audience.
The Winter Warmer, with tickets costing $40 for general admission, is also known for having a food vendor, which is always good to soak up some of that alcohol, and this year was no exception. Strada Italiano offered pork sandwiches, portobello mushroom sandwiches, kale salad, Caesar salad, pizza bread to attendees. And live music is a must, too. This year, Brushfire Stankgrass and David Earl & the Plowshares served as musical guests. (Patrons could buy “DD” tickets for $21, which would include the music and food but no alcohol.)
As usual, a handful of vendors set up to entertain and educate festivalgoers as they sipped their beers. The nonprofit partner for the event was the Western North Carolina Alliance (WNCA), whose mission is to empower citizens to be advocates for livable communities and the natural environment of Western North Carolina.
But beer was definitely the star of the show, which lasted from 3 to 7 p.m. The arena floor stayed packed with people for the entire event as attendees stood in line and socialized while waiting to get another pour in their souvenir mugs. Some people were more serious about the tasting while others were there to simply have a good time. Patrick was one of those serious tasters.
“This event was more of an inspiration rather than education for homebrewing,” he says. “I love to see how different breweries’ take on new styles—Highland’s Sour Kashmir IPA and the Pisgah Bacon Snout were especially interesting—and try beers from breweries I’ve yet to visit, such as Birdsong (in Charlotte) and Wicked Weed.”
Lauronda says that utilizing the civic center’s entire arena floor and concourse area/ramp gave festivalgoers a bit more elbow room than in the past. “We are very pleased with how this new layout and festival flow worked,” Lauronda says, “and believe that it benefited in our guests’ overall experience.” Lauronda added that more than 60 volunteers helped to ensure the festival’s smooth success in 2013.
For more information about the Winter Warmer Beer Festival visit ashevillebeerfest.com.