Written by Aaron-Michael Fox.
UPDATE: The Wild & Wonderful Winter Beer Fest has been moved to the old Food Fair building at 115 Sixth Avenue. The date and time remain the same.
If you’re a beer connoisseur, you’ll want to mark February 9, 2018 on your calendar for West Virginia’s first boutique beer festival: the Wild & Wonderful Winter Beer Fest.
The event is presented by Huntington’s Better Beer Coalition (BBC), the same people behind the Rails & Ales summer beer festival at Harris Riverfront Park.
“We’ve had people asking for another seasonal fest,” Jeff McKay, owner of Summit Beer Station and one of the festival organizers, told BrilliantStream.com.
“It’s something that’s been in the back of our minds for a while, to throw a winter festival because we don’t see too many festivals in West Virginia outside of festival season (late spring–early fall).”
“We see these niche and stylized festivals in other states all around us, and we thought, why not here? We thought that it would be a natural fit to come up with a boutique festival.”
The festival will be held on the second floor of Pullman Square’s west parking garage, so it will be fully covered and temperatures for that time of the year are generally in the 30s-40s, so it shouldn’t be too cold. Limited heat will also be supplied.
The choice of an outside venue was only partially by creative choice. West Virginia State Law says that you can’t use a liquor license over an existing license, so that means that traditional winter festival locations like the Big Sandy Superstore Arena, who have their own retail liquor license, are out. BBC doesn’t see that as a problem.
“We figured that people bundle up for a few hours to go to the football games and bundle up to go skiing and sledding, and so why not get bundled up to go to a beer festival,” said Jessica Pressman, another organizer. “We’ll have a DJ and food from some local restaurants, and we think it will be super fun. We are continuing our mission of creating that craft beer culture and exposing folks in Huntington to special kinds of beer.”
While Wild & Wonderful might be organized by the same people, don’t expect the same vibe as Rails & Ales. In 2017, Rails and Ales featured more than 250 beers to a crowd of roughly 8,000 people. McKay says Wild & Wonderful will be much more intimate with approximately 100 beers and no more than 1,000 tickets sold.
Pressman said they want to recapture some of the mood of Rails & Ales’ first location at Heritage Station.
“We still hear people say, ‘We loved Rails and Ales that first year when it was so small,’ and we want to bring back that sort of intimacy and feeling,” Pressman said. “We are going to only sell 1,000 tickets, and so it will be like a boutique, niche, craft beer festival for craft beer lovers. The beer selection is going to be top notch, and that’s Jeff’s magic. We just wanted to try something new in a different space and something that Huntington and West Virginia have not seen.”
“West Virginia hasn’t really had a niche craft beer fest,” McKay told the Herald-Dispatch. “I think it only makes sense to come up with a niche idea. Other states have this, so what we are looking at doing is focusing on wild and sour beer. It is hitting its stride in West Virginia now. As far as my business is concerned — and I am sure that Jay (Fox, the brewer at The Peddler) is saying the same thing — is that people are clamoring for sour beers, and asking ‘What sours do you have on tap?’ Whereas, like four years ago it was ‘What IPAs do you have on tap?’”
McKay emphasized that the festival will also feature wild beers and not just sours. “I want people to know that you can come to this festival and not like sour beers,” McKay said. “We will have Saisons (Farm House ales) scattered throughout. Wild yeast doesn’t sour beer; bacteria does.”
Wild & Wonderful will feature a wide array of wild and sour beers from West Virginia breweries such as Weathered Ground, Abolitionist Ale Works, Bad Shepherd, and The Peddler, as well as American craft breweries such as Bell’s and New Belgium, and a host of Belgian breweries such as Dupont, Dilewyns, Dubuisson, Prearis, Kasteel, De Brabandere and more.
Many wild ales obtain their wild yeast and bacteria from the barrel they’re aged in. Wild & Wonderful will have a variety of beers that were aged in everything from whiskey barrels to oak foudres. One exciting selection is a red wine barrel aged dark sour from Weathered Ground Brewery in Cool Ridge, WV.
“This would have never happened four or five years ago,” McKay said. “We will have four or five in-state breweries that are doing sours and wilds, so it is easy to source this stuff any more. There is a possibility that the Shelton Brothers will be here in time, so we will have access to stuff like Jolly Pumpkin (Dexter, Michigan) and Prairie Artisan Ales (Tulsa, Oklahoma) and things like that.”
The event will be held from 6-10 PM on Friday, February 9, 2018 on the second floor of the west garage in Pullman Square. DJ Charlie Brown will be spinning records and food will be available for purchase from various local restaurants. Limited heat will be provided. Tickets are $50 each and include a souvenir glass snifter.
Tickets are available HERE until February 1, or until the allotted 1,000 are sold.