September 8, 2008

Brew Fest

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The 2nd annual Ithaca Brew Fest dawned dark, wet and nasty on a September day, a day that students and adults alike would usually spend indoors watching Project Runway reruns or getting their study on. But a select group of troopers — those tough-skinned Cornellians, Ithaca Collegians, townies and out-of-towners who possessed a legitimate (hopefully) driver’s license claiming they were 21 years of age or older, made their way to Stewart Park on Saturday afternoon to dance, taste and get their drink on.
The Ithaca Brew Fest tradition was started last year by Dan Mitchell ’00, founder and president of the Ithaca Beer Company. Mitchell wanted to create a festival that would introduce people to craft beers, local microbrews and breweries. The event, sponsored by the Ithaca Beer Company and other local institutions, including WBVR, Wegman’s and the Finger Lakes Beverage Center, featured 30 different craft breweries and three local bands: the Sim Redmond Band, Kevin Kinsella and Mike Brindsini and the New York Rock.
As the winds blew and beer disappeared, a group of slow and slightly inebriated attendees danced along to the performers’ rhythms. Surrounding the stage was a series of white tents with three or four brewery representatives pouring libations to happy tasters sometimes waiting in lines that filtered a long way outside the tent. Light beers, heavy beers, hoppy beers, fruity beers, ales, malts — pumpkin pie, blueberry flavored, “bluebeary”-flavored, raspberry, even hard ciders and a few lone bottles of Ithaca Beer Co.’s Brut champagne — were poured from either taps or regular sized bottles into tasting glasses the patrons of the event were then welcome to take home after.
Each beer taster was given a square green “drinks” card with 18 spots to fill, a card somewhat like a CTB drinks card — except in this case, fulfilling all 18 didn’t give you a free drink; it meant you had reached your limit. The card is geared toward keeping the event fun and safe, as was Brew Fest itself — designated drivers could get into the festival for only $10 a pop (versus the much higher $30 a pop for drinkers and $40 a pop for drinkers who procrastinated on buying their tickets until the day of). Ithaca taxi manned cars all day outside the park, providing service for those perhaps too tipsy to drive back. In the same vein, T-Cat buses offered free services to those with Brew Fest tickets.
Not that there weren’t those noticeable downers — quite a few festival goers likely to be students were throwing down their tasting glasses of beer like it was Keystone instead of Sierra Nevada, Weyerbacher or any of the other specially crafted beer they were drinking. But the overwhelming majority of tasters were savoring their drinks, comparing notes … and often slyly dumping unwanted beer behind tents or in the lake itself.
For many, it seemed that the Dionysian festival of delights doubled as a reunion. Take Demetrios Farmakopoulos and Josh McNamara, both Ithaca College graduates, for example. A physical therapist and an attorney each, the two weekend-job — if only for Ithaca Brew Fest — as the all-powerful men behind the Ithaca Beer Company Pale Ale and Brut table. For the two, the weekend is more of a college reunion and social gathering than work.
“The great thing about the Brew Fest is that it brings all sorts of people together. Where else do you get people from Ithaca and from all over the country, students and professors and people from town all in the same place, enjoying drinking together?” asked McNamara.
“A lot of our college buddies come back for the event,” added Demetrios. “It’s really such a fun, unique event to the Ithaca community.” And that seemed to be true; recent Cornell (and likely Ithaca College) grads and alumni were in town for the event; familiar faces thought long lost to the hustle and bustle of Manhattan and Boston were back for some brew and some catch-up time. It was, in some ways, like Homecoming — except without the football players beating each other up, the tail-gaiting and the drunken singing of one’s alma-mater. Actually, it was nothing like Homecoming, although there was some non-drunken and very talented drunken singing.
One of the most unique aspects of Brew Fest — at least from a Cornell perspective — was that it was one of the few events that gathered so many Ithaca College and Cornell students in the same place. When asked, Farmakopoulos and McNamara said that there was a pretty even balance between Ithaca College and Cornell attendees, although “we can always spot which is which,” confided Farmakopoulos. “But everyone seems to have a lot of fun. It’s a great place to meet people.”
Simon Frid ’08 agreed. “It was a drunken frenzy, an adventure and just spontaneous fun. And it was great when I saw people from all over the Ithaca community, including a professor of mine who I high-fived when I saw him,” he (soberly) shared the next day.
Added a not-quite-so-sober anonymous source: “I came, I drank, I passed out.”
And really, what more could you ask for?