Beer Here

If you're a microbrew fan, Alefest is where your cup runneth over.

Alefest Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University, 2000 Prospect Avenue 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday, April 30; $30, $25 in advance; call 216-241-5555
Mmm .  .  . beer. Some of the suds you'll encounter at - this weekend's Alefest.
Mmm . . . beer. Some of the suds you'll encounter at this weekend's Alefest.
Joe Waizmann won't hold a grudge if you belly up to the bar and ask for one of those "industrial" beers. If you want to spend money on a ho-hum bottle of Bud Lite or Michelob, then be his guest. "I'm not trying to convert Joe Six-Pack or XYZ light-beer drinker," says Waizmann, a veteran beer importer and wholesaler for Merchant du Vin Midwest in Dayton. "Beer is not just a beverage advertised on a Super Bowl halftime show. There are beer styles, types, and flavors that are equivalent or supersede table wine."

Waizmann shies away from being called an expert, even though he's been brewing his own craft beer for nearly 11 years. At home, Waizmann has built his own small assembly line to make batches of beer strictly from malt. Seven years ago, he set out to share his hobby with other homebrewers in Dayton at Alefest. Ever since, connoisseurs have tickled their taste buds with lagers, ales, and pilseners produced by an array of small-scale brewers. "Nowhere will you find the depth and breadth of microbreweries than here in the States," says Waizmann. "It's unparalleled."

Each year, the afternoon beer bash attracts as many as 3,000 taste-testers to sample shots of malted beer from more than 50 manufacturers in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Because of a business relationship with Winking Lizard owner John Lane, Waizmann is bringing his mammoth beer garden to Northeast Ohio for the first time this weekend. "We want people to feel like they've learned something about better beer," says Lane. "And we want them to say, 'This was way cool, and I can't wait for next year.'"

That's what Waizmann wants to hear. His objective is to emphasize quality over quantity. "It can be a little overwhelming and intimidating, but it's not intended to be. You'll hear someone say, 'This beer's got some chocolate character. And it's got some espresso. And I love both of those things. I didn't think I'd like dark beer, but I can see myself drinking some of that on occasion.'"

Or maybe all year long. In addition to a commemorative sampling glass and a brewing guide, the admission price includes a raffle ticket that's good for a Beer-for-a-Year drawing. The winner walks off with 365 bottles of microbrews, one for each day of the year. "But we're not responsible for your beer lasting the entire calendar year," jokes Waizmann. "And we're also not responsible for the rapid influx of friends and family appearing on your doorstep to help you with your newfound treasure trove."

Just like the cache of brew inside Waizmann's refrigerator. Just don't ask him to pick a favorite. "It depends on my mood and/or food and/or whatever happens to be in the fridge," says Waizmann. "Let's just say my fridge is very well stocked, and you won't find any industrial beer in there."

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