800 Beers

Beer Fest is a study in restraint — and a fine preview of Ale Fest

With more than 15 local breweries pumping out craft beer across the region — though admittedly it seems there are 37 of them on West 25th Street alone — it's no surprise that the annual International Beer Fest at the IX Center has enjoyed wild success. What could be better, after all, than 800 beers under one roof? (Did you answer "more than 100 beers outside on a summer day"? We'll get to that a bit later.)

This year's installment, which wrapped up last weekend, was billed as the largest beer exhibition and competition in the Midwest. Paid entry got drinkers 36 sample tickets, each one good for a two-ounce pour. And while you might assume that it's all a recipe for tipsy Clevelanders to test cab drivers' ability to find the right drunk tottering outside the IX Center, the Beer Fest maintains a unique level of maturity.

"I'm really proud of everything — especially that everyone was well-behaved and didn't overindulge," says Robert Massie, a craft beer enthusiast and fest vet who knows way more about this stuff than us. "I know the Great American Beer Fest is notorious for this game where people run up and knock your glass out of your hand, then clap and laugh. I was expecting the late Saturday session to be just people who came to imbibe too much, but it didn't turn out that way."

Much of what was on tap is what you've seen around town. But the gems were the pours you can't usually score, like the Maharaja Imperial IPA from Avery or Kriek from Brouwerij Oud Beersel, which took home the gold medal for Best in Show. The same was true of smaller Buckeye breweries from Columbus and Cincinnati, featured in the Ohio section.

So many options, so little time. And in the rush to try everything, eventually each sip, no matter the style, started to taste just like everything else. Poor strategy.

"I always come in with a plan," Massie says. "More delicate beers first, because the last thing you want is a bunch of double IPAs to start. You reach a point where the endurance slows down.

"The challenge is getting well-educated volunteers — people who love to pour and talk beer," he adds. "I overheard one conversation where a guy asked, 'What kind of beer is this?' and the volunteer answered, 'I don't know. I don't like beer.'"

You won't have that problem at Scene's AleFest. The annual open-air celebration of craft beer takes place each summer at Tremont's Lincoln Park. Whether you missed the IX extravaganza or you just prefer your brew served under the summer sun, forgive us this moment of self-promotion and mark down Saturday, July 28, on your calendar. Over 100 craft beers on tap, all for just $25. Tickets are on sale now at clevescene.com/alefest.

They sell out every year, so don't dawdle.

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