Winter Blues? Nah! Midwinter Brews!

With less than 60 days left of winter, we either look to Punxutawney Phil for some reassurance as we count down or we embrace the wonders that the chill and snow bring.  For some of us, we like to ski, ice skate at Clinton Square, or have snow fights and make angels.   For others like myself, we hibernate, turn on the electric blankets and catch up on our favorite TV shows or go somewhere sunny to pretend it’s not February as we know it. However, this winter goes on record as Syracuse’s second  mildest and driest since 1950.

I admit for me it’s been wonderful to not have much snow or cold for the past few months, but inevitably winter has to arrive at some point, and arrive it has.  As much as I love my warm blanket and Netflix, I do like to venture out once in awhile, but it has to be for a very good reason.  One very good reason to get out of the house and scrape the ice off the car is for the 16th annual Central New York Brewfest (click here for video), held on February 4th at the NYS Fairgrounds’ Horticulture Building.  If you’ve only been to the Horticulture Building for the NYS Fair in August, you’re in for a nice surprise.  The flower arrangements are replaced with the scent of hops. The rows of maple, leather goods, and the famous potato stand have temporarily vanished and rows of craft beer vendors take over. The sounds of a cookware demonstration are silent as the sounds of Rob & The J’s rock the building for the throngs of beer lovers who attend.  There couldn’t be a better venue to accommodate this winter wonderland.

For those of you who haven’t been to this event or a brewfest in general, it’s worth the entry fee to do something new and sample a plethora of beers in a three hour period.  In its 16th year, the Central New York Brewfest attracts approximately 4,000 people to partake in this event.  Here’s what to expect: the brewfest is divided into two sessions, one from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m., and the other from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.  You pay admission for one session of your choice.   In the past I have attended the earlier session for fear that beer would run out during the evening session.  The brewers who attend (over 50 breweries represented) are well stocked and have plenty for everyone.  Upon entering you are given a sampling glass and tickets that you have to give for each sample.  Don’t worry, if you run out you can go back and get more.  The music starts, the stations are ready, and the sampling begins.  Three hours is plenty of time to sample the variety of beers, so pace yourself.  There’s no need to rush or pound sample after sample. Savor the beer, try the many styles offered, talk to the brewers or brewery representatives. They are more than happy to answer your questions and talk about beer — it’s their livelihood, their passion, their craft.  Brewers are scientists and artists, so imagine the brewfest an art gallery and sip slowly, take a step back and enjoy this consumable art.

While it’s very easy to get caught up in the overwhelming amount of beer booths and go crazy, remember that those little sample glasses do add up in three hours’ time.  Luckily there’s food and water available for purchase.  Whenever I attend a brewfest, I always come equipped with a pretzel necklace.  While it sounds silly to the newcomer, wearing a necklace made entirely of pretzels is a great idea.  It cleanses your palate, gives you some carbs and salt so that your stomach isn’t just filling up with alcohol, and it’s a great accessory item!  If you think this idea is crazy, don’t be surprised to see seasoned festival goers with pretzel necklaces adorning their necks.

Last, but not least, think ahead and figure out your transportation to the event.  It’s very important to be safe and worth the money to get a taxi with your friends.  I do this every year and it’s a very smart thing to do!  Enjoy the event, savor the beers, meet interesting people, listen and dance to the music — this is a party not to be missed!  Love it or hate it, winter is inevitable in these parts, and this midwinter beer break is just what the doctor ordered. See you there!

Published in Table Hopping, February 2012

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