Has it really been 10 years since the Asheville Winter Warmer beer festival made its debut? This annual cold-weather celebration has certainly come a long way since it premiered at the old Garage at Biltmore, the venue that used to be next to French Broad Brewery.
It was a cold and snowy day, but about 300 people jammed into the space for that first event. The Asheville beer scene was a lot smaller in those days, and no one could have guessed that we would become one of the nation’s top destinations for craft brew.
A decade later, Winter Warmer is one of the area’s foremost beer festivals. This year’s iteration happens Saturday, Jan. 21, at the U.S. Cellular Center, and producer Mark Lyons expects 2,000 to 2,200 beer lovers to attend. He’s got his fingers crossed for sunny skies — last year’s event took a hit, he says, when bad weather forced a postponement.
Lyons is still putting together a list of participating breweries, but he figures to have 30 of them pouring a wide variety of brews. Some will be from Western North Carolina, and others will hail from farther afield. But regardless of the participants, attendees can expect some sturdy, potent beers.
Asheville Brewing Co. will debut its new collaboration beer with Deschutes Brewing — an ale called Nottaway River, which was made both here and in Bend, Ore. It is sure to be one of the festival’s hottest beers. Also, this year’s guest brewery is Prairie Artisan Ales. The Tulsa, Okla., outfit is famed for its sour and barrel-aged brews, and Lyons expects the brewery to have some of those selections “along with one or two sessions beers,” all of which are coveted, he says.
As the beer list comes together, Lyons is making sure that Winter Warmer closely follows North Carolina alcohol laws. That means that some out-of-state breweries that have been to Winter Warmer in the past won’t be back this year. “The state is very watchful,” he says, but there will be plenty of North Carolina breweries to pick from. “We have newcomers reach out to us all the time.”
Tickets are $51 for general admission and $69 for Very Important Drinkers, which includes such perks as early entry and admission to a lounge area. Designated driver tickets are $26. All ticket purchases will also carry 7 percent North Carolina sales tax, and there are online processing fees. The nonprofit benefiting from ticket sales is MountainTrue.
All ticket levels include a full dinner catered by Asheville restaurants Chestnut and Corner Kitchen. The dinner is one of the elements that sets Winter Warmer apart from most other brew festivals.
Competition on the local beer festival scene has greatly increased in the past few years. Events such as the Beer City Festival, Brewgrass and Burning Can at Oskar Blues, plus the various Oktoberfests, have all pulled crowds from the same core group of beer fans. Most of these events are also seeking participation from the same area breweries, and there are only so many beer festivals that a brewery can attend.
But Winter Warmer has an edge in that it happens during the dead of winter. In January, there are fewer other events to compete with, and a warming, higher-gravity brew can take the sting out of the cold-weather season. Put it on your list.
Asheville Winter Warmer Brew Fest happens 3-7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, at the U.S. Cellular Center Arena, 87 Haywood St. For details and tickets, visit ashevillebeerfest.com.
Follow Beer Guy Tony Kiss on Facebook at Carolina Beer Guy and on Twitter at BeerGuyTK. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.