It was like Trick or Treat for beer lovers, as adults by the hundreds went booth-to-booth around Mill Race Park’s Round Lake to try craft beers made across Indiana and even a few from Kentucky.

A $35 to $50 admission gave visitors to the inaugural Columbus Craft Beerfest unlimited 4-ounce samples from the 55 vendors that participated.

With food booths and two live bands, about 2,000 visitors found the inaugural event — to benefit the Columbus Park Foundation — too tempting to resist.

“I’m not even a beer fan, but I think when our community does something new and different, I’m going to try it out — and this is awesome,” Diana Gambaiani of Columbus said.

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Elaine Wagner, a Columbus city councilwoman and member of the Columbus Young Professionals group, and other organizers set out to create an event that would be attractive to young professionals, where they can socialize, eat, drink a little and enjoy music.

They were following up on a Welcoming Community survey from Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County that showed young adults wanted more ways and places to relax with friends locally.

Beerfest, however, struck a chord with all ages.

While those who appreciate a wide variety of wines are called connoisseurs, people who enjoy different types of ales, lagers, stouts and malt liquors are commonly called “beer geeks,” organizers said.

Lined up around the south half of the lake were representatives of 55 brewing companies, each offering a variety of five to six beers for each “beer geek” to sample. With the exception of Falls City Brewing Company of Louisville and Country Boy Brewing of Lexington, Kentucky, all of the brewers that participated are based in Indiana. Five had traveled to Columbus from as far as Michigan City, Mishawaka, Merrillville and Griffith.

Since the majority now have their products available in local liquor stores, many brewers were anxious to come to the beer festival to drum up business, said Luke Timmons of Triton Brewing Co. in Broad Ripple.

“Beer geeks are pretty serious about their beers,” Timmons said. “It’s obviously an acquired taste, but once people get into them it becomes a passion.”

The comparison of beer enthusiasts to wine connoisseurs is a valid one, event volunteer Paul Mikrut said.

“There is a lot more depth and complexity to beer than most people realize,” Mikrut said. “If you know what you are looking for, you can really pick up on a lot of subtle differences in the flavors.”

One of the most talked-about beers at the event was called Second Breakfast, which tastes like Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal with maple syrup, patron Tammy Wahl of Seymour said.

Beer names marketed at Saturday’s event ranged from the elegant, such as Haus Citra IPA or Shady Amarillo Pils, to the catchy, such as “Some Like It Hopped”, “In Quad We Trust” and the Columbus-brewed “Jack The Bum” ale made by Powerhouse Brewing Co.

One unique vendor at Saturday’s event was BrewFund, a high-tech service that enables one person to give a gift of a craft beer to someone in another city.

Founded earlier this year in Johnson City, Tennessee, BrewFund is headed by Columbus natives David Nelson and Travis Rother.

Although organizers used a 2004 Heritage Fund survey aimed at attracting young professionals as a basis to start the Columbus Craft Beerfest, Nelson said beer enthusiasts come in all ages.

“Our primary audience is over 55,” Nelson said. “That group really wants to experience something new.”

About 4,600 breweries operate across the country today, with at least another 400 expected to open next year, Rother said.

While most of the brewers at Saturday’s event kept a steady line of four to six patrons at any given time, the Twisted Crew Brewery had as many as 13 people waiting to get a sample.

While beer drinkers were encouraged to drink water to clean their palates between each sample, organizers said water is also useful in maintaining hydration.

And since each sample was poured into a small 4-ounce commemorative glass — just slightly larger than a shot glass — “the people behaved just fine,” Dickinson said.

In order to attract out-of-towners, camping facilities were set up west of Columbus and a section of Hotel Indigo was reserved for patrons, Dickinson said.

The Columbus Craft Beerfest was just one of at least 43 other beer festivals being conducted across the country Saturday, according to the website beerfestivals.org.

That includes the “Beers Across The Wabash” festival in Lafayette, and the “Brew at the Zoo and Wine, Too” in Louisville.

“Originally, it started with microbrewery festivals mostly in large cities like Indianapolis,” said Wayne Patmore, head brewer for Schnitz Brewery and Pub in Jasper. “But now, they are trickling out of the big cities into several other communities like Columbus.”

While Saturday’s event was likely the largest beer festival ever held in Columbus, it was not the first. The D-Vine Winter Wine and Beer Festival is held each February at The Commons to benefit Developmental Services Inc.

“This is a huge success,” said Nicola Dickinson, event planning and logistics committee member. “Unofficially, I think I can say it’s going to be bigger and better next year.”

Pull Quote

“Beer geeks are pretty serious about their beers. It’s obviously an acquired taste, but once people get into them it becomes a passion.”

— Luke Timmons of Triton Brewing Co., Broad Ripple.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.