The Good Vibes Beer Fest 2018 lived up to its name.
From the familiar West Coast-style IPA from Voodoo Brewing Co. that gave the festival its name to the more exotic and experimental brews available for pouring, craft beer lovers found plenty of tastes to give them the excitations Saturday.
More than 500 people attended the tasting event held at The Compound, Voodoo Brewing Co.’s Bessemer Street production facility. There they met, hobnobbed and drank with representatives of more than 30 of the most interesting craft breweries to be found in the U.S. and Europe, each of which brough a selection of their finest products.
“They really managed to get the best of the best here. All of the breweries are saying the same thing: when you were looking at the list of breweries, you were like, no one would dare to not come. It’s amazing,” said Magnus Björnstjerna, operations manager for Swedish beer maker Omnipollo.
Björnstjerna was hard to miss at the festival. Not only was he providing some of the more experimental and popular drinks on tap, he was also sporting some of the more experimental attire.
The colorful clothes he wore consisted of shorts and tank top in a matching pattern of green and orange pineapple skulls. With his backwards cap and sunglasses, it seemed a fitting uniform for a man who was serving up mini-snifters of Gideon’s barrel-aged imperial stout, a “super heavy” maple-flavored concoction that he topped with an icy layer of the same flavor from a slushie machine that kept churning throughout the event.
While the outfit and the brewing process might have seemed perhaps more complicated than necessary, the reactions from festival-goers indicated that both were crowd pleasers.
In fact, there was little that didn’t seem to please the crowd. If you were looking for a Miller Lite, you were out of luck, but with 32 brewers offering both the familiar mix of IPAs, lagers and stouts as well as everything from barleywine to sour ales and lambics, even the geekiest of beer geeks was sure to be satisfied.
The most consistent crowds throughout the day gathered in front of the Voodoo taps, where the selections included the hard-to-find ManBearPig, an imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels that had previously held bourbon along with maple and honey.
The longest lines of the day, however, appeared on the hour as perhaps the most exotic brews were unleashed by Bokkereyder, a small blendery in Belgium that has received near-universal acclaim since its start in 2013. Bokkereyder ages lambic beers with fruit in oak barrels, producing a variety of beers with light wine-like flavors. On the few occasions they have been available at major beer festivals in the U.S., the bottles — they’re poured from wine bottles rather than from a keg — have quickly run dry.
“That was good — it was worth the wait,” said Jacob Hornick, of Harrisburg, after making it to the front of the line for a taste of the final Bokkereyder beer of the day.
“The wait?” Kelsey O’Conor said with a quizzical look. “We waited 10 minutes.”
For Hornick, the wait had been less a matter of standing in line for a few minutes, than the anticipation — from buying tickets, to driving to Meadville, to the moment when the day’s final batch of Bokkereyder was opened. For many at the festival, it was a highlight.
“Having this here was a pretty unique experience,” Hornick said.
It’s the kind of experience that Voodoo CEO Matteo Rachocki hopes to bring back to Meadville. Taking a break from the crowds in an air-conditioned office inside The Compound, Rachocki sipped on a can of Plum Surprised, a just-released plum-infused sour ale produced as a collaboration between Voodoo and J. Wakefield Brewing of Miami, Florida.
The goal for the festival’s first year, Rachocki said, was to lay a foundation with breweries that would make the event’s growth in future years sustainable.
“We wanted to let them see what Meadville, Pa., is all about and at the same time show them a really good time,” Rachocki said, “and share these beers that we’ve gotten to enjoy around the world with our local community.”
The nine months of planning that went into the event and several years of traveling to festivals around the world, he added, had been worth the effort. The result was evident in the supply and selection of beers available — beers that normally could only be tasted in Stockholm, Miami or San Diego, right here in Meadville.
“Our team of employee-owners here is exceptional,” Rachocki said. “What we have here is unique and allows us to pull of something extraordinary.”
Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.