It's beer with a chilly twist at first Kennett Winterfest

Staff photo by Wm. Shawn Weigel: Friends toast at the 2010 Kennett Brewfest. Sponsored by Historic Kennett Square, the event was the inspiration for the upcoming Winterfest, where attendees get to sample small batch and craft brewed beer.

Bundle up in your down parka, snip the fingers off your gloves, grab a floppy hat and get ready to sample some tasty seasonal beers, because the Kennett Brewfest is going cold.

No, it’s not the end of the popular 15-years-and-running event that kicks off the fall season each year. Instead, it’s a different take on the sell-out event that focuses on craft beers brewed for the winter season.

Historic Kennett Square’s executive director Mary Hutchins said that with sponsorship and donation dollars down as a result of the economy, the organization is always looking for new fundraising opportunities.

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“One of our distributors for the Brewfest came to us and asked if we think a winterfest would work well, since there’s not a lot of competition for that kind of event,” Hutchins said. “And we went with it.”

Hutchins reached out to Brewfest director Jeff Norman (“we can’t do these tastings without Jeff,” she remarked), who also thought it was a great idea.

“The vision here is to sample some winter beers in a cold setting, since that’s generally what they’re brewed for,” Norman said. “So far, we’ve gotten a great response from our breweries, with about 25 on deck. I’d like to have five more, if I can get them.”

Hutchins said that the new event has created much of its own buzz without a large marketing frenzy, spreading mostly via the Kennett Brewfest’s Facebook page and word of mouth.

“It’s generated a lot of interest among faithful Brewfest attendees who go there to enjoy rare and crafted beer,” Hutchins said.

That focus continues at the Winterfest, Norman said, with him envisioning the event as an extended version of the connoisseur’s tasting at the regular Brewfest.

He added that while the breweries on deck for the event are mostly local, there are a few from outside our region that are there because of their association with the distributor who brought the idea to them.

Norman himself even got into the brewing game, producing a one-time winter beer with Dock Street Brewery in Philadelphia.

Norman describes the still-unnamed beer as a “Belgo-American double IPA,” with a blend of Belgian yeast and what would generally be considerd American style IPA hops.

The light, hoppy brew is a bit opposite of what most would consider a winter-style beer, which are generally heartier porters and lagers – something they did on purpose, according to Norman.

“When you consider the idea of a winter beer, they’re generally malt based beers or smoked beers,” he said. “This was made to be able to balance that with something very hoppy.”

Norman said that several breweries were bringing small batch or one-off beers to the winterfest, which is exactly the point of the event.

“There are so many fall festivals,” he said. “We’re also focused on local guys like Twin Lakes, Lancaster Brewing Company Troegs – well, they’r eout of Harrisburg, but that’s still local. But anything outside of what represents, we tried to keep it almost exclusively local.”

With only roughly 300 of the event’s 800 tickets remaining, Hutchins and Norman both feel as though they may sell out well before the Saturday, Feb. 25 date.

Hutchins also said that since they are renting a tent for the event based on crowd size, they will hold fast to the number of tickets available.

If the event takes off, Hutchins said that there is a chance that it could be linked to other winter-based events scheduled at the same time.

“It’s the sort of thing other Main Street organizations have tried, but we would want to see how this works out,” she said.

And what names are in the running for Norman’s double IPA?

“Not sure yet. It’s not just me, so I have to consult with the actual brewers. But we’re thinking something with ‘squared’ in the name.”

Tickets for the event are $65 and include a meal from Talula’s Table. Designated driver tickets are $15, and also include a meal. The event also includes live music from the Shady Groove Trio.

For more information visit www.kennettbrewfest.com or view the Brewfest’s Facebook page, or call 610-44-8188.