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Iowa City welcomes the 16th-annual Brewfest

BY MADISON BENNETT | SEPTEMBER 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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Drink less for better. Drink for taste, not for effect.

That's the motto of the Bier Guy at John's Grocery's, Doug Alberhasky. And it's the message he's promoting for the 16th-annual Iowa City Brewfest.

Iowa City residents will gather in Pagliai's parking lot, 302 E. Bloomington St., from noon to 4 p.m. to experience more than 350 beers this weekend. The beers offered will range from classical favorites such as Sam Adams Boston Lager and Sierra Nevada Pale to a $400 8-gallon keg of Scottish ale called Old Bubh.

"There won't be any Busch Light at this event," said Bill Alberhasky, Doug Alberhasky's father and the owner of John's Grocery, 401 E. Market St.

Iowa City beer history

Iowa City beer drinkers aren't your normal imbibers.

Downtown may have a reputation for favoring quantity over quality, but there's a whole other population in town that enjoys the art of tasting and evaluating beers from all over the world.

"Iowa and Iowa City have some of the best-educated beer drinkers in the country," Doug Alberhasky said.

Iowa City residents take joy in sampling the huge beer selection at John's Grocery, beer gardens at local bars, and events such as Brewfest.

"I would say the drinker in Iowa City is a lot more well-versed than beer drinkers across the state of Iowa," said Pat McHenry, a regional sales manager with Boulevard Brewing Co. "As a norm, most Iowa City drinkers tend to like to sample a lot of different beers."

In fact, it seems that Iowa City's love for beer isn't new.

Back in 1883, three breweries crowded the intersection of Linn and Market Streets — just a stone's throw from where John's Grocery is today.

"Beer drinking and Iowa City have gone hand-in-hand for 163 years," said Doug Alberhasky as he pointed to the different breweries on a period map. "When the Czechoslovakian and Irish populations migrated to Iowa City during the 1800s, they brought a huge part of their culture with them.

"Beer was life."

Brewfest

So enter, Brewfest, a beer-tasting festival held once a year by John's Grocery in which hundreds upon hundreds of knowledgeable of beer consumers get together for a cultural experience.

"I'm a beer connoisseur, but I don't consider myself a beer geek," said Iowa City resident David Kaplan. "Where people dissect the beer, I know what I like, and I can pick out coriander and chocolate and burnt coffee out of some beer. But I just enjoy trying beers that maybe I haven't had before."

But Brewfest is more than just a hodgepodge of people coming together based on their love of ales, lagers, and pilsners. Proceeds from the event go toward the American Heart Association.

"We had 1,400 people in the rain last year, and I was able to write a check to the American Heart Association for $11,000," Alberhasky said. "Not bad for a day's worth of drinking."

And with all the beers offered at this year's Brewfest, there's no need to be particular, especially when a taste of a new beer will only cost $2 to $4.

"People come down to [beer tastings] for the brand-new beers," said McHenry, who covers Iowa, Indiana, and downstate Illinois for Boulevard. "Brewfest gives people the opportunity to take a dozen different products that would otherwise be very expensive."

In addition to the plethora of brews, old contest favorites such as stein shuffleboard — which comprises sliding a stein full of beer toward a John's Grocery logo painted at the end of shellacked wooden board — will be there for patrons to win prizes. This year's event will also feature keg bowling.

"It's really my favorite event — everybody's friendly, you kid around with people who you've never met before," said Kaplan, who has only missed one Brewfest in its 16-year history. "And people pouring the beer, you can ask them questions about the beer. It's a really fun event."

Oktoberfest

Although Brewfest has been a local favorite for 16 years, this year it's teaming up with a larger event. For the first time, the North Side Marketplace will put on a fall festival to showcase its businesses. The Iowa City Oktoberfest will begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday and Iowa City residents will get the chance to wander from Pagliai's to St. Mary's, viewing art, enjoying live music, and sampling food and drinks from vendors.

"Downtown gets all of the attention. Oktoberfest is our way of getting all the businesses on the North Side together," said Tim Fischer, an Oktoberfest organizer and the owner of the Pit Smokehouse, 130 N. Dubuque St.

There will be 14 vendors at the event including Devotay, Hamburg Inn, Motely Cow, and Oasis. Bands performing include Old Capitol Chorus, the Monday Night Chorus, and Dave Zollo and the Body Electric.

"For years, it's been downtown, downtown, downtown," said Doug Alberhasky. "But whenever you look at the iconic business in Iowa City, you think Pagliai's, you think Hamburg Inn, you think John's."

Because of the larger attendance that will come with Oktoberfest, Alberhasky said, extra precautions, such as checking IDs, will be made to sustain the family atmosphere.

"Some festivals are drunk fests," he said. "And ours is not."

As part of Oktoberfest there will be a Bike Rodeo, a silent auction of a vintage cruiser, chances to win kids' bikes, and local bike businesses selling their products.

In addition to Brewfest, there will be a family-friendly Sodafest for kids that will include 28 different sodas, including cream, cherry, and orange, making the events fun for even the under-21 crowd.

Prizes from the different events throughout the day include $20 gift certificates to North Side businesses, a Fat Tire Bicycle, a foosball table, and a guided tour of a part of the historic North Side, including underground. Fischer said fewer than 20 people have ever been given tours of the underground North Side tunnels.

Overall, the main appeal of Oktoberfest, beside's its family-friendly atmosphere, is that the North Side Marketplace businesses will be on display, said UI senior Beth Amelon, who is helping promote Oktoberfest as part of her Entrepreneurship class.

"Oktoberfest's in the old downtown, and not many students go in that area. Plus there'll be, like, tons of beer," she said and laughed.


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