Ohio Brew Week was among the first of the now ubiquitous week-long craft beer celebrations that have become popular across the nation. It is still one of the best. This year, OBW happens July 15-23.
Instead of focusing on craft-beer-in-general or the craft of a particular city, OBW brings in around 250 brews from over 40 craft breweries across Ohio. There is no better way to get a short-course in Ohio beer than to participate in Ohio Brew Week.
Each year, Ohio Brew Week showcases 40-50 of the state’s best craft breweries, cideries, and meaderies in a 9-day, taste–at-your-own-pace setting.
Athens is a small city nestled in the Appalachian hill country of the Buckeye State. As an honest-to-goodness college town—home to Ohio University—it’s fair to say that the school dominates the city. While it’s a fine university with solid academics, OU also has a bit of a party school at atmosphere.
The OU campus sits right on the edge of downtown. And in that compact downtown space are 30 or so bars, taverns, and restaurants kept busy during the school year with members of the university community. Normally, their taps handles read Bud Light, Coors, Yuengling, Miller Lite, and PBR. During Ohio Brew Week, however, most of those taps are given over to Ohio craft beer. It’s a magical transition.
For Ohio Brew Week, instead of national macro-brews, you’ll find brewery names like Fat Head’s, Brew Kettle, Seventh Son, Mad Tree, Thirsty Dog, and Rhinegeist. The OBW committee assigns a selection of Ohio beer to each tavern, ensuring that all participating breweries have plenty of outlets.
A master tap list is printed up and distributed with Beer Week materials. It’s your guide to some great beer drinking.
Sample at your own pace
Through the years, many of us have grown weary of the drink-till-you-drown type of beer festival. You know the kind where they lock you in a large room or corral and give you three hours to sample 100 beers. So much for temperance.
The great thing about OBW is that you can sample at your own pace any afternoon and evening, all week long. Instead of the sales revenue going to a festival committee, OBW drives business directly to the bars and restaurants in town. It’s a great concept.
All the bars serve up beer in special OBW 4-oz tasting glasses, or you can buy a full pint. With most university students home on summer break, OBW allows an invasion of craft beer lovers to take over the town.
Ohio Brew Week special events
Throughout the week, a series of free tasting events (led by the brewers themselves), brewery tours, and beer-education activities are always a hit.
A number of restaurants offer special, beer-food pairing features. The creativity and variety are very good. Asian fusion, Middle Eastern, Spanish, BBQ, American pub fare, and more are offered-up downtown.
On the first weekend of OBW there’s the Rock n’ Roast at the Ohio University Inn. It will feature lots of music, food and beer. The first Saturday is also the day for the homebrew competition.
On Friday, July 22, is the big outdoor barbecue, beer, and music event, called Brew-B-Q, at the old Athens train depot.
For those preferring a more traditional beer festival format, OBW has that too. On the last Saturday, Brew Week closes out with Last Call, which is a downtown street fair complete with lots of beer tents. Last year, Last Call drew a crowd of around 1,500 to Court Street, where folks sampled beers from 35 Ohio breweries.
To help you keep up with all things OBW, the event committee is redesigning its website and developing a new version of its smartphone app, which will be available for free downloading. The app provides an easy way to view the OBW event schedule. No matter what day you attend, though, you’re guaranteed to have some fun things to do.
Athens’ own superb breweries
While visiting Athens, you’ll not want to miss the town’s excellent indigenous breweries. Long known for stalwart Jackie O’s Brewing Company, Athens added two new breweries during the summer of 2015. Three breweries in a small city make Athens the craft beer center of southeastern Ohio.
Through the years, Jackie O’s has developed a cult following for its barrel-aged beer program, both high-gravity and funky sours. During OBW, Jackie O’s three locations roll out an incredible array of specialty brews that will not disappoint.
Athens’ newest brewery, Little Fish Brewing, was organized by two local guys. It features some more unusual twists on the brewer’s art, including sours and farmhouse ales, along with classic styles.
The third brewery, Devil’s Kettle Brewing Co., has a most impressive brewing system and excels in producing popular, traditional beer styles. Its attractive tasting room on Columbus Road is a cozy place to spend an hour or two.
Athens has a number of other attractions worth doing. The Hockhocking Adena Bikeway is a favorite paved rail-trail that runs 20 miles from Athens to Nelsonville. Use it to burn off a few of those extra beer calories. It’s mostly shaded, so you won’t burn up riding it on a hot July day.
The Dairy Barn Arts Center houses an excellent art gallery and seeing their quilt exhibit is always worth the price of admission.
During OBW, bold, new, large-scale works by twelve master quilters will be featured at the exhibition: Mastery: Sustaining Momentum. The show will include works many talented master artists from around the world and the nation. The exhibit will be open to the public Tuesdays through Sundays 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m., with evening hours on Thursdays until 8:00 p.m.
Located in southeastern Ohio, Athens is quick and easy road trip from many parts of West Virginia.
From northern or north-central West Virginia or points east, you’ll want to first get to Parkersburg and then travel west on U.S. 50 to Athens, about 43 miles. From Charleston and most of southern WV, get to I-77 and go north to Ravenswood (Exit 146) and then drive west on U.S. 33 for 42 miles to Athens. From Huntington, take WV Rt. 2 to Pt. Pleasant. Cross the bridge into Ohio and take OH Rt. 7 north to Pomeroy, where you hit U.S. 33 West and take it to Athens.
For hotel-point shoppers, Athens has several popular-priced chain hotels, such as Fairfield Inn, Hampton Inn, and Holiday Inn Express. Another great alternative is the Ohio University Inn & Conference Center, a property run by the university and located closest to downtown. For transportation between downtown and the hotels, try the economical, Prius-based, Athens Green Cab (740-594-7336).