Craft beer flows at Ashland Firkin Fest

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Sunny dispositions enhanced a beautiful sunny day as the 2nd annual Firkin Fest took over downtown Ashland, Kentucky, on June 18. No rain this year, just a beautiful June afternoon.

Many attendees remembered the monsoon-like rain storm that hit the first Firkin Fest. At his festival booth, D.H. Harrison of Country Boy Brewing in Lexington, KY, definitely noticed the difference.

“There’s a lot better weather this year,” he said while breaking out into his signature smile.

Just a couple of tents over, Brady Barlow, one of the owners of West Sixth Brewing Company in Lexington. also noticed the weather.

“I think it’s fantastic,” he said. “It’s a beautiful day. It couldn’t be any better. It’s a perfect location. The people are fantastic. Everybody is super eager to learn about craft beer.”

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Past and present members of Greater Huntington Homebrewers Assn. reunite at Firkin Fest.

Bring out the firkins

And it wouldn’t be Firkin Fest if you didn’t have firkins. That’s part of the fun of Firkin Fest—trying the special concoctions that the brewers dream up.

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D.H. Harrison of Country Boy Brewing with his firkins

“We brought three firkins again this year,” Harrison said. “We brought two versions of Cougar Bait—one with guava fruit and one with peaches. The last one we’re going to tap is a Living Proof series Wild Yeast Golden Ale with pears.”

It appeared that most of the serious craft beer fans thought the Living Proof with Pears was dynamite. As the word got around, the line for it got longer.

Harrison says everything Country Boy adds to its firkins is all real fruit. No extracts or processed flavorings are used.

“It’s the real deal,” said Harrison, who also had some other special beers pouring on the regular taps. A couple of those included the 4th Annual Wild Red and Double Barrel Shotgun Wedding. The Country Western Double IPA with grapefruit, which is a collaboration between West Sixth and Country Boy, got rave reviews too.

Not to be outdone on the firkin front, West Sixth Brewing brought an excellent Habanero IPA in the cask. While you might think the habenero name could scare off some folks, it did not seem to. The beer was actually a super nice drinking brew and very popular.

“They’re really wanting to try our Habanero IPA firkin,” said Barlow. “We’re getting really good feedback on it.”

Barlow  also brought his IPA, Amber, Belgian Blonde, and the summer seasonal Lemongrass American Wheat.

Firkin Fest

While he didn’t bring a firkin, Justin Handshoe was excited to be at his first Firkin Fest. Handshoe is the regional sales manager for Rhinegeist Brewing Company of Cincinnati.

“I’m from southeastern Kentucky,” he said, “so Kentucky is very important to us.”

Rhinegeist had its Truth IPA and Zen Session IPA at the fest.

Handshoe says Rhinegeist just finished a major expansion at the brewery. Only celebrating its 3rd anniversary this June 25, it is already one of the region’s more popular local breweries.

“It’s been a crazy year for us,” he said. “At this point, we’re actually the fastest growing craft brewery in history.”

Distributor support critical

Local beer distributors were out in force too. Firkin Fest could not be successful without their support. Triple Crown, Heidelberg, Clark, and Beer House all had beers at the festival.

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Rick Duelley of Triple Crown Beverage 

“This festival just means so much to this city,” said Rick Duelley, area sales manager for Triple Crown Beverage Group. “It’s just a good thing for downtown.”

With local breweries always popular at festivals, Duelley brought Country Boy and Alltech beers, both from Lexington. Also prominent were the Sierra Nevada and New Belgium brands from Asheville, NC. Duelley had a variety of other regional and national craft brands pouring as well.

Duelley said Triple Crown Beverage Group likes to support beer festivals, and he stays busy with it all summer.

“It’s an important part of our marketing,” he said.

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Heidelberg Distributing Company’s tap trailer.

Heidelberg Distributing Co. was founded in Ohio in 1937, but has only been distributing in Kentucky for about 15 years. During that time Heidelberg has mined the Kentucky beer scene to now represent a solid line up of Kentucky craft breweries.

“We want to be a part of that local scene,” said Heidelberg’s specialty beer manager Dave Gausepohl. “It’s where a lot of the growth and excitement is in the industry. We want to make sure we’re a player in that.”

Heidelberg brought beer from the Goodwood and Apocalypse breweries out of Louisville and from Blue Stallion Brewing in Lexington. From the Cincinnati area, they had beers from Rivertown, Rhinegeist, and Mt. Carmel.

“It’s nice to see how this market is really starting to embrace the craft. Each year it gets more and more exciting,” said Gausepohl.

Gausepohl complimented Ashland beer retailers including Continental Liquors and Ashland Beverage Centre.

“That’s really what it takes—those destination stores to pull those brands in to get people exposed to it.”

Matthew Curreri manages eastern Kentucky for Beer House Distributors out of Erlanger, KY.  Beer House brought a whole tent-full of brands including the local Eight Ball Brewing from Bellvue, KY.

Matt Curreri of Beer house with a volunteer pourer dispensing a sample of Ei8gh Ball's red ale.
Matt Curreri of BeerHouse Distributors with a volunteer pouring an Eight Ball red ale.

“From Eight Ball we brought Red Drink Red IPA and Tarnished Golden Ale,” said Curreri. “People are really liking their beer here today.”

Speaking of craft beer in Eastern Kentucky today, Curreri thinks it is going over very well. He says Beer House likes to support festivals because they get to “show off what we have to offer.” According to Curreri, Beer House is a distributor that is solely focused on craft beer.

Among the line-up of 25 or so breweries Beer House had at the fest were the ever-popular Great Lakes, Three Floyds, and Bell’s brands.

Firkin Fest leaders and workers 

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Whitney Lowe of Ashland In Motion checks in a Firkin Fest attendee.

Ashland would not have its Firkin fest if it were not for the efforts of lots of community leaders, including the mayor and city council. But the driver of the event is the downtown redevelopment group Ashland In Motion. Whitney Lowe is the group’s executive director.

“We’re really pleased with the turnout today,” she said.

“It’s a nice thing. It’s new for our community. It’s really special that we’re able to do this.”

She guessed they had somewhere close to 1,500 paid attendees. All profits from the fest go to support Ashland In Motion and its redevelopment mission.

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Firkin Fest t-shirts were quite popular items at this year’s fest.

So after a successful second year, is a third Firkin Fest in store?

“Absolutely,” said Lowe.  “It’s an annual festival and we hope to expand it each year.”

Firkin fest volunteer Rob Absten
Volunteer Rob Absten from WV.

A festival review would not be complete if the scores of volunteers were not recognized for their efforts. They collect tickets, check IDs, pour beer, haul ice, and more. Firkin Fest volunteers worked a long afternoon in the heat so the paid attendees could have a great time. Volunteers showed up to work from all around the Tri-State area. Hats off to them.

As a final note, we’ll repeat what Heidelberg Distributing’s Dave Gausepohl told us earlier that day.

“Once you’ve had some of these high quality beers, it’s hard to go back.”

Firk Yeah!

Short Takes

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Chris Pullem, of Ashland, shows off his shirt.
Fun at Firkin Fest
Joshin’ at Firkin Fest. West Virginians Josh Holland and Josh Nibert enjoy the festivities.
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Hop growers Katrina & Mike Jarrett of Hickory Hill Farm, Olive Hill, KY,  support the beer culture.
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T-shirt sales at Firkin Fest help local community improvement projects.
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While the shade tents stayed pretty full, the beer lines were never too long.
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Beer festivals bring out the local food trucks, like this one from Suplex Tacos, Ashland.

Article Links

Ashland in Motion

Country Boy Brewing

West Sixth Brewing

Rhinegeist Brewing

Triple Crown Beverage Group

Heidelberg Distributing

Beer House Distributors

Continental Liquors

Ashland Beverage Centre

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