Cabin Fever festival makes strong debut

Starting up a new beer festival is a tough task, but the Cabin Fever Craft Beer Festival mastered it with aplomb last Saturday. This big, wintertime festival made a very strong debut with smooth operations and a sell-out crowd of 1,300 in Morgantown, WV.

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Festival organizer Kristina Szczyrbak put in the effort and it paid off with excellent festival results. Let’s hope the Cabin Fever Craft Beer Festival runs for many years to come.

It had all the looks of a festival run by an experienced promotions company. But looks can be deceiving. The promotions company here is a one person operation.

“I only started Old Crow Productions, LLC so I could legally produce this festival,” organizer Kristina Szczyrbak said, as she explained that the promotions company is just her side gig. Her day job is managing West Virginia Women Work, a statewide non-profit organization. Geez, this woman likes to stay busy.

“Putting together this company and the festival was just a labor of love,” she said.

Szczyrbak had never before been involved in organizing a beer festival. She likes beer, but in no way would she describe herself as a beer expert. Her impetus for starting a beer festival in Morgantown was solely that: “All the other festivals are so far away from me. I saw there was a need for it in this community.”

She started from scratch, researching the idea for a solid year before making her move. She selected the February date because it would not conflict with other festivals, and she hoped more brewers might be able to participate. She always had in mind featuring West Virginia breweries, and as planning went on, she decided to limit it to only West Virginia breweries.

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Beer fans queue up for Big Timber beer at Cabin Fever Craft Beer Festival.

Slow start to ticket sales overcome

By limiting it to West Virginia breweries, however, the festival greatly limited the universe of beers that it could offer. That seemed risky. With the festival signing up only 11 breweries to participate, you had to wonder, going in, if that would be enough to attract and satisfy the often fickle craft beer crowd, who are known for seeking the latest-greatest brews. Additionally, most breweries were bringing no more than four beers to the festival.

After a slow start to ticket sales, things began to pick up as the festival date neared. Then, a large walk-up crowd packed the house on Saturday. Even competing with a noon-start WVU basketball game, which had an announced attendance of over 14,000, Cabin Fever still had a big line of folks waiting outside for the doors of Mylan Park Community Center to open at noon. The crowd continued to build for about the next three hours, peaking around 3:30. The place was packed until the beers started running out in late in the day.

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Beer fans in droves enter the Cabin fever festival to sample beers from West Virginia breweries.

Attendees appeared plenty happy too, While a few beers ran out early and some beer lines were a bit long at times, overall, extremely few issues surfaced. Even with only 11 beer vendors, no one seemed unhappy with a lack of variety.

The results demonstrate that the novice beer festival organizer had a solid plan and understood her market well. For a first-time festival, things appeared to go extraordinarily well.

“I’ll sleep okay tonight,” Szczyrbak said, followed by a laugh of relief. “Because to be honest, putting this together was my entire savings account. I was just praying that I could break even.”

Community comes together for Cabin Fever

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Volunteers staff the Chestnut Brew Works table.

Fortunately, Szczyrbak didn’t have to do it all alone. She had plenty of help from, as she describes, an incredible group of volunteers, many of whom are her personal friends. She said the Morgantown community truly came together to support her effort, as witnessed by the numerous event sponsors and vendors that helped make Cabin Fever possible.

Two local charities, Girls on the Run and PopShopWV, provided volunteers and, in exchange, received donations from the event. Cabin Fever festival sponsors included 100.1 WCLG, Morgantown Blueprint, and Motown Taxi. The manager of Morgantown’s annual West Virginia Popular Culture Convention (PopCon) also was a big help to her during the planning, she said.

Asked if she is ready to take on more festivals around the year now that she has a successful one under her belt, she thought for just a second before answering.

“Is it my goal to do this full-time and do a bunch of other festivals? No. I’ll stay with West Virginia Women Work, and if I can just keep doing this festival every year, I’d be happy to do that.”

Sounds good to us. Brilliant Stream will be looking forward to Cabin Fever 2018.

Coming later this week, watch for Brilliant Stream’s report on WV brewery news gathered at the Cabin Fever Festival.

No-gray zone

Maybe it should be expected because you’re in Morgantown, but this was a  distinctly younger adult crowd than you see at other beer festivals in the state. Attendees were overwhelmingly in the  21 to 35 age range. Few appeared to be 50 or over. Hardly a gray hair could be spotted in the crowd. It’s encouraging to see this kind of turnout in a demographic that the state will depend on for its future. It’s clear that this is exactly the kind of event that is relevant to the young professional crowd.

As a side note, many of the brewers were pretty young too.

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Pubstomper Brewing sampled three solid caned beers at Cabin Fever Festival. It was one of five recently licensed WV breweries in attendance.

Newer WV breweries shine

What really turned out to be the star of the festival was the participation of five newer breweries, from which most attendees had tried few if any beers. There were some real standouts here.

Newer breweries attending included Brew Keepers of Wheeling, Brewstel of Elkins, Parkersburg Brewing of Parkersburg, Pubstomper Brewing of Morgantown, and Sophisticated Hound of Princeton. None of these had received their brewery license before last summer.

Cabin Fever Festival, Kevin and Carolyn Ayres.
Kevin and Carolyn Ayres, owners of Brew Keepers in Wheeling, brought their excellent beers to the Cabin Fever festival. Brew Keepers Irish Pirate stout won Best of Show.

The beers from Brew Keepers, Parkersburg Brewing, and Brewstel  really stood out. In the festival’s beer competition, Irish Pirate, the foreign extra stout from Brew Keepers, won Best of Show. Parkersburg Brewing took home two of the top three places in the hot IPA category with its From Ash & Ember and Citrus Tsunami. Brewstel swept all three places in the Amber/Brown/Porter/Stout category with its Ashcat Amber, Big Peter’s Porter, and Senator Stout.

One had to be most impressed with the overall quality of the beer from these new breweries. If they are any indication, West Virginia’s beer future is in good hands.

Major WV breweries support the festival

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Morgan Stemple (left) led the Morgantown Brewing crew in promoting their beer at the Cabin Fever Festival.

The new breweries on the block were joined by WV stalwart brewers, including Chestnut Brew Works, Morgantown Brewing, Big Timber Brewing, Greenbrier Valley Brewing, Berkeley Springs Brewing, and Lost River Brewing.  These guys have already proven themselves in the market, and they didn’t disappoint. It was great to find popular, well-made brews like First Shift Coffee Porter (Morgantown Brewing), Halleck Pale Ale (Chestnut), Big Timber IPA and Logger Lager (Big Timber), Mothman and Devil Anse (Greenbrier Valley), Vienna Calling (Berkeley Springs), and Black Ale (Lost River).

While most all the beers offered by the established breweries were popular, well-known labels, Chestnut Brew Works did bring two stellar newer additions to its repertoire that we feel we have to mention. Mo-Bel Prize was a beautiful dark Belgian ale with a strong caramel character and hints of dark fruit. Smoke Hole Lager, only the second lager they ever made, was a darker German-style Rauchbier with plenty of malt and just enough smoke to balance things out. Both of these beers stood out, especially to the more-experienced craft drinkers in attendance.

Vendors round out the offerings

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Beer can candles by Halle Hinkle (Musical Flames) featured soy wax and wooden or hemp wicks.

Beyond beer, a wide variety of food, craft and other vendors took a chance on the new festival and were not disappointed. Food sales were brisk and probably could have used a few more vendors. Products from homebrew supplies, t-shirts and dog treats to peanuts and candles all seemed to be selling.

The new bar in town
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Troy Freels of Morgantown’s new craft beer outlet, Beertopia, attended to sell brewing supplies and talk about his new pub.
And a homebrew club
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Morgantown Area Society of Homebrewers members put on a homebrewing demonstration.
Even a brewery-in-planning
Brewer Josh Clarke showed up with the owners of his new brewery-in-planning, The Rambling Root. To be located in downtown Fairmont, the business will open first as a restaurant and craft beer bar.

More information at Cabin Fever Festival website.

Coming later this week, watch for Brilliant Stream’s report on WV brewery news gathered at the Cabin Fever Festival. 

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