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Tickets still available for popular craft beer fest Rails and Ales

By DAVE LAVENDER

The Register-Herald

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Like a 5-year-old growing up, putting on the big boy pants and heading out to the hallways of kindergarten, the Better Beer Coalition’s little beer baby — Rails and Ales — is hitting its fifth year and growing up a bit as well.

The first Rails and Ales took place at Heritage Station in 2012, with 750 people in attendance sampling a handful of beers, including just three West Virginia breweries. Five years in, Rails and Ales now fills the spacious Harris Riverfront Park, and this year is growing up in a big way – offering two sessions to ease what last year was a sold-out crowd of 5,000.

While VIP tickets to this year’s fest are sold out, $40 general admission tickets are still available for both the afternoon (noon to 4 p.m.) and evening session (6 to 10 p.m.) sessions at the fifth annual Rails and Ales, set for Saturday, Aug. 12, at Harris Riverfront Park. The fest will feature more than 250 beers from all over the world, including beers from about 20 of West Virginia’s craft breweries. There also will be the addition of ciders from West Virginia and beyond, as well as a steady flow of eclectic local music, food trucks and vendors.

Tickets can be purchased online. Links to the purchase site will be available on the festival website www.railsandales.com/, and Facebook page, www.facebook.com/railsandalesfestival. The event will be held rain or shine. There will be no refunds for tickets purchased. Additionally, anyone who attends the event must have a ticket, a photo ID and be over 21 years of age.

Although Rails and Ales has sold nearly as many tickets as last year, BBC members want folks to know the fest is not sold out and can comfortably accommodate about 4,000 people per session.

“We want people to buy tickets and to love it as much as we do,” coalition member Jessica Pressman said. “We work for a whole year organizing this, and the experience of the guest is our No. 1 concern. We don’t want people to have to wait in long lines, and people said they were hot, so we are offering a second evening session and every big market beer festival does two sessions. We are listening, and we are continuing to bring in better beer, and we are trying to expand. We want people to be proud of this festival and of the community, because it takes the whole community to put on the festival.”

A pouring of original tunes

Since Rails and Ales has been at Harris Riverfront Park, the fest has utilized the amphitheater for live music, while having all of the beer vendors spread along the top of the park on both sides of the 10th Street entrance.

This year, in the festival’s third year at Harris, the stage is being moved up to the festival, just east of the main bathroom building for the park.

“We are moving the stage up to meet the festival,” Pressman said. “We felt like people had to choose between beer and music, so now we are incorporating the music more into the festival, which is going to be awesome. We have some exciting musical acts.”

Entertaining this year is the locally based funk band The M.F.B., hometown indie rockers Ona, the genre-blending of The Dividends and veteran club DJ Charlie Brown Superstar.

“Even if you don’t really like beer or are new to craft beer and new to the scene, you are still going to have a great time because it is just a great atmosphere. We are going to have live entertainment all day,” Pressman said.

Mountain State brewers

Increasingly, Rails and Ales is taking on more of a regional flavor as West Virginia’s craft beer industry continues to grow.

Jeff McKay, owner of Summit Beer Station, and the Rails and Ales organizer who wrangles all the beer vendors, said there could be as many as 20 state breweries at the fest.

“We already have 17 West Virginia breweries, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we have 20 when it is all said and done,” he said. Most every brewery that is coming will have the brewer or some representative there as well to talk about the different styles and how they made the beer if folks are interested in the brewing process.

McKay said it the growth is amazing since they only had Morgantown Brewing Company, Bridge Brew Works and Mountain State Brewing in Huntington the first year of the fest.

There are about six new West Virginia breweries that have said they will be in Huntington this year.

“I wouldn’t name any names because a lot of these guys are so small that at a drop of a hat they might not be able to come and they may not have enough, so I don’t want to set that expectation,” McKay said.

One new small brewery that plans to have beer at Rails and Ales is The Peddler, located on 4th Avenue in downtown Huntington. That brewery is owned by Drew Hetzer and run by brewmaster Jay Fox. They will debut their beers at Rails and Ales.

If that beer is poured at Rails and Ales, it will be a little bit of history as it will make it the first commercial beer made in Huntington since River and Rail Brewery (formerly Brew Bakers) closed its doors back in 1998.

Another notable West Virginia brewer is Mike Vance of Abolutionist Ales out of Morgantown.

“He does some really great stuff,” McKay said. “I would like to see more of the West Virginia guys doing some more adventurous things. I appreciate what Mike is doing being a little less reserved.”

Who else is pouring in?

In addition to a wide range of craft breweries, Rails and Ales also will add some regionally made ciders.

“We are adding cider this year, so we are going to have Swilled Dog out of Franklin and Hawk Knob out of Lewisburg participating,” McKay said. “There’s some Virginia ciders coming as well.”

And McKay said they will be reeling in some special sours and lambics that are new to the state.

Boon Lambics are new to West Virginia. “We have an unblended lambic on tap, and that is what I have been sending to people if they say they like white wine,” McKay said.

“Our whole mission of the BBC is to grow the craft beer audience in Huntington, and that is exactly what we are doing by offering such a wide variety of beers,” Pressman said. “Even wine enthusiasts can find something that they love.”

McKay said they are working on a number of new breweries coming in but have to wait and see what is cleared for take-off to be sold in West Virginia.

“We have a handful of breweries that I am waiting to get the green light that they are coming that are brand new to the state and that are well known breweries, like Stone Brewing,” McKay said. “… And if Sholten Brothers come here it will be pulling tickets from everywhere. They have some of the most sought-after beers in the world.”

McKay said that company was in West Virginia for a little bit after the state lifted its ABV cap a few years ago but had signed with a distributor that went under. McKay said the company is looking again at getting into the Mountain State, and if so, would open the floodgates on some really special craft brews from around the world.

Pressman said having McKay, who owns Summit Beer Station, helps the festival build a beer list that is second to none in the region.

“This is without a doubt the best beer list that we have ever had and you have ever found in the state of West Virginia,” Pressman said. “It is a big deal. Not everybody has a Jeff McKay at their beer festival, and it shows.”

McKay said they will have roughly the same amount of beer at both sessions and there will be two separate refrigerated trucks holding the goods.

“Some people have worried about us running out of beer, and they can’t seem to fathom that we can double an order,” McKay said with a laugh.

Food, crafts and more

Pressman said the festival has expanded the artisan’s area to include 15 different artisans.

“We have 15 artisans, and we have some really unique things we have never had before. We have a girl that sells paintings of Tudor’s biscuits, we have a lady there selling beer for dogs, and we have 13 restaurants coming — and there are a lot coming from outside Huntington.”

Food vendors include Asian Fusion, Backyard Pizza and Raw Bar, Bahnhof WVrsthaus & Biergarten, Black Sheep Burrito & Brews, Christopher’s Eats, Dem 2 Brothers & Grill, Fireside Grille, Gil’s Pit Beef, La Famiglia, The Peddler, River & Rail Bakery and Southside Sliders.

Artisan and merchandise vendors include Antique Pet Photos, Art By Brandy Jefferys, Brand Yourself, Folk Life, Full Circle Ceramic, Hound Dog Snackery, JP Owens Art, LaFontaine’s Tobacco & Wine Shop, Made In West Virginia, One Eyed Cat Crafts, Pencils and Pastels by Lisa Harrison, Rails & Ales Merchandise, Studio13, The Razor and Shear, The Red Caboose and Wild for WV.

New this year for the daytime session, the festival will be selling access to special group areas that will include a shade area with chairs, a private bathroom and free bottled water. Pressman said those areas are great for area businesses or groups of 25 or more.

“Since it will be during the hottest part of the day, this will be a place to sit and eat and relax in the shade,” Pressman said.

Having already sold tickets to folks in Louisville, Kentucky, Marietta, Ohio, and Morgantown, Rails and Ales is truly a community showcase for everything from music and crafters to the region’s finest home-grown new restaurants and beer makers.

“We are stating to make that happen – attracting people from all over the region – and we would certainly like to increase that because our goal is to create a regional beer festival,” Pressman said. “This is an economic driver for Huntington. We bring a lot of people in for the weekend, and they are staying in downtown hotels and they are filling up restaurants – and that is exciting for us.”

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