By Ashley Luthern
Jeff Riggs, Dave Hoopes and David Sorace didn’t pause during the Big Tap In on Saturday at the Covelli Centre.
Sorace, operations manager for Hoppin’ Frog Brewery in Akron, along with Riggs and Hoopes poured samples as they described the craft beers, including a Silk Porter “made with real cream and Belgian chocolate malt and Italian roast coffee.”
At times it was hard for them and other vendors to keep up. The third annual Big Tap In was a sellout, drawing more than 2,700 people downtown with 271 varieties of beer, 22 local food vendors, 17 local artists and entertainment ranging from bagpipers to belly dancers.
Sorace said events such as the Big Tap In allow breweries to meet fans and claim new ones.
“I’ve been in craft beer for five years, and each year it’s been 10 percent growth. It’s overwhelming,” he said, adding: “Everybody drinks beer, but they’re hooked when they taste the flavor in a small, artisan batch.”
Event organizer Sandy Reda, co-owner of Vintage Estate in Boardman, said interest in craft beer is growing in the Mahoning Valley.
“What’s so nice is that craft beer is still somewhat new to our area. If you go to Pittsburgh and Cleveland, it’s been there a while,” she said.
And the Big Tap In impressed those who traveled from those areas.
Maura Teaberry and Lauren Mikulan, both of Pittsburgh, were told by a friend about Saturday’s tasting.
“It’s great. I’ve been to things like this in Pittsburgh, and this met and exceeded my expectations,” Teaberry said.
She praised the large variety of food and beer selections.
“This year we have more brewery representation than ever. That means about 95 percent brought someone from the brewery,” Reda said.
The tasting was broken into two sessions: a VIP Session from 1 to 6 p.m. costing $70 per ticket and a general Session from 3 to 6 p.m. costing $45 per ticket.
David Keish of Canfield said his VIP ticket was well worth the extra money.
“You got time to sample without the big crowd. There was a lot of space to walk and talk with the vendors,” he said. “Overall, it’s something to get people downtown, and I love good microbrews.”
The event also had a cause.
This year, the Big Tap In benefited Making Kids Count, a Mahoning Valley-based nonprofit organization that helps local children.
Making Kids Count organizes birthday celebrations for children at Beatitude House, a women’s shelter in Youngstown and Warren, and quarterly birthday parties for patients at Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley in Boardman.
Jana Coffin, the organization’s co-president, said money raised at the Big Tap In will be used for new programs.
“We want to possibly start a summer food program because with kids out of school, they can’t get those free and reduced-cost lunches. We’re also looking at a pilot program to start a diaper bank,” Coffin said.