Rotary Club raises funds at Groundhog Craft Beer Fest
YOUNGSTOWN — Beer enthusiasts took advantage of warm weather Saturday to take part in an annual event that benefits the Youngstown community.
The Third Annual Groundhog Craft Beer Fest took place in the Stambaugh Auditorium parking lot, a stark difference from inside the venue when it’s typically snowing and cold.
Held by the Youngstown Rotary Club, the event is a club fundraiser to generate funds that will benefit the community, said Josh Prest, president of the Youngstown Rotary Club.
Usually, the event is held around Groundhog Day in February, but as with most events during the COVID-19 pandemic, the beer tasting was pushed back.
Supporters of the event need not worry, Prest said, as the Beer Fest is anticipated to go back to its winter schedule in 2022.
Organizers anticipated 350 people Saturday. General admission tickets were $40, with VIP tickets at $60.
Several years ago, a group of rotarians were brainstorming new fundraisers — while they drank beer — and the Beer Fest was born, with details outlined on a napkin, Prest said.
“We figured we needed a new fundraiser and this did so well the first year, we decided to keep it going,” Prest said.
In the past, the YWCA was awarded a large grant as a result of the beer festival alone, he said.
This year, Prest said he’s hopeful to generate about $20,000.
There were 25 vendors, “a hodge podge” of breweries traveling near and far, Prest said.
Those who attended were given a small sampling mug.
Sprinkled throughout the fest wearing yellow shirts were rotarian volunteers, from not only the Youngstown Rotary but also Boardman Rotary, which Prest said has helped out since the first year of the festival.
Many local brewers who try their hand at the craft as a hobby attended the beer fest Saturday.
Boardman resident Joseph Slifka of Boardman was joined by brother Fred of Boardman and nephew Nick of Canfield.
Joseph is also a hobbyist brewer, using kits while learning how to extract brew.
One time he tried his hand at a blackberry hefeweizen, which turned into a blackberry champagne, Joseph said.
For the Alexi men and their buddy, it was a guys’ night out Saturday.
Jake Alexi of McDonald, along with his father, James of Mineral Ridge, Bryan Butcher, Jake’s brother-in-law, and family friend Martin DeAngeles of Pittsburgh, made their rounds to each of the tents, sampling the different beers.
James and Jake brew beer as a hobby, and decided to take advantage of the perfect summer weather to walk around with mini-beers in hand.
“I’m looking at what’s available in the summer ales and local ales,” James said, who added he looks to support local.
As he’s learned to brew, James has tried his hand at experimenting with flavors, ultimately marrying his favorite, peanut butter, with the beverage, at the encouragement of his father-in-law.
He also tried a Girl Scout cookie-inspired flavor based on the beloved Thin Mint cookie that had a chocolate, minty flavor.
One of the group’s’ first stops was to the Noble Creature Cask House tent, where bartender Sean Milo of Youngstown and Ryan Adams, a brewer also of Youngstown, were pouring samples of their beer.
Just as the Alexi men, both Milo and Adams began their paths with beer as hobbies. “We fell in love with craft beer,” Milo said.
Milo said that Saturday’s event had a positive vibe to it. “It just feels better,” Milo said, referring to the tense last year and a half caused by COVID-19.
Anyone who visits the establishmen on East Rayen Avenue in Youngstown will likely feel that same energy, Adams said, as the microbrewery is inclusive and people bond over the love of beer, “which at the end of the day, tastes good.”