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Brewing up fun at the library

YOUNGSTOWN — The Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County’s annual Brew Ha Ha Summerfest attracts a slightly different slice of the population who value the library, but who also are younger, more attracted to fun and who are very tapped into the local small business community.

That is the reason Deb Liptak, library director of development, decided to continue the annual event started by former library director Heidi Daniel. Saturday’s fourth annual Brew Ha Ha was a fundraiser for the library’s children’s programming.

Liptak explained that libraries across the country are trying new things to draw people in for learning, personal and professional development, social enjoyment, and celebration of local culture and talent.

Daniel and her husband, who were visiting from Baltimore, said she was thrilled to see so many new things happening in Youngstown and at the library.

“The mission of libraries has always been the same,” she said. “The challenge is to adapt and stay connected to the community through all of its changes.”

Every year, Liptak invites a group of local breweries to participate by setting up tasting booths. There’s also a meal for ticket holders, which was put on by Michael Elford of Barber Drive Catering this year. His offerings included double cherry-smoked kielbasa, creamy coleslaw and authentic Texas beans that some attendees said rival the best in the southwest.

The brewery representatives are a cooperative group of small business owners. Many sought technical assistance from The Pump House in Struthers, which also was in attendance, to get their businesses started. Owners Gregg and Tammie Wormley have been the major source of supplies, equipment and instruction for local beer and wine making since 1997. The Wormleys have been invited to the Brew Ha Ha every year and say they’re proud to be patrons of the library.

Ira and Marcy Gerhart from Noble Creature Cask House said they enjoy a close relationship with the library, which is located just across the street. Noble Creature hosts a True Crime Trivia Night sponsored by the library, for example.

Kathy and Derek Schorejs from Ill Will Brewing are a new business located at the old grain barn at the Harvey Firestone Estate in Columbiana. This was their first year being invited to the Brew Ha Ha and they said they were excited to support the library. One of the most unusual concoctions to taste at the event was Ill Will’s pumpkin pie ice cream and beer smoothie that poured out like a milkshake. Guests said it was surprisingly refreshing.

Nate and Dani Wilson from Woodland Cellars in Hubbard brought a pear and apple cider, and a sparkling Moscato for tasters. The apples, pears and thousands of pounds of honey used to make Woodland Cellars Mead come from local farmers and bee-keepers, the Wilsons explained. Mead, the celebratory beverage well known from Shakespearean plays and Chaucer’s tales, is a fermented drink made from honey and sparkling water.

Attendees Chris Houser and Michael Moore returned to the event this year because they’re big fans of dark beer, local microbreweries and they support the library’s mission. Among their favorites at the event were Sundog’s Strawberry Rhubarb Cider and BirdFish’s Dark Czech Beer.

A volunteer cadre of microbrew writers called “Flight Crew” attend the event to support brewery servers at booths. They began as a small group of people who got together socially to sample local brewery offerings. In time, they started writing articles for publications to spread knowledge and appreciation about local microbrews, they explained.

Flight Crew’s activities are a good example of the cohesive and cooperative culture between local breweries in the area. Another example is a local band called “Dream Journal” comprised of musicians like Adam Keck from Modern Methods in Warren, and other brewers from Noble Creature and BirdFish. The brewer-musicians got together during the pandemic to blow off steam and stay connected. Their “post-punk southern rock” band seems to be taking off, so they said they’re sticking with it.

Keck explained their business model began much like a Kickstarter project. About 35 residents of Warren each contributed $6,000 in exchange for 1 percent ownership of the business. The group was slightly less concerned about making money than getting something unique and positive going in the Warren. Keck said the business hasn’t turned a profit, yet, but they’re hopeful.

Finally, there was a heartfelt toast to Dan Naught, a library board member who worked hard on the Brew Ha Ha planning committee this year, and who died in May. His widow, Joann said her husband loved to read and spent many hours of enjoyment reading the library’s online collections. Everyone at the event acknowledged his final contribution with a warm and grateful toast by Liptak.

Drawing in members of the local community with diverse interests, unique talents and enthusiasm for learning and sharing space is part of the library’s strategy to adapt and stay relevant right now, Liptak said.

“Our intention is to continue reaching out with new ideas and innovations to keep the library alive and well in the Mahoning Valley no matter what the future holds,” Liptak said

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