LEBANON, Ohio -- This isn’t the kind of party where you and your buddies roll in from a beer run with a case of Budweiser hoisted on your shoulder and are greeted like returning conquerors.
At the Tegano BeerFest, an annual party thrown by Bruno and Katrina Tegano of Lebanon, the king of beers is craft brewing itself. It celebrates all that is interesting, unusual and sometimes even a little weird about brewing, giving guests the opportunity to explore different varieties and expand their palates. The Teganos held their first BeerFest in 2011, and it was such a hit with friends and family it has become a hotly awaited January tradition.
Craft beer continues to gain head in the United States, popular not only at local breweries and foodie-favorite eateries, but also increasingly at neighborhood church festivals, corner dive bars and the patios and rumpus rooms of Average Joes. According to the Brewers Association, a Boulder, Colorado-based nonprofit dedicated to small and independent American brewers, the craft beer market totaled $19.6 billion in 2014 (it puts the overall beer market at $101.5 billion) and saw 22 percent growth in sales over 2013.
By the end of 2015, the trade group said, there were 4,144 breweries in the United States and counting, the highest number since 1873. In Greater Cincinnati, new breweries seem to be born with surprising regularity; indeed, the Brewers Association ranked Ohio as the sixth-busiest state in beer production by craft breweries, with 800,000 barrels created in 2014.
It was only a matter of time before Ohioans started theming their home parties around their love of craft beer. For the Teganos, the idea came when they were planning a housewarming party and heard several suggestions to make it a wine-tasting event. But craft beers – microbrews, small-batch samples, local offerings and interesting new choices from independent breweries around the country – were more their style, Bruno Tegano said, and they knew their friends would agree.
Tegano BeerFest has a simple premise: Every guest brings a six-pack or growler of craft beer to share. From the packed refrigerator of the basement bar, guests grab a bottle of whatever looks interesting. Or they opt to just keep filling their cups from a constantly rotating lineup of growlers and bottles across the bar – a couple ounces of Vanilla Java Porter from Detroit’s Atwater Brewery, say, followed by Double or Nothing Imperial Pepper from Dayton’s Toxic City Brewery, or a deep pour from a growler of bold and frothy Old Rasputin Russian Imperial stout from California-based North Coast Brewing.
Surprisingly, said Katrina Tegano, a payroll specialist, there are rarely duplicate brews at the parties.
It’s great when all that sampling leads you to a new favorite, said Kris Mustaine, an occupational therapy assistant from Lebanon, which is exactly what happened to her when she discovered the gose variety. An unfiltered wheat beer, gose yields a distinct twang and a slightly salty sharpness, much too tart for many drinkers but now beloved by Mustaine.
Bruno Tegano also discovered one of his favorites at an early BeerFest: Nut Brown Ale from Cincinnati’s Mt. Carmel Brewing Co.
Local brews were well represented again at the 2016 party, including Triple Digit’s Chickow! (a hazelnut double brown ale), Rhinegeist’s popular Cougar Blonde Ale and Truth IPA, Cellar Dweller’s Jeremiah Morrow IPA and Rivertown’s Divergent (a Berliner style sour ale).
Rex Mustaine, a mechanical engineer, has attended the Teganos’ party all six years with his wife, Kris, and loves the social and educational aspects of craft beer events. The Mustaines love to go to beer festivals and tastings in Cincinnati and Dayton and have traveled to other cities for brewery tours. For Rex, variety is the spice of life at BeerFest.
“I’ll get a typical favorite first, then try some new ones, then maybe start mixing a bit of this and a bit of that to come up with something new,” he said. “And I’m always gonna try the home brews that a few people bring.”
There’s no telling what each year’s samples might offer — from a deep, smoky porter with hints of coffee and burnt toast to a ripe, sour ale tinged with apricot to an, er, interesting banana bread brew.
“That one was horrible. Just gross,” said Katrina Tegano, who said the unfortunate banana bread brew showed up at the party several years in a row.
No matter: You have to kiss a few frogs to find a prince — not just in fairy tales, but in adult beverages, it seems.
It’s a sacrifice the 30 or 40 guests nobly make each year.