21 Jan 6th Annual JK O’Donnell’s Irish Ale House Winter Warmer is This Saturday
Winter arrived last weekend. There was snow up north and some freezing rain in Indy, and then the temperatures dropped. We haven’t gotten to the point yet where we’re begging for spring, but it’s getting close. What we need in this type of situation is a way to thumb our noses at the weather and enjoy a good afternoon together. What might serve that purpose? How about a whole lot of big beer to keep us warm and convivial while winter goes on around us. That’s what we’ve got in the JK O’Donnell’s Irish Ale House Winter Warmer on Saturday, the 25th in downtown Fort Wayne (1-5pm). Why have the festival in January? Co-owner Leah Kenna said, “With the dominance of summer festivals we saw a unique opportunity to engage the beer community during the heart of winter in Fort Wayne. We loved the idea of people bundling up in hats and scarves, gathering in a heated tent and warming up with the big beers released this year. Attendees can sample beer or have larger pours that give them time to chat at length with the reps and socialize with friends.”
The 6th Annual Winter Warmer will take place in that tent in front of JK O’Donnell’s Irish Ale House at 121 W. Wayne Street. This is a perfect location for getting some food in JKs before the festival and then moving straight out front into a tent full of happy people and beer. Current owners Leah Kenna and Cari Bean took over in 2016; they took the Winter Warmer they inherited and continued the tradition in full force. Leah told me, “For the first three years we set up the tent in the parking lot behind the pub. It was wonderful and cozy but we realized after three years of the event selling out that we might need a bigger tent. The space in the back limited us to a specific sized tent and maximum guest attendance of around 225. For the last few years we have shut down Wayne Street in front of the pub and it has allowed us to increase the amount of beers and provided attendees with more room to mingle.”
The term “winter warmer” is accurate in two senses. It can mean beers that have higher ABVs as a source of inner and outer warmth. Big beers are great all year long, but they feel particularly good on a cold day. It’s probably evolutionary; humans aren’t that many generations away from a time when winter was lethal. Calories were hard to come by, both from hunted meat, and from crops/plants. Our brains and bodies crave calories even if we aren’t really in peril these days.
The other use of the term winter warmer with respect to beer is the ale that uses dried spices and herbs (because that was what was available in winter) to create a warming, more filling beer. Both senses of winter warmer work in our favor for Saturday – we’re looking at lots of malt, lots of barrel, lots of flavors, and lots of gravity. That sounds worth buying a ticket for, doesn’t it (available here).
Look for more than thirty breweries and other producers on Saturday afternoon, from both near and far. The Fort Wayne brewery and cider scene is robust, so many of the local breweries will be on hand pouring their biggest beers, meads, and ciders, but there will also be regional and national participation, with some rare and sought after beers. Last year we were treated to Tapistry, Sierra Nevada, Schlafly, Bell’s, Three Floyds, Hoppin’ Frog, Schmaltz, The Bruery, and others. New for this year are Rhinegeist, Ommegang, Collective Brewing Arts, Black Dragon Mead, and many more.
Your entry ticket will get you $25 worth of beer tickets for larger pours (more than enough for these pours and these beers), but there will be more tickets available for those who find it necessary. Make sure to thank the volunteers that come out to help. Leah said, “We are so thankful for the volunteers that help with the facilitating of our larger events. We’ve been fortunate to have patrons, friends/family of our staff and past employees that want to help us throw this winter party!”
Then, after the 5pm last call you can head back in to JK’s and have a fine dinner. I’m looking forward to a plate of bangers and mash, while Walter is definitely a Shepherd’s Pie girl. Even better, you can get a discount coupon for an appetizer if you participate in this year’s charity donation during the festival. Blake’s Hard Cider and JK’s have teamed up with the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission and The Empowerment Plan to provide coats and special sleeping bag coats to the homeless population in Fort Wayne. Donate a new or gently used coat or make a donation for the purchase of sleeping bag coats and receive the coupon as a thank you. Lots of food, lots of big beers in the middle of winter and a chance to get that warm, fuzzy feeling of helping others – you know you want to join us, to fight it is to fight evolution itself.