WARREN — Wassail toasts were plentiful at Kuhnhenn Brewing Company this weekend as the brewery celebrated its annual Winter Solstice party.
The yearly two day event held on Friday and Saturday is not only a gathering and celebration on the shortest days of the year, but also a bottle release of limited beers from the brewery.
Patrons lined up as early as 5 a.m. in order to make sure they got their hands on the highly coveted beers. A tent just outside the brewery doors snaked with people throughout, eventually spilling over into the rest of the parking lot and down Chicago Road almost a quarter mile.
The bottle release allocations took on a different format this year as purchasers were only allowed to buy up to a case of mixed six packs. The mixed packs consisted of 2013 Fourth Dementia Olde Ale (4D), Bourbon Barrel Barleywine, Bourbon Barrel Fourth Dementia Olde Ale, Old Village Stock Ale, Bourbon Barrel Aged American Imperial Stout and Braggot.
“Stress levels are lower this year thanks to the pre-packed six packs,” said owner Bret Kuhnhenn. “In previous years we were hand-picking orders and it was monotonous and too hard to do.”
While the mixed six packs may not have been the most popular decision for the release, all 300 cases were sold within a few hours of being released at 11 a.m.
Kuhnhenn admits the bottle sale situation isn’t ideal for everyone, but they’re always looking to improve.
“We’re trying different things to make it smoother,” he said. “This worked out but you still have some disappointed people. We never want to turn anyone away.”
The bar hit capacity quickly as drinkers looked to get out of the cold after braving it for several hours. The overflow of people found themselves in a large heated tent where they were able to purchase some of the limited and cellared beers on tap, including the popular Raspberry Eisbock and the infrequent Blueberry Eisbock.
Delectabowl Food Truck & Catering, Detroit BBQ Company and Vincenzo’s Pizza provided much needed comfort foods throughout the morning and into the evening as patrons drank, laughed and toasted their wassail for Yuletide.
Minnesota resident Karl Witthuhn was in town visiting friends and found himself at the brewery for the first time.
“We were here at open for the bottle sales,” he said. “It is packed. They have really good beers and I think I just had one of my favorite beers of all time, which is Bourbon Barrel 4D.”
The outside tent doubled as a concert stage where bands Reggie Smith and the After Party blessed the mic on Friday. The Orbitsuns kicked things off Saturday afternoon and RJ Spangler Trio closed it out during the evening.
With the brewery’s ever-growing popularity, there is the realization of eventually needing to make a decision on where the solstice party take place in the coming years.
“What are we going to do with that? Are we going to do solstice as both places? I could get a way bigger tent over there, but that would take away from the nostalgia of here,” Kuhnhenn said.
Kuhnhenn also said he always appreciates honest feedback on their beers and events, going on to say how they have thought about different formats for the bottle release.
“Maybe when we open the new place it will be different,” he said. “I was thinking about having a kind of cafeteria setup. Where you walk through and let them pick the bottles they want. We’ll see.”