Monday, October 2, 2017

Annual Medina Walk Good For What Ales You

For several years, now, the Medina Business Association has hosted something that has become a well-oiled machine of an event: Ale In Autumn. Much like its Februrary counterpart, Wine About Winter, the annual walk around the historic district has become a local "must-do" for hundreds of people, whether they live locally or not.

I first started attending the fun walks in 2011, when I made my way downtown by myself and sampled between 25 and 30 beers from about 22 to 25 local businesses. A year later I was fortunate enough to cover the event for the dearly departed Medina Journal Register as a freelancer. Since then my wife and I have been joined by her cousins and their spouses annually on the last Saturday in September. We all mark it down on our calendars every year.

In case Ale In Autumn is something you have not heard of, well, you are missing out. For the cost of only $15, you are given a pilsner glass (with the event logo and year etched onto it) and four hours to walk all over downtown Medina. For the past several years, tickets have been exchanged for glasses in the middle of the southeast side of Main Street, and that is where the vast majority of people choose to start. The easiest way to wander around town is to go in a giant, "plus sign" shaped loop that encompasses North and South Main Street and East and West Center Street.
As a resident of Medina, I view Ale In Autumn and Wine About Winter as sources of pride in the community. It's a way for the unique local businesses to showcase themselves and bring in foot traffic that may not otherwise venture downtown. Furthermore, the revitalized nature of Medina's downtown is something that seems to always be a talking point among first-time participants who may be visiting the area from out of town.
Of course, those participants are there with glasses in hand. And if someone is able to hit each location, by the end of their walk, they will have had the equivalent of between two and two and a half bottles of a brew. Each sample is about an ounce, so after 24 to 30 samples, well, you can figure out the rest. For reference, in the past few years, the group that I walk with has taken about two to two and half hours to complete the entire walk. In short, the odds of a person drinking too much too quick are slim unless said person were to do so on purpose.
Another fun part of Ale In Autumn is visiting with the local business owners. My past dealings with many of the business owners, thanks to my time as a local reporter, allowed me the opportunity to get on a first name basis with several of them. There is something comforting walking into a shop and being greeted by name. In fact, you could make a solid argument that is exactly the kind of business-consumer relationship that makes Main Street in Medina so successful. Personally, the owners of the shops I frequent the most know me well enough to be shocked when I show up without at least one of my three kids. So on days like Ale In Autumn, it is always fun to be out -without kids - and have those same owners see my wife and I and then have the very enjoyable grown up exchange that goes something like this:
"Oh my, both of you? And no kids?"
"We got a sitter! We're free! least for a few hours anyway."
"That's great! You guys having fun?"
As I've watched Ale In Autumn become what it has, I have also watched its location's change. There are about a dozen to 18 mainstay storefronts in Medina's downtown, and it seems several more are well on their way to once again being filled. In any Main Street community across the country, vacant storefronts are eyesores. Watching the ones here energize is always an exciting thing. Some have succeeded where others have not. Slowly, though, the vacancies are dwindling. Here's hoping the new tenants get strong foothold and stay for a while.
Ultimately, Ale In Autumn is about simply having fun and possibly finding out that a trip to a place like Beers of the World may just be in your future. Why? Because you may just have to get a six-pack of that Bavarian Dopplebock you sampled because it was so good. Or perhaps you'll need to pick up some of the Euro Pale Ale and Oatmeal Stout for a party whose guests have varied tastes.
As far as my tastes go, I've discovered that I am more of a fan of darker brews, with a few exceptions. Oddly, some of my favorites over the years have been the stouts, the porters, and a handful of fruit-flavored beers. This year, for instance, there was a beer that tasted like an orange creamcicle and was shockingly delicious. Another sample featured something heavy on the grapefruit, and it was unexpectedly refreshing.
As the weekend comes to a close and another Ale In Autumn fades into memory, my wife and I, and our annual group of family and a few friends, will now look forward to the first Saturday in February and Wine About Winter. The same concept, only a wine glass will be filled at each location. And the temperature will likely be a bit lower.
But it will be fun, and we'll figure out whether we need to head out for a bottle of white or a bottle of red afterward.

Howie Balaban is a Medina resident who mostly drinks coffee and tea, but he did have what can only be described a "beer float" a few weeks ago and would be happy to talk to you about it for far too long.