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Ticket rush is on for beer, wine tasting fest at Kenan Center

LOCKPORT – Tickets were flying out the door last week, with Kenan Center officials optimistic that the fifth annual Niagara Wine and Beer Tasting Fest would be sold out by the time the doors open.

The fest will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday in the Kenan Arena, 195 Beattie Ave., Lockport.

The crowd is capped at 1,100 regular tickets and 100 VIP admissions, said Elaine Harrigan, marketing and communications director for the Kenan Center.

VIPs pay twice as much to get in – $50 per ticket instead of $25 – but they get to start drinking an hour earlier, at 4 p.m. Also, they are guaranteed reserved parking spots near the arena and a goody bag.

They also get a $1 discount on each bottle of wine they purchase, as long as they make the deal by 5 p.m.

Harrigan said more than 300 tickets were sold before Christmas, thanks to online sales at Tickets also may be purchased in person during business hours at the arena or at the Kenan Center house, 433 Locust St.

Tickets at the door – if there are any left – will cost $35. If it’s a sellout, signs will be posted at the Locust Street and Beattie Avenue entrances to the Kenan property.

“Generally, we have a pretty big rush the week before, because people have an idea of what the weather will be,” Harrigan said.

Last year, a snowstorm hit on the afternoon of the event, but more than 90 percent of the ticket holders showed up anyway.

“People in this area, nothing bothers them,” Harrigan laughed.

Especially not the chance to sample the finest libations from 13 breweries, 10 wineries and a meadery, 810 Meadworks of Medina, one of several newcomers to the fest.

Besides the honey-based drinks, another participant expected to draw plenty of interest is the New York Beer Project, the craft brewery and restaurant on South Transit Road in Lockport that opened in November to rave reviews and overflow crowds. They’re now rolling out their homemade beers. “Every time I drive by there, they are just packed. We’re thrilled to have them,” Harrigan said.

Almost all of the participants are local. Other breweries will include newcomers 12 Gates Brewing and 42 North Brewing. Also on tap will be beers and ciders from Big Ditch Brewing, Black Bird Cider Works, Brooklyn Brewery, Flying Bison, Resurgence, Saranac, Barker Brewing, Old First Ward, Rusty Nickel and Woodcock Brothers.

From the Niagara Wine Trail, featured wineries will be A Gust of Sun, Flight of Five, Honeymoon Trail, Long Cliff, Midnight Run, Niagara Landing, Schulze, Victorianbourg, and the Winery at Marjim Manor. Also taking part is the Winery of Ellicottville.

Harrigan said state laws on alcoholic beverages specify that wine can be sold by the bottle at a tasting event, but not by the glass. Beer can’t be sold in any container at a tasting, but vendors can offer up to four ounces of beer to tasters, compared to only half an ounce of wine.

Last year, wine fans bought some 350 bottles at the fest, Harrigan said.

The attendance is capped because anything larger “would ruin the ambience,” Harrigan said. Visitors “appreciate that it’s a smaller scale instead of something with 5,000 people.”

Lockport’s Stoll Brothers will provide live music, but not too loud, so folks can talk to the beer and wine vendors.

The food stands for four participating restaurants – Wagner’s, Molinaro’s, Zambistro and Steak, Stone and Shusi – will be moved behind the dasher boards to open up more places to sit in the concession area.

Specialty food vendors will be Pickle Annie’s, Sweet Melody’s, Blackman Homestead Farms, Hens Honey Bee Farm, Barker Chocolate Box, That Popcorn Shack and Naturally Nuts. Two Lockport eateries will be hosting after-parties: Village Eatery and Davison Road Inn.

All ticket-holders will receive a $5 food voucher for use at the fest, along with a souvenir glass and a tasting journal. Mark Jaekle and Thomas Murphy, both Kenan board members, are co-chairmen of the event.

“It has proven to be a very effective fund-raiser for us,” Harrigan said. “This is a massive event. We’re talking about 150 volunteers that will be involved.”

Designated drivers will be able to enter for $10, and will receive free non-alcoholic drinks.

And speaking of driving, another new feature this year is off-site parking, with shuttle service to and from the Lockport Board of Education Building, one block north of the arena on Beattie Avenue.

Jaekle said, “Each year we try to make the event a little better, and providing the extra parking lot with shuttle service seemed to be the most needed addition, especially at this time of year.”

Niagara County Auxiliary Police will be on hand, preventing people from parking on the grass and possibly sinking into the mud.