By Benjamin St. Pierre
With plenty of food, music and the biggest craft beer event of the season, Lowell Winterfest will transform downtown into the ultimate two-day party Friday and Saturday.
“We’ve focused on community and people this year,” said Tobias Marx, Interim Director of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. That means “more seating, more outdoor fun, more outdoor activities” than ever before.
From City Hall to Lucy Larcom Park, revelers can expect to find a winter wonderland in the heart of Lowell with amusement rides, a marketplace, and something new added to the activity lineup this year— an outdoor skating rink bringing free skating to JFK Plaza all weekend long.
Besides Winterfest favorites, like the all-you-can-eat Chocolate Festival and the annual North Bowl Soup Competition featuring tasty recipes from places like Firewater Café, Fuse Bistro and Mill City BBQ (among many more), beer lovers, said Marx, will be in their element.
The Microbrew Showcase takes place Friday, from 6 to 9 p.m., featuring craft beers from more than two dozen breweries, including local favorite and previous winner of the people’s choice award for best brew, Navigation Brewing Co. of Lowell.
“Taking first place with our flagship IPA and second place with our Brown Ale for the craft beer Showcase competition (in 2014) was extremely humbling, yet it gave us a huge boost in confidence that we had made the right move to take on this venture,” said PJ Mercier, Navigation’s brewer and Chief Marketing Officer.
For $30 admission, thirsty guests will receive 18 tickets to be used at any of the 24 brewing stations, giving plenty of options to sample some new favorites, and uncover a surprise or two.
“There’s also a rumor that our Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, Winterwarmer and Navigator − an all Nelson Sauvin hopped American Pale Ale − may also appear on our offering list as well,” Mercier added.
While you’re there, be on the lookout for Merrimack Ales, another Lowell-based brewery among the sudsy lineup.
“This will be our first Winterfest, so we are hoping for more people visiting the brewery after the event,” said owner Adam Pearson. “We’re excited to be pouring at the new beer garden this year, and it’s great to see Lowell building a beer scene that we’re a part of.”
As for their beer selections, Pearson said a lot of thought goes into selecting the right brews for the occasion.
“We’re watching the weather forecast to pick the right selection,” Pearson said. “At this point, we know we’re bringing our new Coffee Stout, made with beans from Peak Roasters here in town, and likely our Vigor chocolate oatmeal stout. We’ll have an IPA for the hop fans and probably Honey White for folks hoping spring arrives soon.”
On the music side, catch U2 Cover band Joshua Tree playing Friday at 8 p.m. at The Lodge in JFK Plaza, followed by indie rockers Western Education at 8 p.m. on Saturday. Other acts include The Shirts and Shoes, Flight of Fire, Harry Borsh Live and Life Got Busy (click here for schedule).
Winterfest revelers will also find a mini theme park with amusements and rides for all ages featuring a carousel, “Snowzilla” − a 35-foot mobile tubing slide – and a craft space inside Lowell High School’s cafeteria.
However, spectators searching for the live action of the Human Dog Sled Competition, which disappeared from the activity lineup last year, might be disappointed to learn the event will not be returning anytime soon.
“It was discontinued last year, and we felt it needed a break, Marx said. “I wouldn’t say it will never come back, but we had to cancel it for the last couple of years or postpone it because of the weather.”
But with two days of events and activities planned, organizers said there should be a little something for everyone at Winterfest.
“Any time you have an opportunity to do an event in your own backyard is always good for business,” Mercier said. “You get a chance to introduce yourself to folks that may not have heard about you. The best part, however, is seeing all the familiar faces.”