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BrewFest at Mount Hope: 5,000 attendees, a mechanical bull and gallons of beer

How many sample glasses of microbrewed beer does it take to convince someone to mount a mechanical bull or swordfight in leather armor and a facemask while ringed by howling strangers?

The seventh annual Mount Hope BrewFest offered the 5000 attendees unlimited samples of over 100 drafts from 57 breweries as well as complimentary food and music spread throughout the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire grounds. The 5,000 attendees were split between two sessions, one running from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and another from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Standard, all-inclusive tickets cost $45 online and $50 at the gate; designated driver tickets, which afforded access to food only, cost $25 online and $30 at the gate. The 11-3 session sold out. Pre-sale interest was so strong that of 5000 total available tickets, only about 600 were available, between the two sessions, on the day of the event.

"The popularity of the event has exploded over the last five years," said Candace Smith, director of communications and operations for Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire and organizer of the BrewFest. "People know this is a great festival to sample craft brew in a safe environment."

The event was organized so that breweries' stands and vendors offering food were spaced throughout the Renaissance Faire grounds, with brewers and vendors occupying recognizable Faire locations.

The size and prominence of the 57 breweries present ranged from recently opened, small breweries to national brands such as Sam Adams, Angry Orchard and Yeungling. Smith reported that, counting distribution companies, the participants in the festival came from as far away as California.

Dain Shirey, co-owner of St. Boniface Brewery in Ephrata, said their brewery has been in business for four years and has participated in BrewFest for each of those years.

"There's been a great turnout so far. We had a really long line for about an hour." Shirey said.

DuClaw Brewery of Maryland attracted attention with its portable keg in a backpack, offering samples while staying mobile.

"It's phenomenal every single year. This is one of our favorite festivals," Jim Wagner of DuClaw Brewery said. "There's food; the crowd is great; it's well organized, and there's entertainment," he said.

Five bands on three separate stages provided music. Historical Glassworks demonstrated glass blowing techniques and discussed the history of the beer bottle.

Other events that required further payment, like the mechanical bull and the dueling circle, became popular as the event progressed, and informal crowds even gathered to watch.

Joe Robuccio, who rode the mechanical bull, said it was the highlight of the day and also indicated that it was far harder than it appeared.

Well known Renaissance Faire stand Wreck Room was open, offering customers a chance to destroy beer and wine bottles for a price.

"Basically, people get drunk and come smash things." Wreck Room proprietor Holly Gingrich said. "It's the cheapest therapy you can buy. Just picture your boss or your husband or wife, or whoever is giving you trouble, and just take it out on some bottles."

Event sponsor, radio station The River 97.3, was present with afternoon host Matt Meyer, meeting listeners and offering opportunities to win tickets to see Van Halen play at the Giant Center in Hershey.

"This a great event every year. Craft beer really appeals to our listener range. It's a fun day meeting listeners, and we love the PA Ren Faire," Meyer said.

Later this month, on May 24 and 25, the Great Pennsylvania Flavor Fest will run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Renaissance Faire grounds and will feature local wine and cuisine.