Craig Johnson leads Festivals Unlimited, an events company that organizes beer festivals in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The two-day Cleveland Winter Beerfest begins today. (Jan. 26) Meanwhile the Cincy Winter Beerfest is Feb. 2-3. The Columbus Winter Beerfest was Jan. 19-20.

Q: How did you get into the beer festival business?

A: I attended one of the first beer festivals held by the Beer Advocate brothers in Boston. I was looking for something fun to do after having exited the bar business, and said to [partner] Matt King. ... Let's do one of these in Cincinnati. Neither of us was exactly flush with cash but we took a flyer. The rest as they say is history.

Q: What are the biggest differences between that first beer festival that you held in Covington, Ky., in 2008 and the ones today?

A: Besides the obvious (size), I'd say the increase in the average craft beer education of the consumer. Back then, with only two quasi craft breweries, we were "The Converters." We were showing everyone who came that there is brave new world of taste and it was going to be big. We got them off their national domestic to try craft beer. ... Many for the first time. Now, it's about creating the venue where you can try 400-plus beers before spending $10-$15 on them, while having a great time with friends and family. Proud to say we produce four of the 12 largest beer festivals in the U.S.

Q: What makes a beer festival successful from the organizer's point of view vs. the beer drinker or participating brewery?

A: I can tell how successful an event is by how many times we have to say the phrase "It Is What It Is" during the operation of it. That means something didn't go exactly according to plan, and you've tried your best to adjust/edit whatever it was. ... And now "It Is What It Is." Also, if the venue is eager to have you back for another year. We're thankful that we have great venue operators, and that's always been the case.

Q: You're now organizing beer festivals in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Do you see any differences in beer drinkers in the communities or we all the same no matter the geography? If there are differences, what are they?

A: Cincinnati: Learned about craft beer and grew with us. Now an incredible 54 breweries from two.

Cleveland: A city proud that it never lost its '80s microbreweries and higher beer IQs because of it.

Columbus: Also proud to have had five legacy breweries, but a younger crowd with millenials really driving the growth of craft beer in the city.

Philadelphia: Definitely realize that they already have access to an incredible amount of beers from around the world. ... A little arrogant because of it. ... And just a just a massive city.

Pittsburgh: Until just about six years ago, state laws really kept a damper on breweries and the whole craft beer movement. Their immediate adoption of our festival, with 17,000 attendees, is testament to the fact they love great beer. The number of breweries is just now starting to expand.

Q: Which beer -- any beer in the world -- do you wish that you created/invented/brewed and why?

A: Reissdorf Kolsch from Cologne, Germany. Still my favorite beer. If you find it on tap, stop what you're doing and order a few. Crisp. Great taste. Look up kolsch in the dictionary and there should be a picture of this beer.

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