Some had cups of beer hanging from their necks. Others had strings of pretzels dangling above their bellies for a quick, salty snack.

Everyone had sunshine on their faces at the 12th annual Rome Beer Fest on Saturday at Heritage Park as they supported the arts, tasted custom-crafted brews from more than 18 breweries and feasted on a variety of foods by local vendors.

“We couldn’t have picked a nicer day,” Rome Area Council for the Arts President Chris Kerr said Saturday as hundreds of people milled about along the Coosa River. “The river is rushing by and it’s the first time we’ve had some beer tents along the river there. People are enjoying the weather, they have more food and beer options this year and the band is finally getting started after having some microphone issues.”

Last year, RACA gifted more than $30,000 back into the community, including the Anna K. Davie Elementary School Art program, Kindermusik at the South Rome Learning Center, tickets to cultural events for Open Door home and the Boys & Girls Club, Rome Shakespeare Festival, Rome Symphony Orchestra, Rome International Film Festival and several more.

General admission tickets were $40 and covered unlimited beer samples. VIP tickets were $100 and came with access to the festival an hour early and exclusive drinks in the River Dog Outpost gazebo complete with “Day of the Dead” motif and a private portable restroom.

The four-hour event included a couple of unveilings, such as Rome’s newest restaurant, Aventine, giving folks a taste of its South American and South Italian cuisine through its date and garlic stuffed porchetta sandwich on a brioche bun.

Aventine restaurant owner Kevin Dillmon said he hopes to be open at 401 W. Third St. by Thanksgiving with pasta, pizza, pork belly sandwiches, craft cocktails, fine wines and at least a half dozen microbrews.

“We’re about 90% done with construction,” Dillmon said. “A lot of people seem to be excited about it. We’re hoping to draw from local sources and markets as much as possible, including Berry College beef. This festival has been great for introducing me to some breweries I didn’t know about, too.”

Orpheus Beer out of Atlanta was handing out samples of its sour beer created from “microbes floating through the air” that are captured in petri dishes, according to Orpheus Account Manager Patrick Shipley.

“We’re trying to capitalize on the sour craze,” Shipley explained as the three beers offered Saturday were met with mixed reviews.

Trent Prault, part owner of Rome City Brewery, was excited about the debut of their latest concoction “When in Rome IPA.” He described it as a “kind of juicy, very hoppy IPA — more of a West Coast style — with IPA hops through the roof.”

As Atlanta resident Amelia Winstead sat with her husband on the hill overlooking the river, her beer cup hanging from a beaded chain, the only thing she knew for sure was she was glad she had made the trip for the second time.

“It’s a good cause and a great time,” she said as she tossed the soggy shells of her boiled peanuts on the grass.

Kerr said it’s people like Winstead who travel to Rome for the festival that he hopes will be convinced to relocate here.

“We’re hoping they’ll realize how much nicer it is here without all the traffic congestion of Atlanta and appreciate what we have to offer,” Kerr said. “How can they resist the beauty of our rivers and mountains? C’mon. There’s no place like Rome.”

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