Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bent River - 2 Dave Stout

Despite my promises of reviewing New Glarus beers for the foreseeable future, I have to dally from that plan. The key word in that sentence is "foreseeable."  What I could not foresee is my wife needing to stay late at work, giving me ample time to sample from the local microbrew scene.  For those intent on reading reviews full of New Glarus goodness, fear not.  There are still plenty of those left and I'll definitely be getting to them.  Today's beer is Bent River's "2 Daves Stout."  The waitstaff seems to think it's an oatmeal stout while sources online list it as an imperial.  Only one way to find out.  Let's pour!

A mandatory stop in the Quad Cities.
Aroma 9/12
The aroma is primarily a chocolate malt and a lesser citrus, grassy hop leaning.  As it warms in the glass little bits of molasses and warmth lift their heads, but they are far behind the main notes.  From time to time a faint smoke can also be detected.  Not very strong, but the separate notes are easily discernible.

Appearance 2/3
Not the blackest stout I’ve ever seen, but I don’t know of any rule requiring them to be.  Held to light it is a nearly opaque glass of dark cola browns and cherry highlights.  The head, while far short of being even moderate in size, remains persistently in my glass for quite some time.  It texture looks thin and wet.

Picture is my own.  Logos are theirs. 
Flavor 18/20
There are a lot of dark, dark flavors going on in this glass and sometimes it can be difficult to pry them apart from each other.   While initial sips are creamy, but otherwise fairly neutral, the backbone is alive with dark flavors.  It backbone begins as a very earthy chocolate, but gradually adds a distinct pepper flavor.  Other flavors emerge, such as coffee, cocoa nibs, and a healthy amount of char, but the chocolate and pepper are clearly in charge and dominate the mouth.  If you can hold this beer in the back of your mouth and avoid drenching the sides of the tongue (shape your mouth as if lightly sucking on a straw, but with closed lips), the other flavors have a chance to stand out more from the pepper.  As the beer warms, more and more chocolate joins in to blend with the pepper and char.  The finish is alcohol warmth in molasses, earth, pepper and the faded sour hop note from the aroma.  The aftertaste is bitter and the spiciness of pepper on your tongue leaves the mouth watering.  A wine-tasters slurp reveals this stout’s oatmeal roots.

Mouthfeel 5/5
Great job by the brewer here!  It’s like a checklist for a stout body: creamy & thick, without being worthy of a spoon, and ridiculously smooth.  Carbonation is not in great quantities, but what is present is tiny & prickly and eventually fades.  And while prickly might not have much place in a stout, the rest of the mouthfeel is good enough to forgive this temporary infraction.  I was only able to down two of these (of the glasses shown in the above picture - not even a full pint!) before feeling extremely full.  Talk about drinking your dinner!  The 10.3% ABV is almost imperceptible and only shown in glimpses throughout the glass.

Overall Impression 8/10
This beer has a lot going for it: complexity, unique flavors, great body, and lots of sharp bitter.  The strong char/pepper tends to overwhelm a few of less aggressive flavors, but in a time when Black IPAs (BIPAs) are becoming more and more popular, this will appeal to a growing number of drinkers.  This beer’s flavor certainly fits the blackened guidelines, even if the color does not.

Total 42/50
This is a unique stout!  Not the sweetened versions that so many of us are accustomed to drinking with large helpings of dark fruits, milk chocolate, or caramel, etc, etc.  This beer is unapologetically bitter, but without completely sacrificing its chocolate flavoring.  Credit to the brewers for successfully blending so many similar flavors because while the beer still has a main flavor theme, it lets many of the other lesser flavors have their brief moments.  Not an easy task when combining so many dark, closely-related flavors.  I would love to blend this with one of their aggressive IPAs someday and make one helluva BIPA.  It has all the black, bitterness and all it lacks is a hop aroma and wallop to send this over the edge as a BIPA that would be worthy of national recognition.

As it stands by itself, it is not the biggest stout on the block, but its raw, simple bitterness separates it from the pack.  Definitely worth trying this limited release from Bent River!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

New Glarus - Blacktop

Confession time.  I have a lot of New Glarus beer in my beer fridge.  In fact, a lot of them are just a single bottle that I have been holding off drinking just so I can review it.  Some of them are varieties that I have had before and could drink without worrying, "Have I review this yet?"  Today, I begin to remedy this delightful problem by reviewing New Glarus beers ad nauseum until I can finally figure out what I can drink out of my beer fridge with a clear conscience.

The bad news:  Not much brewer variety in the coming reviews.
The good news:  I have some awesome varieties that I have been dying to try!

So buckle up, dear reader.  We're about to take a journey through the state of Wisconsin!  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art is used without permission for educational purposed only.
Aroma 10/12
Fresh, piney hops are very forward in the nose and even seem a bit herbal at times.  The dark roast is wonderful and speaks of molasses.  A muted citrus is present in the background, and is distant and sharp when it is allowed to faintly speak.

Appearance 3/3
A very nice dark mahogany color with scarlet trimmings.  The tan head is comprised of small, soapy bubbles that crackle as they descent the glass and leave a sticky lace anywhere they touch.  While far from the "jet black" that is claimed on the bottle, it still has nothing of which to be ashamed.  Even while not being dark enough to be called truly black, it is quite handsome in its failing.

Picture is my own.
Flavor 17/20
If this beer were a musical dynamic, it would sforzando crescendo.  It starts off with quite a shock of coffee-ish malt (despite no hint of it in the aroma) and resin.  This is some wonderfully roasted, dark chocolate malt.  It calms down unusually quickly in the backbone and features a musty hop, resin, a brief pine cameo, the faintest of burnt sugars, and a background barely-bright citrus note.  A quick slurp brings the hops to the forefront with bold pine and resin flavors on top of a nearly blackened roast malt.  Unfortunately, this is where our crescendo ends, but the finish of the beer is far from disappointing.  This beer's finish is not the tongue puncher that seems to be the norm for BIPAs and instead shows dark toffee, resin, pine, citrus, and a dull, muted citrus waaay in the background.  The aftertaste is cleaner than most BIPAs, but leaves the after taste of a robust, hopped brown ale on the tongue while leaving the mouth fairly dry.  As the beer warms the dark chocolate really steps forward in the aftertaste.

Mouthfeel 5/5
This beer fills the mouth pleasantly and has some unusual characteristics to boot.  For a beer of this style, let alone for a beer this dark, the carbonation is pretty high.  It pricks the tongue a bit even past the half-way mark.  This beer is also ridiculously sticky.  They don't call it Black Top without cause!  It is evident everywhere from the lacing to the sensation in the mouth.  Perhaps they kept a high carbonation to counter the sticky and keep the beer from becoming to syrupy (some might say viscous!).  It did allow the beer to be fairly large, but without becoming burdensome to drink.

Overall Impression 9/10
While not the biggest, baddest, BIPA on the block this is definitely one you can pick up six of to drink on your own, even if it isn't all six in one sitting.  The flavor mimics the aroma almost to a 'T', and is more interested in complexity and range of flavor than a large wallop to your tastebuds.  The mouthfeel also breaks with the BIPA mold and happily forges its own, less heavy way.

Total 44/50
Is another superb offering from New Glarus really a surprise?  This score places it at the top of the "Excellent" category and it has earned every bit.  It has great flavor without weighing down the beer, a unique mouthfeel, and traditional BIPA flavors while adding complexity.  It's not the huge beer that some BIPA fans will be looking for, but that is far from saying it is even a moderate offering.  On a note not related to characteristics of the beer, it is nice to see a BIPA that is not in a bomber bottle.  This is a BIPA that I can enjoy all week long, not only because it doesn't insist on being a gargantuan beer, but because there are six of them!  The bitter notes and strong hop presence  show why this style won't be going anywhere soon.  Kudos again to Dan & Deb on a great beer that I will be buying again.

Monday, September 19, 2011

WQPT Brew Ha Ha 2011

3 beer festivals in 4 weeks is definitely the right way to close out the summer/festival season with the pedal to the metal.  Thankfully, after having driven some longer distances for the last two festivals (3 hours each), this festival was only 40 minutes away.  Also unlike the prior two festivals, this festival is not in its first year.  The Brew Ha Ha celebrated its 12th year in 2011 so one would think they've nearly got this down to a science.  While they did think of plenty of the essentials, they also had a few examples which show that even an experienced festival can have a few hiccups.

LeClaire Park's bandshell with Centennial Bridge in the background.
When the wife and I first arrived, I was a bit concerned that there was going to be another problem with lines.  we arrived roughly 30 minutes early and the line was already looming large.

This could get ugly.
However, since the line hadn't even started moving yet, I was slow to pass judgement.  To Brew Ha Ha's credit, to speed things up they had a staff member going up and down the lines with helpful tips "Right line is for ticket holders. Left is to purchase," "Cash only," etc, etc.  In fact, some staff members even started going down the lines person by person to check their IDs ahead of when the festival opened.  While that alternative does potentially allow for some mistakes/missed people, as a fest-goer I really appreciated them seeing a problem, addressing it, and then helping remedy it.  Once the fest opened and the line began moving, there was hardly any wait at all.  I believe I all but walked right in.

Short lines once we entered the grounds.
Before entering, we were given a tasting glass made out of real glass (even for general admission tickets) and a big ol' program about the festival.  This program had also been an insert into a local paper several weeks prior and also served as its informational guide.  Having this big thing (size of a thin magazine) to try and cram into pockets, fold over to take notes on, find the right festival, etc. really made me appreciate the smaller pocket-sized tasting books that most festivals have.  They're infinitely easier to carry and use.

Real glass!

The festival grounds.

I have seldom been so pleased as when I walk into a beer festival and find a huge tent handing out limitless samples of cheese!  This may be the Wisconsinite in me, but that was a nice touch.  Cabot's showed up and they brought a ton of really good cheeses.  White cheddar, yellow cheddar, cheddar with horseradish in it (YUM!), habanero cheddar, and so on.  Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure all they were serving was different varieties of cheddar - not that it's a bad thing.  They were varying degrees of sharpness and I'm pretty sure those ladies were sticking toothpicks into cheese as fast as people were taking them.  That's a lot of hard thankless work, but I'm glad they were there.

Nominated for sainthood.
The Grounds
The grounds of this festival were gorgeous!  It was held in Davenport, Iowa's LeClaire Park.  This is right next to their historic downtown area and it on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River.  The area often hosts a summer concert for the local symphony and is immediately adjacent to the local minor league ball park.  Obviously, since this is a park it was almost entirely grass; good for keeping temperatures lower, feet comfier, and providing impromptu seating.  The tents were only big enough for the brewers' tables and not the patrons.  Luckily, this was not an issue on a cool, breezy, fall day.

The Facilities
The amount of porta potties that were there seemed ludicrous at first, but then became very useful as the festival went on.  There were also two hand washing stations (which eventually ran out of water).  Despite their generous number I did hear several fest-goers complaining that they were only located at one end of the festival.  I was just happy that there were no lines.  They also get extra brownie points for having one that was handicap accessible.

I'm sure there's an M.C. Esher drawing in there somewhere.
I know I mentioned the cheese tent, but it bears another mention.  The horseradish cheddar was so creamy and just the right amount of kick!  Good stuff!  The habañero cheddar, however, had a heat that lingered a long time and it took 2-3 IPAs before it left my mouth.

The festival had a rinsing station that never ran out of water as long as I was using it.  My only gripe was that it was in a single centralized location instead of several locations by the tasting tents.  In order to rinse, you had to completely leave the tents, go to the table, and then re-enter the lines.  Several rinsing stations closer to the tents would have been nicer, but I'm still more pleased that they had a rinsing station at all and that it didn't run out of water.

A bit ramshackle looking, but effective nonetheless.
The seating was ample and in several locations.  Not only did the park have a few benches along the waterfront, but there were many rows of chairs in front of the stage.  And if you weren't in the mood for rock 'n roll in your ears while you relaxed, there were tents toward the entrance, away from the stage, with chairs and table and copious "No Smoking" signs.

The Food
No, the cheese table will not be mentioned again.  I didn't get too good a visit to the food tent area since the festival was so short (1:00-5:00).  I know that Old Chicago was there selling mini-pizzas, a local hispanic restaurant, and one other.  Nothing really to write home about, but at least people had something to put in their stomachs.

There were so many cool features about this fest I don't know where to begin.  OK, I do.  They were making pretzel necklaces there for you free of charge. That won huge points in my book.

Thread those pretzles!
They also had a cigar tent.  This isn't that uncommon to find, but in a unique touch they were also offering some hookah tobacco as well.  It's definitely adds something to the festival and brought quite a bit of attention to their tent.  I bought and smoked a Cohiba wannabe (at least by looking at the cigar band) called Cusano Cuban CC.  Now it was definitely not a Cuban cigar, but it came to a pleasant tip and was easy to hold in the mouth during the festival.  It was an average cigar, but for the price ($5) I could easily be swayed into buying another one.

Hookahs and cigars!  Nice.
Yet another cool feature they had was a designated driver tent.  They had free snacks and drinks for the DD's as well as periodic door prizes, grab bags, stickers, and other swag.  Very cool to be nice to our DD's.

The DD Table
At one other table the local casino, Rhythm City, (within throwing distance) was giving away free decks of cards, some pretty nice key chains, and "match play" coupons (you buy $25 worth of chips, they thrown in another $10, or something like that).  They didn't have to do that, but everybody likes SWAG, right?

The band playing, Wicked Liz and the Bellyswirls, has been a local staple for sometime now and they didn't disappoint.  The tunes were good, the volume not crazy, and in between their sets a local comedy troupe, Blacklist Improv, provided some good entertainment for those waiting in the beer lines.  No, I do not know what a "Bellyswirl" is.

The last thing they had that I thought was pretty inventive were games.  Lots of places have bags, horseshoes, ladder golf, etc.  This one had some games like Growler Hold.  In divisions for both men & women, you were made to hold out in front of you at arms' length, two growlers filled with water; one in each hand.  You had to see how long you could hold it and eventually a final playoff was held on the music stage for the top two contestants.  They had no less than 4 other games (one of which was putt putt golf), they were all free, but unfortunately not much attention was paid to them.  Perhaps if they had been closer to the beer tents they could have been more successful, but I definitely understand the liability implications as well.

They even had a hop booth (and nice folks that ran it!).

The Beer
One of the best features about this fest is that there were NO drink tickets.  Illinois has to have tickets by law, but Iowa and Wisconsin see no need for such silliness and I liked it.  Not only does it give you the mind set of an open bar and "unlimited drinks," but I didn't have to worry about losing tickets or having them ready.  Plus, it's just one less thing to have in your pockets when pocket space is at a premium.  In no particular order, here are some of the craft beers I drank and their 2-second synopses.  Aromas were hard to get with the strong breeze, but I did my best.

1.  Abita - Jockamo IPA:  Flavors of earthy malt, citrus hops with a light resin and grassy notes.  Solid brew.

2.  Augustiner-Braü Wagner - Edelstoff:  A good German aroma of skunk and citrus.  This beer had an insanely high clarity and was ridiculously light in color.  I don't think I've ever used those numbers on the SRM scale before.  This was a classic German beer flavor with light skunkiness and a slightly bitter finish.

3.  Bent River - Jalepeño Pepper Ale:  This is the pepper ale against which I measure all other pepper ales.  It's not just a little smokey note here and a slight spice there.  There are actual damn peppers used in this!  You can taste pepper's flesh and grainy malt before being gradually introduced to the heat from this bad boy.  It's not an overwhelming heat, but I wouldn't want it to go down the wrong way either.  A nice hop bitter tries to clean up the finish and aftertaste, but the light heat does linger a bit.  A definite sipper.

They brought their own bar?  Dang.
4.  Bent River - Amber Ale:  Hadn't had this offering of theirs before and was definitely excited to try it.  I was immediately glad I did because this is one heck of an amber ale!  My notes read, "A hearty offering.  Aroma: Rich, non-sweet malts. Flavor: Tons of earthy grainy malt.  Light roast and great balance."  Now doesn't that sound like something you'd like to try?

5. Backpocket Brewing - This is a new brewery that broke ground last week in Coralville, IA.  Some locals may know that it was born out of its prior home at Old Man River Brewing Co. in McGregor, IA.  In any case, they've got a great look, they adhere to Reinheitsgebot, and made some beers that impressed me.

Slingshot Dunkel:  This beer's aroma was light (again I fear the breeze was at play) and the flavor was musty, roasted, and with a faint smoke note.  Light bodied and tasty!

6.  Backpocket - Jackknife GPA (German Pale Ale): Poured from one of their growlers.  An aroma of unusually sweet malts comprised of brown sugar and vanilla.  This beer had a thick body (due to the sugary malts), tasted of roasted German malts, little to no citrus from the hops, but had a nice lingering, moderately strong bitter.  I'll look for this one again.

Jake, Brewer for Backpocket, and a volunteer hard at work.

7.  Brau Brothers - Moo Joos:  Not a very dark offering for an oatmeal stout.  Suitable for newcomers to the style.  Plenty of good malt flavor, but the oatmeal didn't seem to lend its normal creamy calling card.

Brau Brothers is another small brewery that I really appreciate after I was given a bottle of the Ring-Necked Brown as a gift.  They're based in the small town of Lucan,Minnesota which has a population of 220.  Not kidding.  The brown was a phenomenal brew, that left a lot to live up to.

Some Brau Brothers goodness.

8.  Brau Brothers - Bancreagie Peated Scotch Ale:  Aroma of sour peat, a great roast, and scotch smokiness.  The flavor followed up with a sweet malt, sour peat, more of the smoke notes, with a peat-based finish and a very lite bitter.

9.  Chameleon Brewing - Fire Light:  No, not a light beer, though I could see that as a potential marketing SNAFU down the road.  Aroma: Part golden ale, part crisp & clean.  The flavor was remarkably true to the aroma by tasting like a golden ale, but with sharper malts and less bold flavors.  Very refreshing and sating with a clean, crisp finish.  Wow!  Light, but powerful.

10.  Hub City Brewery - Brown Ale:  Hard to smell.  Flavor was of a sweet malt, lightly roasted.  This was very quenching, with light smoke in the finish and a muted bitter aftertaste.  Very good brown ale!

11.  Irish Dog Bloody Mary - Irish Dog Bloody Beer:  Sure it's not a true "craft beer," but this bloody beer or red beer really hit the spot.  Besides even if it's not craft beer, it's certainly fits the "craft" part of the bill.  I've written about them before, but these folks used to make this stuff in their kitchen and it has taken off locally.  They're enjoying a bit of success right now and it is well deserved.  The mix is a damn tasty bloody mary mix that they were pouring into Budweiser (not lite).  I probably ended up visiting them about 4-5 times.  Like I said... tasty.

12.  Great River Brewery - 483 Pale Ale:  Aroma:  Lightly sweet and grassy.  Flavor:  Resins, grapefruit, and a very nice bitter.  This brewer is literally less than one mile from the festival site.  I can't wait to pick this one up and give it a full review.

13.  Millstream Brewery - Iowa Pale Ale:  A grainy malt base with light caramel notes. Light and bright with crisp, piney hops.  There's a great balance here with moderate bitter.  Simple and true to style.

Millstream is located in Amana, IA home to the Amana Colonies, a German settlement dating back to the 1850's.  Note: Germans know how to make good beer!  Ever been to a little place call 'Wisconsin'?

14.  Millstream Brewery - Oktoberfest:  Aroma isn't huge, but the flavor is full of earthy malt, light roast, and a slight malty bite.  This is a very good, stripped down version of the style.  Great finish with a light bitter.

15.  Millstream Brewery - Back Road Stout:  I personally thought this was the most impressive of their offerings.  Smooth, heavy, full of oatmeal, and dark roast.  No gimmicks here.  This is just a simple, damn good stout that strips away a lot of the "extras" that brewers try to throw in the mix.  Excellent.

16.  Tommy Knocker - Maple Nut Brown Ale:  Maple syrup in both the aroma and flavor, though it is slight in each, like an afterthought.  It is subtle and nice.  Very drinkable.

Plus, lots of others that you all already know and love (Rogue Dead Guy, Weihenstephaner, Sam Adams, etc)!


1.  This is not so much a suggestion as a non-negotiable.  Do NOT run out of beer at a BEER FESTIVAL.  I know that the festival is not to be faulted for the lack of preparation of its participants.  That said, can there be some sort of minimum requirement of volume to bring?  Sure I guess some brewers/distributors running out of beer early can force folks to try some things they might not normally, but if you were a brewer, would you want to be turning folks away and cleaning up your booth when everybody else is still going?  Hell no!  That's money in the bank!

See all the empty booths?!
Notice how you can see through this tent?  That's where the
brewers/distributors and beer drinkers should be.  For shame.

2.  Program book - Next year, please don't make fest-goers, tasters lug around this folded up newspaper insert in their pocket the whole time.  If we could just get a pocket-sized book for taking notes, that would be swell.  They're easier to carry, easier to write in, and provide empty lines for taking notes.  Plus, you can still make money and sell advertising in them.  Piece of cake, right?

3.  Disperse the rinsing station(s).  Nuf said.

4.  Bathrooms at more than one spot.  Like I said, I couldn't really complain about the porta potties, but I did hear other fest-goers expressing their wishes to have them in more than one area.  Maybe more washing stations, since we did run out of water.

Overall, this was a well-put together festival that offered a lot of niceties for free that other festivals don't even have at all.  It was a great fall day full of friendly faces, small up-and-coming microbreweries, tasty beer, and one very entertaining man that was clearly once a ball-game beer vendor.  Good work WQPT!  I'll see you next year!


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Screw City Beer Festival 2011

This is the second of three festivals that I will have attended in under a month.  Needless to say, my wife is a very patient person.  There was a lot going on with this festival and I’ll just start right from the beginning.

A higher quality ticket.  Nice touch.
The Grounds
The grounds were basically a city block in downtown Rockford, IL.  While this does allow for plenty of parking of varying distances, it unfortunately places us in the midst of the asphalt jungle.  We were surrounded by tall older buildings with some pretty neat architectural features which eventually provided great shade as the festival continued into the afternoon.

Since this was held on a city block, the seating was extremely limited.  There were a few bunches of metal patio furniture set up, but I’m not sure of those were courtesy of the festival or if they were the regular offering of the restaurants they were placed in front of.  A handful of circular city benches were also available, but fell far short of accommodating all those needing seating.

As you can see from the photos, tents ran down the center of the street with areas for traffic on the sidewalk and gutter areas.  This didn’t leave a lot of room for moving around.  Or seating.  Or porta potties.  Or shade through the midday hours.  I feel bad mentioning this early and putting a bad spin on the festival, since as a whole I really enjoyed myself, however this was one of my main gripes with the fest.

The Facilities

Bathrooms were 5 porta potties, with one hand sanitizing station located at only one end of the fenced in festival area.  Not really impressive, but the lines were never too long and everybody got along fine.  

This was it.  Less that 15' from the Goose Island booth.
I found ONLY ONE glass/mouth rinsing station which was a kegerator (the type of which one could find online with a crudely taped sign stuck to the front of it.  I found it one hour into the festival and it was already empty.  Boo.

Who thought this was a good idea?  Not up to par.
The tents were large enough to accommodate the featured brewers, and maybe the fest-goers who were immediately being served – that was about it.  Anybody looking for shade was forced to wait until the surrounding tall buildings naturally provided it as the sun set.

The Food
To their credit the food tent was not a tent at all, in fact, it was a half city block adjacent to one end of the festival.  That means plenty of room to browse the different offerings and plenty of room to stand around eating it because there was no seating other than the curb that wasn't taken up by food tents.  Lots of local food vendors were selling their wares from small individual tents/booths.  The selection was good: ribs, a chocolatier (!), brick oven pizza, sausages, cheese curds and a few other local restaurants including the Olympic Tavern.  The only food I had during the fest was from said pizza tent (Woodfire Brick Oven Pizza) and it was fantastic.  They were actually using their hands to mold the dough to the pan, "painting" it with what appeared to be butter on the outer edge, and adding fresh ingredients.  It was extremely tasty.  They also were offering free water and root beer for designated drivers.

Water/root beer table on the right.  Food "pavillion" behind it.
These guys came to play.
The Beer
No complaints here!  For a fest of this size they certainly came to represent and so did their brewers.  Before I even get into the beer, some of the vendors had some pretty cool "accessories" for their booths (notably Left Hand).  Check it out!

A bar light, beers to pour, and tons of merch!  T-shirts, hats,
free temp tattoos, and probably glassware.  I don't recall.

They even brought the cavalry.

Appropriately placed on my left hand.
To the Rogue-mobile!!
In no particular order, here are the vast majority of the beers I sampled and their 2 second review.

1.  Southern Tier - Cuvee Series One:  I had to taste this one twice even if it was extra tickets.  There was so much going on in this big, big, mouth-filling, well-bodied beer that you can't taste it all in one go.  My notes read, "smells AMAZBALLS!  Flavors of oak, cherry.  Perfect warmth, vanilla, brown sugar, syrupy, and carmelized. Wow!"

2.  Stone - 15th Anniversary:  An Imperial BIPA that does the Stone name proud.  I had this at the MWBF and it again did not disapoint.  It smells of earth and pinecones or as I exclaimed in an overly-exicted state perhaps brought on by trace amounts of alcohol, "It smells like the forest floor!"  The taste is earth, pine, toffee, and coffee.  What a brew!

3.  Smuttynose - Older Brown Dog:  Wow did this pour thick and with the color of a burnt honey or a light caramel hue.  An aroma of warmth, vanilla, and oak.  Body and overall tone of a quad or tripel, but without the Belgian leanings.  This beer was earth, molasses, dark fruits, and moderate alcohol.  A BIG beer.

4.  Capital - Autumnal Fire: A very round flavor.  Bigger than a traditional Oktoberfest.  Amazing color, just as the name implies.  I was only disappointed that I don't believe I got the full experience of this beer.  It had Belgian notes in it, but I assume ONLY because I had just had a Goose Island and there were, as aforementioned, a distinct lack of rinsing stations.  I'll have to look around for this on again.

5.  Carlyle Brewing Co. - Vanilla Creme Ale:  This is a local brewer from Rockford and I was excited to try any and/or all of their beers because of the amount of local buzz it generates.  It also has a pretty good look (aka marketing) to it.  Check it out below.  This beer's aroma was ridiculous!  It smelled of cake batter and vanilla.  Wow!  No strong alcohol like Southern Tier's Creme Brulee, just sugary sweet goodness.  The flavor had a hard time living up to such an amazing introduction, though still pretty tasty.  The flavor was much more cream-based and was complimented by a lighter body and low carbonation.

6.  Carlyle Brewing Co. - The New IPA:  A great wet, soapy head on this and a great ocher color.  Lots of resin flavor and bitter.  Light body, low carbonation, crisp, drying, refreshing, and awesome lacing.  Carlyle also earns extra brownie points for being the ONLY brewer at the entire. friggin' festival. to have a tap of just water to rinse out your tasting glass.  Kudos folks.  Thanks for thinking of us.

7.  Carlyle Brewing Co. - Black Walnut Stout:  Doesn't that sound delcious?  It did to me too!  Unfortunately I was let down.  With no real aroma, a light body, light flavor, clean finish, and light bitter this beer could have weighed in as an OK brown, but not a stout.  It was their only beer I was disappointed in.  However, knowing the festival environment can often be less than ideal for a true tasting, I'm more than willing to give this beer a second chance.  The name just sounds too good not too.

8.  Crispin Cider - Fox Barrel Blackberry Pear:  It is everything that its name implies.  An uber-light body and high carbonation make it less of a substantial cider offering.  Its flavor was tasty, straightforward, and sweet but could be quite enjoyable if in the mood for such a thing (and not seeking out whatever imperials the fest had to offer).  I had some sips of their other offerings (Honey Crisp!) procured by my wife that were much better and excellent ciders in general.

My wife disapproves of my observation of how many women
are in line for the cider booth.
9.  Founders - Centennial IPA:  Very citrusy aroma and a great bitter.

10.  Founders - Breakfast Stout: Thick, heavy, with a dark brown head.  Flavors of raw sugar, coffee, and light chocolate.  Wow!  A excellent, sharp, bitter finish.

11.  Galena Brewing Co. - West Coast IPA:  Starts out like a red by being very malty and creamy.  In fact, it has a very complex malt, a light hop finish, and a balanced clean aftertaste.  Not what I would call a West Coast IPA (at all), but that doesn't make it a bad beer.  Just grossly mislabeled.

The folks from Galena educating the masses.

12.  Galena Brewing Co. - Old Uly Oatmeal Stout:  Named after Ulysses S. Grant and his history with the area of Galena, IL, this is a beer of which the general would be proud.  Very earthy, with light chocolate and coffee notes.  This is very tasty and I lament missing this brewery at MWBF all the more.

13.  Gray's Brewing Co. - Oatmeal Stout:  This is a microbrewery out of Janesville, WI.  It's probably no further than 25 minutes from where I was born, so I had to give this hometown brewer a try.  Aroma was light, but smelled like a nutty oatmeal stout.  Nice, even if I do like my stouts a bit more robust.  The flavor was very creamy and not very bitter.  Good body.  Lots of oatmeal in this one, but not so much stout.  I wish I had the opportunity to try more of their beers.

14.  Goose Island - Pere Jacques:  Dupel.  More dark fruit than I remembered or expected, but it is pierced with a bright, but not sour, citrus and caramel.  A very nice blend.

Goose Island was one of VERY few pouring from taps.
15.  Left Hand - Black Jack Porter:  To be honest, this was the first beer I had and it went down waaaaay to quickly.  I remember it being good.  I remember coffee.  That is all.

16.  Metropolitan Brewing Co. - : Krankshaft Kolsch:  Big aroma, a bit drier, but it smells of apples and is crisp and bright.  Not cidery at all.  The flavor is of mellow malt, not sweet, fairly grainy with an ever light citrus.  Well carbonated and with a clean, dry finish.

On a side note, this is a brewery from Chicago and I absolutely love their look.  It is a very industrial theme, allows from some great labels, and well... oh look for yourself!  They have their taps flowing through a robot for Pete' sake!

17. Potosi – Black IPA: Aroma is piney and light citrus. Flavor is char, resin, and a light, nice bitter finish that is slightly drying.

18. Samuel Adams – Imperial Stout: Lots of chocolate, vanilla/caramel, and a little alcohol with an authentic coffee finish and THEN a pronounced bitter. This was very good and one of the reasons that all the people who pooh-pooh Samuel Adams for being too big are ridiculous. It’s not about the size of the brewer, people. It’s all about the beer.
I'd easily recommend this to a friend.  Craft beer drinker or not.

19. Samuel Adams – Cream Stout: Not creamy like an oatmeal stout, it is more cream-as-in-a-cream-ale type cream. This makes it sweeter than expected and with an odd bite for a stout. This is one of the beers that I wish I had a better environment to give it a true, in-depth tasting. 

20. Smuttynose - Pumpkin: Spiced, delicate pumpkin. In that order. Far from overdone with a nice bitter. 

21. Southern Tier – Pumking: Smells MUCH sweeter and creamier than other pumpkin seasonals. It is also less spicy, but offers more pumpkin flavors. Not pumpkin sweetness, just actual pumpkin flavor.

22. Lost Abbey – Inferno: This is their Golden Ale and it is a duzey! It has lighter Belgian tones than expected in a golden strong ale, but THEN comes a flavor like a banana crème. It is accompanied by a great carbonation, a little sour, and a little warmth. There is an unusual, awesome, balancing bitter. Almost hints of champagne! Very neat and I need to find this one again.

22. Finch’s – Cut Throat IPA: Aroma of crisp citrus. Flavor? Fresh. Wow! Lots of pine and “lymon.” For those of you unfamiliar with lymon, I strongly suggest that you go watch some old Sprite commercials (not that this beer tastes like Sprite at all).  Go find this and drink it.

And they distribute in cans!  Awesome.
23. Founders – Kentucky Breakfast Stout: I saved this one for last for a reason. This is the first time that I have had KBS. The worst part is I don’t even live that far from Michigan (relatively)! It was served in bottles and after all its hub-bub, rarity, clamor, and high rankings on various lists I was very ready to get my hands on some.
The line for KBS.

It stretched alongside the fence for a ways as well.
I finally found it.
Luckily, I was in front of the line as I got there 20 minutes before the pour time, and my wait time was not in vain. This beer is ridiculous delicious! A strong aroma of coffee and cocoa are only a hint of what is to come. The flavor is incredibly complex. It is also a very big beer without being overwhelming. It was sip after sip of cocoa, molasses, raw sugar, warmth, and toffee. My note reads, “AMAZballs blend.” Each flavor flowing into and complimenting the next. The finish is coffee, boozy, walnuts, and an espresso bitter. As it lingers in the mouth it becomes more nutty, but still shows its coffee roots and a moderate bitter. I can finally check this off of my list of “beers I must try” and I couldn’t be happier about that.

I was a little excited.

Ready to snatch it.

These observations don't really fit into any other category, but I felt they were worth mentioning.  Some the fest had control over, some it didn't.

1.  "The Line"  This was one of the things the fest should've had control over, but didn't.  When entering the fest at almost the exact start time, the line was already stretched back 2 city blocks.  Check it out.

See the awnings in this photo?  They're important later.

Now do you see the awnings?  Yeah, it went on even further.
Not only was the line huge, but there were TWO of them, with the one on the left being much shorter.  Why weren't more people in that line?  No one really knew.  It's because there weren't any signs.  No line knew exactly what they were waiting for unless, like me, you walked to the front to ask what the heck was going on.  Some people waiting in one line, only to be told that upon reaching the front that they needed to be in the other line.  They waited in line twice.  Long lines.  People were not happy.  This lack of signage was also notable when trying to find fest designated parking or the fest itself in downtown Rockford.  Sure, most people have lived there their whole lives, but I haven't been back to the downtown Rockford area in quite some time and some signage would have been appreciated.

This was the "shorter" line.
2.  The people.  This is one of the things that the fest had no say over.  While in Rockford I did happen to catch some old friends from high school and my wife found a friend from college.  How cool!?  It's just little surprises like that that help make things a little more... fun.  I struck up conversations with lots of folks there and was very pleased with all of the interactions.  There's a reason they say that "Craft beer people are good people."  I even got to meet Matt from, though like a mythical Sasquatch, I was not able to snap a photo quickly enough.

Impromptu Hononegah High School Reunion

Impromptu Chi Alpha Pi reunion
3.  The Homebrewing Tent.  This thing had quite the extensive spread of beer ingredients for people to smell, sample, and learn about.  They also had plenty of books and education pamphlets - they're not just for the school nurse anymore.

4.  The middle of a great day.  This is definitely not something that the festival could not have controlled.  In full disclosure, this festival fell right in the middle of a perfect day.  In the morning I went early season goose hunting with my dad and an old friend, I then went to a beer festival with my wife (not every guy has a wife that wants to go), and then I visited with my parents, had an amazing dinner, and then fell asleep in front of a bonfire with a New Glarus beer on an brisk fall night with a bright, full moon.  Perfect.


1. Commandeer the waterfront park. Perhaps I don’t understand the logistics of holding a festival (a distinct possibility as I have never thrown one), or maybe it just was reserved already, but Rockford has a waterfront park where they regularly hold festivals including their “On the Waterfront” summer music fest and it would have been, from what I remember, a much more preferable location. I’m not sure how it would be easier to get a city to cordon off several city blocks, but not have a festival in a park. Parking for either would be ample, but holding the fest in the waterfront park would have remedied many of the issues that, while not the utter downfall of the fest, made it less pleasant: space, seating (even grass), shade from occasional trees.

2. The Lines.  Fix 'em.  More people manning the gates during the opening time and....

3. The signage.  How about some parking signs?  Signs to designate which line I need to stand in?  Those would be helpful

4. Better facilities. This should read, "more porta-potties, a hand-washing station, more trash cans, and more than one depleted, hastily labeled rinsing station," but that wouldn't be a nice concise bullet point, now would it?

All in all, this was a pretty awesome fest and the gripes that I have don't take away from the fact that there were more beers there than I could try, the brewers that came brought their game faces, the food was tasty and unique, the weather was pretty perfect, and the price was low for general admission tickets ($25).  I'd definitely go back next year (it HAS already been scheduled) and with their open solicitation of patron feedback, I'm sure next year will be even better!  Cheers SCBF folks!