Thursday, September 6, 2012

Midwest Brewers Fest 2012

In case you couldn't tell, I was super pleased with the 2011 MWBF and it had me pretty excited for the 2012 experience.  All the previews and information looked good.  Would it live up to expectations?  Let's find out.

Shuttles were running like crazy, taking fest-goers from parking to the festival entrance.  A nice touch.  Heck, even the line was made enjoyable as I saw Dan from Chicago Beer Geeks, Mark Hedrick founder of The Brew Shed, and even had my logo recognized twice (it was emblazoned on the t-shirt I was wearing)!  This year I had VIP access and I was granted access to the grounds an hour early.  The setting was remarkably serene.  Blue skies, some green grass despite the drought, and also this guy...

I didn't find out until after some digging that this guy is called "Jack Avery's Kin."  It was really chill, acoustic music with an early American sound that definitely set a nice vibe for those entering the fest.  You can check out more about him here.  I'm not getting paid or anything to endorse this guy, I just happen to dig his sound.

Talk about your gorgeous days to have a festival!  It eventually got a little hot, but even that was tamed by a later breeze.  The fest was not to be thwarted!

People I Met
In the same vein as last year, I met a ton of good folks.  Some were folks I hadn't seen in a while and some were entirely new to me.  Again, it proved to be one of the most exciting parts of the fest.  As always, I had a great time with the crew that came with me.

Everyone else that I'm about to post pictures of I have met ENTIRELY because of the Sud Savant website. I either met them via the Twitterverse, at a festival, through Facebook, or because they were a reader who started a conversation or two.  It's a great testament to craft beer folks and the community that they create every day.

Of course Lance was there.

I got to see Master Steve again of Misfit Brewing and met Ashleigh from Two Brothers.  Ashleigh and I had a great conversation about craft beer (what else?) and only wish I had a digital recorder present because it turned out that it would've been a great interview.  A project for another time, no doubt.  She even started up a conversation with my wife about craft beer (the subject of cupcakes may also have been breached).

Second annual photo with Darien (a.k.a. "Utilikilt")

I even got to bother/re-shake hands with  Marty Nachel and bugged him for a picture as the poor man was just trying to sit down for some food! Though I must confess, I liked it better last year when he was administering tests about beer knowledge and giving us crap for our answers.

There was even a guy there dressed as Ben Franklin!
Unfortunately, there were also some people that I met for the first time and somehow did NOT get a picture with them.  I finally met Facebook craft beer cohort Pete Bochek and  The Brew Shed  founder Mark Hedrick!  While there were no photos this time, I'm sure our paths will cross again.

   VIP Perks

Inside the VIP tent.
This is the first festival that I have attended as a VIP and there are certain pros and cons to such an experience.  The pros were as you'd expect:  much-needed, complimentary bottled water, a spacious, shaded tent with plenty of seating (shown above)...

some classy table decor,

A VIP exclusive pouring schedule (click to enlarge),

And a perk one might not expect... ALL THE BAR-B-QUE YOU CAN EAT!  It was hosted by Brand BBQ and it was delicious!  The meats were tender, the sauces were delicious, and the servers were fast.  What more do you want?  The "burnt ends" sandwich was my particular favorite.

The VIP ticket was also redeemable for a souvenir glass.
Truth be told I had very few issues with the VIP tent, but there were some things to be improved upon.  First, for a VIP tent I thought that the lines were a little long.  Perhaps I'm being sensitive, but I feel an additional volunteer pourer or two (or even an additional pouring station) could really have sped things up an improved the process.  Second, many of the "special pours" were beers that I would have no trouble finding in a local beer store.  I know it's hard to find the quantity they did, but I'd be willing to sacrifice some of that for some beers that I've either never heard of or never tasted before.  Third, there was no where that a VIP could simultaneously smoke a cigar a get a beer.  Sure, there was a designated smoking area right next to the VIP tent, but the VIP tent was the only area in which the "no smoking" was enforced.  Granted, I support this.  You don't want a big, smokey tent when you're trying to taste amazing beer.  However, any of the general admission tents did not have this problem.  You stood in line with your cigar, received your pour, and got out.  Maybe since the rest of the festival was so much more of an open air environment that it wasn't as large of an issue, but it was the one time I felt penalized for having a VIP ticket.  When it came down to it, we cashed our cigars early and went in to the VIP tent to get more beers.  We have our priorities after all.

General Perks
Speaking of cigars, the cigar booth was again rocking this year and was another great source of tasty vices.

Promise not to tell my mom.
Photographic evidence of a successful day.
Besides the cigars, the festival as a whole had a ton going for it.

1.  There were no rest room lines.  Ever.  Plenty of toilets in plenty of locations.
2.  The extra beer from the VIP "special pours" were brought out to that brewery's spot in the general admission area.  Double awesome!  Talk about some unexpected surprises for a few lucky fest goers.  I actually ended up getting some Sixpoint Resin that way.
3.  Gorgeous grounds of course.

4.  There were some glass blowers/spinners there again this year making custom glasses from old beer bottles.

This is the gadget they used to heat the glass.
5.  Some pretty cool vintage beer shirts for sale.

6.  Plenty of rinsing stations!  There were 2 per tent and they had golf carts coming around regularly to make sure they were still full.  The kegs were full of cold, filtered water that really hit the spot on the hot day.

7.  Free samples of food from Whole Foods!  Just like they rocked it last year with their chocolate covered bacon, this year they were handing out bread that you could dip in a Gruyere & Gouda fondue.  Wow!  There was also some sort of mustard that they were offering, but I was unable to try any of it.

8.  Speakers in the Chicago Craft Brew Werks Tent (a.k.a. Craft Beer 101 Tent) were insanely well-informed, well-spoken, and more than accommodating for questions.  I didn't get to see all of the speakers, but the ones I dropped in for were a real treat.  This is a really undervalued portion of the fest.

9.  Even the general admission area had plenty of space for sitting in some shade in between beers.

Winners and Losers
1.  B. Nektar Meadery absolutely ROCKED IT!!  The line for their tent was massive once word spread how friggin' delicious their brews are.  They truly built on their success from last year and were easily the celebrity of the day.  Their Cherry Chipotle was out of this world!  Hopefully, my good karma will let me get my hands on a bottle soon and I can do a full write-up on it.  What a beautiful, beautiful mead!  It began with a sugary cherry nectar, not the tart cherry flavors most commonly seen, and then flows into this spicy, roasted beautiful mixture that still incorporates the thick, sweet cherries from earlier.  If you see this, buy it.  No question about it.  The heat is quite a bit more substantial that most beers that involve chipotles.  You have been warned.

This picture is taken from the back of the line, which has
started to curve, full of people who want B. Nektar Mead.
2.  Big Muddy's Pumpkin Smasher was truly outstanding.  It is the closest beer to pumpkin pie that I have ever had.  It had a great nose and was a great blend of sweet gourd and milder spices.  It even featured some malts that gave a very "crust-like" charateristics!

3.  Gilbert's Sausages.  I enjoyed these guys so much last year that I HAD to have some again this year. Put it this way, as good as the FREE bar-b-que was in the VIP tent, I still shelled out $5 to take a bite outta one of these.  Boy am I glad I did because they brought a new sausage variety.  Just for me, I'm sure.

Does that not sound insanely delicious?
4.  5 Rabbbit Cerveceria.  Not only did they serve their beers from behind a super fancy podium with a built in rinser (see below picture), but they were also serving some damn tasty beer!  The most notable was their "5 Grass," a 'hoppy ale brewed with sage, juniper, and Tazmanian pepperberry.'  It smelled of lemongrass and juniper, but the flavor was slighty minty and refreshing with a bitter finish.  It had the flavor of pepper, but no heat.  Very interesting and certainly unique.

5.  Oskar Blues.  They were pouring cans of Deviant Dales.  'Nuff said.

6.  Alltech's Lexington Brewing Company.  This is the second time that I've had their Kentucky Bourbon Ale and both times I've been impressed.  It smells like it should and tastes even better.  Tons of bourbon flavor that eventually invites in some crème brûlée notes.

7.  Sixpoint.  They brought three big, hop-forward beers, but still showed definite distinctions between them. It just goes to show how nuanced a brewer can be with hops.  Kudos!

8.  John Henry - 3 Lick Spiker Ale.  Brewed by Cold Spring Brewing Co, this brand is new to the area, but is a welcome and tasty addition.  The aroma was rather light, though that could have been the breeze, but the flavor was sweet and full of chocolate, oak, with a nice bourbon flourish.  It's worth a try kids.  Check it out.

1.  Horny Goat from WI didn't bring enough beer!  They ran out pretty early in the fest AND didn't show up for one of their "special pours" in the VIP tent.  For shame!  They really could have showcased their product to a lot more people.  Granted, there's something good to said about running out, but still...

2.  Criminals.  There seemed to be a heightened number of police, but I never saw any actual crimes.  There were no fights, no vomiting/passed-out people, no nudity, etc.  Everyone seemed really well-behaved, so why all the strong presence?

Wow, well that turned into a much longer post than I anticipated.  And I pretty much covered everything except the other musical acts, the bags tournament, and the contest that Marty Nachel judged.  It was a seemingly short day that captured all of the great aspects they incorporated into last year's fest:  good food, good fair grounds, good folks, and plenty of craft beer.  It was definitely a success and something I look forward to attending in the coming years.


  1. Thanks for the nice mention. I heard you stopped by the tent, but sadly didn't get to meet in person.

    The fest really did seem much smoother than last year, and definitely one of the best we've been a part of. Can't wait until next year.

    As for crime: we did have some drunk guy try to steal a sausage. I caught up with him and made him fork over the cash...

    1. I'm pretty sure the crime you just mentioned is the plot for "Taken 2"

      Also, it looks like we'll both just have to keep going to more fests until we can meet face-to-face. Cheers!

  2. Thanks for putting my picture in the losers part with the police!

    1. Looks like you were the criminal element they were after. :)