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.

Image blatantly stolen from their website.

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! 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Midwest Brewers Fest 2011

Quality ticket!  Even moreso than most minor league sports teams.
This is like NFL-grade tickets!
I don't how else to start out except saying that this beer fest was amazing.  It seems like everything was planned for, thought of, and somehow miraculously executed.  The devil is in the details after all...  Since it has been almost a week  since this happened all my short term memories have worn off as has the exact order of the day. All I have to go on are pictures, impressions, and notes from my complimentary beer tasting book.  It should be more than enough.

The first thing you see when you walk in are tents.  Huge, white, nicer-looking tents and they're lined up probably a good quarter mile.  These are not just tents that the brewers are under, these are tents that the brewers are centered underneath and that the samplers also get to go under to escape the ridiculously gorgeous weather.

The flow from the entrance puts you right into the tents and the day starts immediately.  My day happened to start with Stone 15th Anniversary Imperial BIPA.  It was a sign of things to come.

I had to stop and try it (despite my best judgement about not stopping at the first tent) and it did not let me down.  However, I could not dawdle.  There were amazing craft beers to be drank and I was just the man for the job.  Before I go into a ton of different beers though, allow me to talk about the different aspects of the festival and how fantastic they were.

The Grounds
This was basically set in a forest preserve.  I know it wasn't really, but you could've fooled me if it were not for its close proximity to some train tracks and the rest of the Chicago burbs.  It was a massive grassy clearing with the aforementioned white tents down the middle.

This looks toward the entrance. VIP tent on the right.  Could this
weather have been any more gorgeous?!

Enjoying the grounds with accessorized hops.
Lining the right hand border of the grounds were porta-potties about every 40 yards, each "station" even had its own hand washing station.  Sure, that seems like common sense, but I have been to events/concerts/etc that do not have them and I always appreciate them when they are there.  The left border of the grounds is a river with picnic tables stationed here and there.  Not only did they have seating, but I didn't have to bring it myself, nor pay extra for it, it was scenic and (except during midday) shaded!  I am pleased beyond words at this.

Taking full advantage of the free seating.
The Facilities
I have already discussed the abundance of porta-potties, hand-washing stations, and shade-giving white tents so I won't rehash them here even if it would have been more appropriate to list them in this section.  On thing I have not mentioned are the kegs of water.  Yes, that's what I said.  There were four kegs of water located near the corners of each tent for rinsing of tasting glasses, palates, and for hydrating on this sunny day (jokes about Miller Lite kegs were abundant).  The food tent also had plenty of room for seating and navigating.  Halfway down the river side of the festival was also a cigar tent/area manned by Burning Leaf Cigars (  They were selling some really good cigars, providing all the classic cigar stores services (cuts, lights, etc), and had roped off seating for the smoking the cigars you just purchased.  Even though you were only supposed to smoke cigars in that area, people were walking around with them outside of the disgnated area (its outside, so no big deal), but the smokers never seemed to wander in the tents where others might be effected.  This theme of common courtesy and mutual amicability seemed to rule the day.  I smoked a Pinar del Rio on their recommendation and did not regret it.

There was even had a Homebrewers tent which featured tutorials on brewing and some people's actual homebrews.  This tent was packed throughout the day and it was only toward the end of the day that I fought through the crowd so I wouldn't miss out on this neat opportunity for homebrewers and future homebrewers alike.

Remember how I mentioned the tents were plenty spacious inside, so as to give shade to the brewers AND the fest-goers?  Check it out.

Stone Brewing was in one of the very first tents.

Limestone was in a tent with TONS of other local
Chicago microbrewers.  An awesome tent!!

Some folks from Mendocino.  Frank (white polo) of Mendocino was one
of the friendliest folks manning a booth that day.

Chi-town folks were plenty chatty too!  Good work.

This booth got a TONS of buzz (pun not intended) as the
fest went continued.  They had some amazing varieties of
mead and it was EXTREMELY well made.
5 Rabbit, another Chicago microbrewer, had a very neat
passionfruit beer.  Trust me.

Head Brewer of Big Muddy Chuck Stuhrenberg manning
his own booth.  They had $10 shirts and free temporary tattoos!

Yet another Chicago microbrewery.  Awesome.

Headbrewer Pete/Pedro (beard) at the Haymarket Brewing
table.  Probably my favorite brewery at the fest!

The food tent was just as spacious as the rest of the fest and had more than enough seating both in the shade of the tent itself or by the river.  Whole Foods showed up and donated a bunch of food!  They were handing it out to everyone that entered the food tent.  What were they handing out?

Just chocolate covered bacon is all.  Eventually, the chocolate must have been running low and they started just drizzling it.  Also, eventually they ran out of bacon and switched to hot dogs.  I know it sounds gross, but keep in mind the following 1) This is Whole Foods.  They don't have $0.99 hotdogs.  These are like big ol' ballpark hot dogs.  2)  How is it that different from bacon?  Either way it is sweet and salty and smoky meat.  Needless to say, we walked past a few times.  Overall, food was not expensive by any stretch but was amazing.  My vote for best food booth goes to the folks at Gilbert's Craft Sausages who were serving up sausages with clever names like "Oui-sconsin" (beef smoked sausage with bleu cheese), the Shebeergan (beer brat), and the Catalana (pork, mozzarella,chipotle, & lime).  I know the last one doesn't have a clever name, but look at all that stuff in the brat.  Not "on the brat" or "served on the side."  All those flavors were inside the sausage and it was fantastic.

The Beer
What a friggin' lineup!  For an established beer festival this would have been a great selection.  As a first-year foray into the burgeoning world of festivals, this was nothing short of spectacular.  56 different brewers and many were from the Chicago area and its surrounding suburbs.  Here is what I can testify to:

1.  5 Rabbit Cerveceria - 5 Lizard:  Aroma like a pink starburst.  Flavor is sour passionfruit with a bit of citrus.  Lots of carbonation and a sweet finish

2.  5 Rabbit Cereveceria - Golden Ale:  About as I expected.  Light.  Though I did try it much later in the day.  After a lot of bigger beers, its subtleties may have been lost on me.

3. Brickstone Brewery - Hop Sinner:  Aroma of caramel & citrus hop.  Flavor is complex and has brown sugar, rye, and a pine citrus hop.  This is nicely balanced, has a defined hop profile, a moderate bitter, and is a bit on the sweet side.  Very nice!  This beer was so tasty I felt compelled to buy one of their moderately priced glasswares.

4.  Big Muddy Brewing - Big Muddy Monster:  According to Head Brewer Chuck Stuhrenberg this beer sells so well that they're not able to distribute it like they are their other beers.  Lots of red malts and a sudden, almost coffee-ish bitter.  India Brown Ale?  Good work IL craft brewer!

5.  Chicago Beer Company - Windy City Wheat:  A lighter version of the style.  It's plenty crisp, coriander notes, and a little banana in the finish.

6.  Clown Shoes - Clementine Witbier:  Light, crisp, not overly done or syrupy in the least.  A wonderful blend of a bright tangerine and the creaminess of the witbier.

7.  Finch's Beer Co. - Sapsucker:  Another up and coming Chicago microbrewery!  This was red with a nice hop bitter.  There was no real distinct rye flavors, but this was another bright, crisp, refreshing beer on a day that suited it perfectly.

8.  Flossmoor Station - Hopfenweizen:  Aroma of banana and pine (wow!).  Flavors of dark banana, bitter notes.  Great head retention!  Really need blend of flavors that don't usually get put together.  Well done!  Of course, they're from IL.

9.  Emmett's Brewing Co. - Pale Ale:  Classic.  Bitter.  Refreshing.  Flavorful. Representing IL.

10.  Goose Island - Marisol:  Previously only available at the Frontera Grill (despite rumors of future bottling).  This smells of Belgian yeast, strong florals, and vanilla.  Body is lighter than expected and beer is well-carbonated.  Flavor is citrus, apples, and Belgian yeast with a finish of lemon and oak.

11.  Haymarket - Mathias Imperial IPA:  This brewery has been open 7-8 months after their Brewmaster Pete started his own brewery after working at another.  If these beers are any indication, these guys are going to be huge.  This beer was argued by many to be the "Best of Show."  This beer was amazingly rich, with caramel malt and a hoppy pine that flowed seamlessly back and forth between each other.  They were perfect compliments and this was a superior beer. IL owned and operated

12.  Haymarket - BUK:  This is a black rye bock full of dark cocoa, dark roast malt (with a slightly lighter body than expected for the color), and a lite rye that wasn't tangy, but a neat bitter/sweet blend.

13. Limestone Brewing Co. - Springbrook Honey Heather Ale: Honey & floral flavors (duh), but with woody notes and fairly crisp.  A heavier body contrasting the lighter flavors, but not in an unpleasant way.  More IL goodness.

14.  Mendocino Brewing - Imperial IPA:  Not too big with a nice balance.

Frank broke this out for us from behind the table.
I was glad that he did.
15.  Mendocino Brewing - White Hawk IPA:  Apples, soapy head, cracker malt, and citrus.

16.  Brewery Ommegang - BPA:  Very interesting.  Maybe not my cup of tea, but classic elements of each are easily discernible.

17.  Revolution Brewing Co. - Eugene:  Helluva porter.  Not a heavy version of the style, but lots of muddy chocolate and a drying finish.  Extra brownie points for bad ass tap handles and being from Chicago.

18.  Stone Brewing Co. - 15th Anniversary BIPA:  Grapefruit, bitter, coffee, and a delicious dark brown head.  This was easily a top 5 beer of the fest.  These guys were also cool enough to take out a growler of BPA from underneath the table, but I neglected to take notes on it because I was geeking out with some fellow bloggers about it.

19.  Two Brothers Brewing Co. - Robust Porter:  Chocolate, smokey, and smooth.  A suburban favorite brewer.

20.  Uinta Brewing Co. - Punk'n:  Not as sweet as other pumpkin varieties.  Lots of balance and carbonation.  Lightly spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg.

21.  Wild Onion Brewing Co. - Jack Stout:  Brownie points for being distributed in cans.  Lots of sweet malt, chocolate, toffee with a molasses finish and a lighter bitter for the style.  Finally distributing on the west side of IL.

22.  B. Nektar Meadery - Barrel Aged Dry Cyser:  I don't get much experience with meads, but after this I may have to seriously rethink that.  This drink was mature, honey, light tannins, and a finish of vanilla oak.  My brief notes, literally say "WOW!"  Plus the selection that they brough along was ridiculous!  He had no less than 8 varieties of his wares.  Please see the picture of this guy pouring it up in the "Facilities" section of this post.  He was talking it up, educating drinkers (including myself), and I'm pretty sure soaking up the excitement that his product was generating.  Toward the end you could barely approach this table because of the crowd!

The People
I saved the best for last.  Thankfully, I was able to attend with good friends and fortunate to make some new ones.  In an impromptu fashion, a meeting was arranged in the Twitterverse between several bloggers.  Around 3:30 we all agreed to meet up with Jason of TGBOAT at the Craft Beer 101 tent to meet in real life for the first time.  What a cool sensation to finally meet some of the people behind the avatars and website banners!  Lots of warm greetings, introductions, hand shaking, and laughs were shared.  It was like meeting old friends despite them being only the newest kind.  I don't know how I didn't cross paths with some (I'm looking at you theperfectlyhappyman, and Lance!), but the ones I did have the pleasure of meeting made the last half the fest truly memorable.  Nik ofChicago Beer Geeks,Wes from TGBOAT, and I definitely made the most of the last few hours of the fest laughing like idiots, trying to use up copious amounts of drink tickets, sharing beer opinions, and soaking up the last few drops of a beautiful day.

My l337 craft beer drinking crew for the day.

Craft Beer 101 tent

People meeting more people IRL.

Wes from TGBOAT manning the tent.

More of the l33t crew and the one who has to tolerate
me the most.

Having a great time toward the end of the day with
friends and extraneous hand gestures.
These two random dudes came up and gave me all their
tickets as they were leaving.  Their exact words, "Well, you're
smoking a cigar and wearing a New Glarus shirt.  We
figure they're in good hands."
In case you couldn't tell, I enjoyed myself immensely at this fest and cannot wait to return in any number of subsequent years.  The organizers put on one helluva good time and if you missed it, be ready for next year.  This thing can only get bigger and better.

I'd like to make a joke about blurry vision and leaving
a beer festival, but I in no way like to joke about drunk

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pints for Pachyderms

Last Friday I was invited by some friends to attend a fundraiser at a local zoo called "Pints for Pachyderms."  Lured by the thought of mutually inebriating elephants and myself, I went and had one heckuva time.

First off, the midwest is currently in the grip of a heatwave and Friday was no different.  I don't know the exact temperature, but it was enough to give me a pronounced 'V' down the front of my shirt.  Gross, I know, but also motivating to down some cold ones.  I'll give some general narration, but then try to give as many quick beer synopses as I can.  Also, in this article if I list a beer as "did not try," it's not because I didn't want to or was playing the part of the beer snob.  They were only giving out one sample at a time though oftentimes you could ask for two.  If it's listed as "did not try," it is because I didn't feel like waiting in line any more.

First Tent:
Wild Blue: 8% ABV.  Tastes like blueberry juice, sugar, vanilla.  Not beer.
Shocktop Raspberry Wheat:  Complimentary, non-overwhelming raspberry.  I could get behind this as a very refreshing (yet sweet) summer beer.
They also had Margaritaville drinks, but I did not have any.

This first tent also had complimentary peanuts in shell, pretzles, and potato chips.  At first I thought the peanuts were just because of the event's name, but they're also pretty standard bar chow and something to change up on the palate from one beer to the next.  Turns out they had them at every table.  Walking to the next tent we were able to walk by some primate habitats.

Primates outside the primate exhibit.

Line for second tasting.
The second tasting area was for Mexican beers.  Given the hot temps it was no surprise that the lines for this tent were a little longer as people waiting for their cool, lighter-bodied beers.  These servers were probably some the nicer ones as well.  The guy promised me, not knowing that I am into craft beer, that the beers get stronger and more "craft-like" as we go.  The girl asked me what I wanted to drink.  I looked at the beers.  She said, "Do you want this one because it's cold and in my hand?"  Me: "You're good, you."

Second Tent: Mexican Beer
Modelo: Light pilsner in a can.  About what you'd expect.
Negro Modelo:  Pretty universal.  Do I need to touch on this one?
Victoria:  Light pilsner with the slight skunk of Mexican beer.
Pacifico:  All of the above (but no can).

You can't take some people anywhere.
 The next station was rather several things all under a larger tent: Potosi table, radio DJ, pints for sale, food, Summit table, and lots of thirsty fest-goers.

Food set up was nice.  Even the plastic wear made it seem more formal!

Thank goodness these were on sale.  Those samples weren't going to hold me.
 I actually visited the Summit table first and was thirsty enough to dive into their EPA.  Not that their EPA is bad, far from it, but IPA, EPA, BPA, etc, are not usually my first choice.

(Out of order) Fourth Tent: Summit
EPA: 4/5 Stars.  Not real bitter.  Very refreshing.  I probably drank this too fast.
Red Ale:  Very hoppy for a red.  Not very malty.
Hefe:  Did not try.
The Summit selections

Hard-workin' men from Summit.
 In this tent, and strategically placed throughout the zoo, were zoo employees with some of the zoo's animals. How cool!  This bird was in the main tent.

Third Tent: Potosi
Steamboat Shandy: Lots of citrus (duh), peach, and even apple.  They ran out of this later.
Snake Hollow IPA: citrus hops with a light bitter finish.  Perfect for the day.  I bought a pint of this later.
Good old Potosi: Did not try
Pure Malt Cave Ale: Did not try

This snake was en route to the fifth tent.
 The fifth station was a true taste of the local scene.  Great River Brewery is a brewery that recently moved across Iowa to our area.  Mississippi River Distillery started in LeClaire, IA (current home of TV show "American Pickers").  Irish Dog solely makes a Bloody Mary Mix that used to be concocted right in their kitchen (they inform me they have since moved out of the kitchen).

Fifth Tent: LOCAL BREWS!
Mississippi River Distillery: This gin was phenomenal.  It tasted more peppermint, than true juniper, but allowed for a more mellow experience.  Also elements of simple syrup with very little burn on the way down.  There was a flavor I could not place, but eventually I determined it was "that minty spice in Thai food."  A friend in the group said, "That's right!  Lemongrass!  She DID say they used lemongrass."  Tastebuds: 1, Mystery Flavor: 0  I will be buying this when looking for gin.
Irish Dog Bloddy Mary:  Wow!  This is spicy meat-a-ball-a!  Not painful, but definitely as spicy as you can make it with out that.  Damn tasty.  Heat didn't linger too bad either.  It probably just seemed longer because of the weather.  All it lacked was my customary dill pickle spear and it would have been perfect.  I will be buying this as well.
Great River Brewery - Redband Stout:  This infuses the exact taste of a coffee drink.  Very authentic tasting.  Lots of espresso in what I bet is a milk stout.  Chocolate as well.  Tasty.

There was lots I did not get to try at this table.
Paul, brewmaster of Great River, pouring with the best of them.

The husband and wife team that is Irish Dog.

Giraffe shower scene on the way to the next tent.

I christened these animals, "skunk monkeys," and the name seemed to stick with those around us.

After seeing some animals, we arrived at the sixth table stationed by Goose Island.  Before I go into that, this whole day is a really cool idea.  How many times are there brew festivals where you get to see giraffes and lions?  Not many, I bet.  It really combines two great activities (or dates, if one were so inclined) and makes both enjoyable.  On to the next table.

Sixth Tent:  Goose Island
The only bummer about this table is that I only got one tasting!  They had their good stuff out and I really would have liked to try another one.  Good thing the one I was able to try was....
Pere Jacques (2009):  Smells remind of apple cider.  Flavor is roasted malt, a little warmth, cider, and dates.  Light citrus bitter at the end.  This is the most complex beer I had all day.  I couldn't believe they were pouring a 2009!

Goose Island folks.

Me with an unamused "skunk monkey."

Right by the lions' area was the Woodchuck Cider table.  They had some chummy folks working there and were pouring some of their special reserve.  Now, some of you may not think much of the ciders or that they would even have a Special Reserve, but my good friend (and very competant beer drinker) Keith has been telling me about this for probably a month, so I had to try it.

Seventh Tent: Woodchuck
Special Reserve:  Similar to their 'Fall' variety (which is AMAZBALLS), but more crisp and without their abundance of fall spices.  It also had a light, light bitter toward the end.  Very impressive cider.
Summer:  It is supposed to be based in blueberries, but the first flavor I got was pear!  The blueberries did come though.  They tasted like fresh blueberries!  They were not tart, nor syrupy.

Our tasting group!
 We were starting to lose daylight so the rest of the tour increased its pace a bit.  Next was Dundee tent.  I'm not really familiar with Dundee so I was excited to taste their offerings.

Eighth Tent: Dundee
IPA: Aroma was piney and caramel malt.  Flavor was also caramel, but included cream and resin.  Light clean finish.
Kolsch:  Similar to a cream ale I had recently that also had a sweetness that reminds one of marshmallows.  This was only up front in this beer and makes me want to keep trying this style and discover its recent hype.
Bock:  Aroma that was smokey like Thanksgiving day roast.  My friend Jim found it "like bourbon... oaky," and he is right on the money.  Taste was a light caramel/molasses with a little bit of honey up front.  Very nice!

AHH!!  Twilight is falling upon us!  Quick get to the other tents.

Ninth Tent: Shiner
102: Aroma of lemon and crystal malt.  Flavor is the same.
Old Ale:  More like a lager than an ale.  Light pilsner without the hops.

The tenth tent was all the AB/InBev products.  However, since we are all familiar with them I won't review them here (but perhaps in an upcoming post).  Kudos to big beer for showing up at a small event (especially since their distributor is about 4 miles away).  They brought some of the good stuff too!  Bass, Stella Artois, Leffe, and Bodingtons

Is there anything more majestic than llamas in the moonlight?
That about sums it up kids.  5 hours, 6 friends, 10 tents, 21 beers, one spirit, and one bloody mary.  Not bad for a days work.  The only thing to make this better is if I win those Poison/Motley Crue tickets I signed up to win.  I'll keep you posted.

June 18 2011 - Two Brothers Hop Juice Festival

Oh man, had I been looking forward to this festival for a looong time.  A couple of times now (and more pending), my friends and I will make a "beer run."  It's usually friends from the upper half of Illinois (and one from Milwaukee) and we all meet at a brewery for a day.  We drink, talk smart, drink some more, appreciate beer, drink a little, eat, laugh a ton, buy beer we can't normally get, and then drive home.  It's a great excuse to see some long time friends that I don't usually get to see that often.  I highly recommend it.  It also works great for those with families and/or spouses because it's only a one day trip (hence a "beer run" not a "beer stay").

It had been drizzly and overcast all week, so several of us were preparing ourselves for a poncho-clad, drenched day of drinking.  Even the thought of "owning" a bad situation and making the most out of it excited us. Rain or shine we would be there and we were going to have a blast.

We arrived shortly after noon.  Parking was pretty poorly marked.  Two Brothers (old/primary) brewery is located in an industrial park, so there are plenty of adjeacent lots in which to park.  Only problem was we, nor anybody else knew we could park in those lots.  Turns out there were small signs at the entrance of nearby lots indicating we could park there, but cars parked on the shoulder had blocked those signs and lots of people ended up walking a looooong way to get to the festival.  After our own trek to the brewery, things were looking pretty good.  A bluegrass band was playing, people were drinking, the sun was shining, and we see this when we  arrive.

Oh, just a Tesla Roadster.  I'd never seen one of these before in person.  While cars and drinking are not a good combination, looking/lusting after cars and drinking is a fantastic combination and I appreciated the eye candy.  OK, one more pic for good measure.

The car was located at the tail end of a line that stretched out from the entrance gate of the festival.  Granted, the entrance gate of the festival did not have a long line.  They were checking IDs and admitting people very quickly.  Outside, the festival however is where the rare Hop Juice Black was being sold in large bottles.  Unfortunately, since one cannot bring glass into the festival there was a large line to procure the festival-exclusive brew, take it back to your car, and then finally get admitted to the festival.  For those of you paying attention, yes, that does mean another crazy long walk BACK to the car and then an additional walk to return to the festival.  Yikes.  This is the line.

The order/checkout counter for the many different Two Brothers beers was in front of the window.  Please note the blacktop we are standing on and the shadows we are casting.  Yes, the sun was in full effect and we were cooking out on the blacktop.  I would wait.  I had no idea how many bottles of Hop Juice Black they were going to be selling, but I knew that I wanted several.  Besides, they guys in front of us were cool, so we chatted and made smart talk until we all finally got our chance to buy.  There were jokes made that one buyer had originally only planned to buy 6, but to make all the time in line worth while (and the resultant thirst) "now I'm up to a 12 pack."  On a side note, after dropping off the beer at our car, one of the guys that was in front of us was driving by en route to pick up all his buddies' beer so they wouldn't have to walk them back.  He was kind enough to offer us a ride back to the festival.  This is just another example of why I love craft beer drinkers: great sense of community.

Our make-shift chauffeurs and some pretty cool guys.
After being chauffeured back to the front gates we quickly got our wrist bands and entered.

Thankfully, we were able to purchase food/drink tickets when we purchased the Hop Juice Black, so we didn't have to wait in that line.  However, there were still lines to be found.

This is the line for food.  Not too shabby.

These were the lines for beer and the first sight when entering the festival.  Yikes.
When we arrived, there was a gentleman (I use the term loosely) storming out of the festival raving about the lines. "Lines to get in.  Lines to get beer.  Lines to get tickets.  This is bullshit!"  We mocked him in line wondering if he expected to be the only person here.  However, as the day progressed we began to see his point from a calmer point of view.  Lines were everywhere.  Long lines.  Lines long enough that after you ordered a beer, you had to immediately get back in line so that by the time you finished your beer, you could have another.  Who wants to be beerless in line?  Also, I am currently only referring to the lines for the Two Brothers brand beer.  The line for the "guest taps" tent was even longer!

More lines.

Perhaps the lines would not have seemed so bad were it not for the heat.  It was a gorgeous day to be in many places: the beach, the park, baseball game... blacktop parking lot is not on that list.  It was cooking outside.  We were pouring sweat and couldn't down the beer fast enough.  We were glad to have such amazing weather, but now were hoping for just a little more of that rain we heard about.  The heat and blacktop combination is what would eventually force us to leave the festival.  A little grass in the area would have went a looong way.

The blurgrass bands did their best to take our minds off of the heat.
I love that their stage is partially constructed with kegs.

There were some things that Two Bros. did really well.  

1.  Ample port-a-potties.  I never had to wait in line.
2.  Adequate space.  Not a lot of bumping into people, except when trying to go through a line that would be blocking your path.
3.  Cold beer.  Despite the beer in outdoor tents on a super sunny day, I always got a cold beer.  It might not have stayed that way for long, but they can hardly be blamed for that.
4.  Tasty beer and great guest taps.
5.  Bands that weren't offensively loud.  It was nice to hear music, but also hear the person next to me.  I cannot emphasize this enough.

We enjoyed the festival, but there were definitely some things that Two Brothers could do to improve it.

1.  Mark your parking better.  One long walk is bad.  Two more to take purchased beer in glass bottles back to your car and return is exasperating.  The fourth to leave is expected.  Help us shorten those walks and to utilize the lots you probably asked your neighboring businesses if you could use.  Bigger or better-placed signs would be a big help.  Especially on such a hot day when any additional walking sucks.

2. More tents.  Yes, this would cut down on lines.  However, it would also leave less room within the confines of your parking lot.  I understand that conundrum, hence my next suggestion...

3. Move the festival.   Moving the festival might cost more money, but at $6 for a half solo cup full of Hop Juice or Hop Juice Black (or full cups of year-round brews), money may not be your biggest concern.  Moving the festival to say, a local outdoor venue, would give you the following:
- Grass on which to sit.
- Trees to provide shade
- More room for tents
- More tents = shorter lines = less waiting
- Less waiting for beer also = more people with access to purchase point = more purchases = more money

People "picnicking" on blacktop.  Notice the line?
4. Stages of VIP tickets?
VIP tickets were only $65 (nice) and got you access to...
* Guaranteed entry to the festival even if the general admission is at capacity;
* Exclusive Access to the Two Brothers Tap House and Patio;
* Exclusive Access to the VIP Bar;
* Exclusive Access to the indoor Two Brothers Tap House Bathrooms;
* A seat to rest your hop lovin' feet;
* 5 complimentary beers (21 or older with state-issued ID);
* Unlimited free non-alcoholic drinks;
* Brat-and-finger-food buffet all day long and
* A special dinner buffet from 6-8pm

That's a damn good deal!  However, several of my comrades expressed a wish for a $20-$30 pseudo-VIP ticket that maybe just included ice water, air conditioning, a seat in said air conditioning, and maybe something else to be determined.  Not a necessity for a good festival, but Two Brothers could make more money and customers get something they want.  Win-win, right?  Yeah, I know that there are indoor space constraints on this one, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't be nice to see in some shape or form (doesn't have to be in their super-nice bar area, maybe?).

Overall, we had some great beer and some great talk, but eventually we left to find some shade, A/C, and beers that weren't $6 for a Solo cup (or as mentioned earlier $6 for half a Solo cup for the higher ABV brews).  I know festivals are generally more expensive as are most things in the way of entertainment (amusement parks, fairs, concerts, etc), but does this compare to festivals in your area?  Please comment.  I'd love to know.

The day ended with bags games, cooking out, drinking more good beer.  What more could you ask for?  Thanks to Two Brothers for throwing a tasty festival and for giving us boys a good excuse to get together and drink some brews.  Cheers!

Two worst bag players, ever.
Leaving Chicago.