Racine, WI – If you’ve ever made the trek to Racine for Great Lakes Brew Fest you’d understand why people from different states all over the Midwest come to this brew fest. It’s held at the spacious and well-laid-out Festival Park which is right on Lake Michigan. The beautiful view of the lake is matched only by the closeness of Racine’s awesome little downtown strip. What could be a better way to end Milwaukee Beer Week?
This year the GLBF was extended from the usual day-long festival to two days; a Friday night named ‘On Wisconsin’ which featured brewers only from Wisconsin, most of which brought special brews for Friday night only, and the ever-popular Saturday festival named ‘The Full Monty’. While I was excited for the Wisconsin-only addition to the festival, I wasn’t sure how well it would go over. To quote Shawn from Three Cellars, “how often do you attend a brew fest and wake up the next morning and say, ‘I’d love to do that again!’” Well, from what I witnessed, it seemed to have gone over pretty well. There was plenty of attendance and it also allowed people that may not have been able to attend Saturday’s fest a chance to enjoy some great beers. The comfortable group of people Friday allowed for everyone to mingle and enjoy each others company and talk beer. It was awesome Friday! I don’t believe Saturday was sold out this year, but the crowd, near capacity, was never overbearing. It was still maneuverable and meeting people or finding people in the crowd was still easy.
The Great Lakes Brew Fest also played host to some awesome breweries over the weekend. You could find a great beer at just about every single booth there! While everything was great, in alphabetical order, there were some real stand-out breweries featured here:
B. Nektar Meadery – Orgasmic mead. Enough said.
Bell’s Brewery – Wild One was fantastic!
Central Waters – Their Bourbon Barrel Stout cannot be beat.
Crispin Cider – I was able to introduce their incredible line-up of ciders to some people.
Dark Horse Brewing – I helped pour during the crazy line for the Barrel Aged Plead the 5th. That was a lot of fun being on the other side.
Hinterland Brewing – Mike the rep is awesome and their Oktoberfest is world-class.
Lagunitas Brewing – Something Wild was very good.
Lakefront Brewery – Just classic. Can’t argue with the Pumpkin Lager
Left Hand Brewery – The rep brought limited special samples for people who said they were BeerAdvocate members. Super cool! Great beer all-around.
O’so Brewing – They had a fantastic wild ale available Friday. I hope it’s bottled!
Sierra Nevada Brewing – Larry the rep is awesome and they had vintage Bigfoot on draft.
South Shore Brewery – They brought a Pinot Noir Saison which was to die for.
Stone Brewing – Aaron the rep is awesome and they had some vintage beers!
Upland Brewing – We started a line for their incredibly rare wild/lambic brews which were great!
Vintage Brewing – The first beer I had for the whole fest, their pumpkin ale, was very good.
A big bonus was that lists of special release beers were posted all over the fest which displayed the time these special beers were being tapped. This was very nice for everyone. And since were all there to sample beer, the abundance of bathrooms located throughout the fest was exceptional; lines for the bathrooms were scarce.
Not only did the GLBF feature samples of beers from over 90 craft breweries from across the U.S., but the fest also featured an awesome display of fireworks on Friday night as well as a performance from the Kilties Drum and Bugle Corps on Saturday. Additionally, there was a tent for food, t-shirt sales with some awesome designs this year, Home Brew Island, a section of the fest dedicated to home brew groups, and a designated driver table. Committed to safety, the Great Lakes Brew Fest not only had a table for the designated drivers, but offered an addition service from another company called Designated Driver, LLC. This company provides an invaluable service of driving intoxicated people home – with their car! This is always a fantastic option to staying at one of the local hotels. Racine also offers public transit which I used the previous year. It worked out very well for a lot of people staying further away from the fest.
While I admire fest’s overall commitment to safety, I found the ‘management decision’ to shut down of the fest 15 minutes early this year distasteful. Just before close on Saturday security-people wearing headsets paced back and fourth between the vendors, telling them that they that need to pull their tap handles and quit serving immediately. I left one booth and went around to another side where I caught up with one security guys and asked why everyone was being shut down early and he replied that it was a management decision and that ‘everyone has had enough to drink already’.
With a focus on safety, I understand where management was coming from with an order like that, but attendants paid to be there for the whole time, not 15 minutes shorter; that’s the last thing they’ll remember about it as they leave. My question is; why did they do it 15 minutes early? At that point why even bother shutting it down at all? There is the potential for beer fests to get a little carried away towards the end (which didn’t happen here) so I give security a lot of credit for the good job that they did, but they should have let it go without incident – nothing was out-of-hand.
Besides the whole shutting down early thing, not a whole lot was off about this fest. I only have two things to make note of that need serious consideration for changing; the first is the amount of “stuff” patrons are given when they come through the gates. VIP fest-goers are greeted with a mini pint glass, a giant (and heavy) ceramic stein, a map of the fest grounds, a VIP badge on a lanyard, and directed to the merchandise tent for their free shirt. Oy! Unless you’re like me, walking around with big cargo shorts, most people – even ladies with purses – don’t want to carry all that for hours. Putting another shirt on in possible heat (this year was cold, last year was hot, welcome to Wisconsin weather) isn’t acceptable, carrying it is awkward, and holding all the other stuff while trying to drink beer is too difficult. Not only that, but apparently filling the ceramic steins was iffy to some of vendors. To remedy this situation, steins and shirts should only be handed out to VIP entrants at the end of the fest as they leave. They’ve got a VIP badge so let that be their ticket to the swag and save everyone from pockets full of stuff.
Lastly, the cigar smoke was just out of control this year. And that’s coming from a cigar-lover! I have multiple humidors and smoke cigars on a fairly regular basis but I don’t smoke a cigar when I’m trying to sample beer. It destroys all taste and smell operation and with no designated smoking area, people walking around the fest puffing away had the non-smokers dodging giant clouds of tobacco. The creation a special area for smokers would be fantastic in this regard. Maybe it could even be another tent with a few additional (duplicate) beer booths inside?
Besides the few things that need some tweaking, the 2010 GLBF was a blast. My compatriots and I enjoyed every moment of each day, especially the moment I was sipping on a Wild One from Bell’s just before 3 p.m. while watching the stampede of people come in. Not only was the fest fun, but I was able to try some great new beers I had never experienced, and that’s what a brew fest is all about! Cheers to the GLBF and I’m sure to be there next year!
This being my first year attending Great Lakes Brew Fest, I was excited for it to say the least. A lot of my most favorite brewers were showing up and I was spending time with some good friends at the same time.
That being said, I felt that this was very well done and organized. Nothing was out of place and was run extremely smoothly. It also was not overcrowded; I do not think I waited in line for anything more than a minute or two. We had great weather and it had a lovely background scene being right on the coast of Lake Michigan. Out of all the countless beers I had the pleasure of trying, these were the highlights in no particular order:
- Bell’s Wild One and Oracle on tap
- Dark Horse Barrel Aged Plead the 5th Imperial Stout on tap
- Central Waters’ Bourbon Barrel Barleywine on tap
- Hinterland’s Barrel Aged Scotch Ale on tap
- South Shore’s Pinot Noir Saison on tap
- Upland Brewery’s Raspberry Lambic
Additionally, I would like to personally thank Larry with Sierra Nevada and Mike with Hinterland for being some of the coolest guys to hang out with in the industry. You are the ones that make events like this great and memorable times in my book!