Lake Geneva, WI – After checking in to the empty-looking Lodge at Geneva Ridge at 10:45 am and heading to down-town Lake Geneva for lunch, we returned about twenty minutes after the fest had started to find a packed parking lot and a line out the front door. A Madison tour bus pulled away and the line filtered slowly into the hotel. I had previously received my tickets and wasn’t sure about barging in past everyone, so we waited patiently for about ten minutes until we reached the tables inside. While waiting, I purchased a t-shirt and we moved past people buying tickets to have ours marked. We promptly received our mini-pints and were directed past police posted at the top of the stairs (to show presence, of course) to a conference room down a flight of steps.
We were immediately greeted by a photographer with soft lights and a white sheet set up – we came back for free pictures with fun and goofy props later on. Just through double doors past the photographer, water table, and sponsor literature was the fest. Even with showing up no more than thirty minutes late, the room was already packed shoulder-to-shoulder. Just inside was Capital which I passed (don’t worry, I went back for one of my favorites; Autumnal Fire) for a sample of Bell’s Hell Hath No Fury. We waited another handful of minutes just to get towards arms-reach of Paul who was pouring the dark brown Belgian brew. We moved along, scoping out things we may not have had yet until we ended at Hinterland’s table to sample the Winterland. From there we walked around the room looking at what was available.
There are far too many tables of good beer to mention, but I did have some great conversations with the reps for Bell’s, Crispin Ciders, Goose Island, Hinterland, and Wild Onion. I also got to experience some spirits I’ve never had before as well as talk to some great reps of those companies. Great Lakes Distillery had two differing styles of Absinthe, both of which had flavors of black licorice, and Koval who had a laundry list of spirits, most of which were white whiskeys. Their Rosehip Liqueur and Coffee Liqueur were my favorites.
The beer selection seemed to be focused on the Midwest region and was largely comprised of beers available at any larger liquor store. It was still a great selection of solid beers none-the-less. I also really enjoyed seeing the regional spirits represented there. I’ve never been huge into liquor but some of things I had showed a real craft and passion which I greatly respect.
One of the most outrageous things I laid eyes on all evening (aside from some of the costumes) was the table for Cutco. The two guys were awesome and used scissors to cut a penny into a swan, but a table full of incredibly sharp knives at a drinking event seemed like a very bad idea. Had they been located in the side room, it may have seemed a little more acceptable.
With that said, almost all the vendors were all in the one main conference room. An additional room off to the side offered seating in front of the small stage as well as tables for silent auctions, the Lake Geneva Generals, and Beer Connoisseur magazine. In passing I saw a singer-songwriter playing an acoustic guitar. Beyond that, I didn’t bare witness to any sort of full band. Through this room was the exit to the patio for some fresh air.
In addition to the beer and spirits were food samples available through the fest. One of note was the miniature tacos towards the back of the room looking out to the lake. These mini tacos were bite-size little shells filled with meat and drizzled with sauce. It seemed as if the vendor (I believe to have been Gordy’s) couldn’t keep up with the demand for them! Having eaten just before our arrival, I passed on the delicious-looking snacks for the brews and spirits.
About half way though I realized I had not yet located the bathrooms which, by this point I direly needed. They were relatively easy to find on the well-laid out floor and while there were only one set of Men’s and Women’s rooms, they were never packed surprisingly.
For a first-year brew fest, it was nice. For a first-time attendee, it was nice as well, of course, I’m not referring to myself. One of my friends had a great time experiencing all the fest had to offer and his wife came and enjoyed the soda and food for a ten dollar designated driver ticket; something we all agreed was a good deal. Like the responsible fest-goers we are, we took advantage of the Lodge’s special pricing for the beer event attendees. When it was all said and done, we paid just over $130 for a great room with a patio overlooking the lake, a king-size bed, and a gorgeous bathroom. Another great deal!
However, from the eyes of a seasoned beer fest-goer, there were a few things that could have made it even more of a success. First off, there needs to be two separate lines with clear direction outside of the building (if held at the same location or a place similar to this). One line for people that purchased tickets online, allowing them to receive their sampling glass and head in promptly, the other for people walking up purchasing tickets on the spot. Our entry was slow because of this process but it didn’t hinder our enjoyment of the fest.
Secondly, while the ticket sales were limited, the amount of people fitting into the space was far too great. We had a hard time getting from place to place as well as seeing what was available where. Shoulder bumping and squeezing in and out of people in crowds is already uncomfortable enough but it’s made even worse when you’re holding a glass of beer. The size of the room also affected the acoustics, making it difficult to hear. I found I was shouting to the reps of companies more often than not.
Lastly, I believe the fest had a great selection of beer (almost all in bottles) – for what it was. To get people to return and try beer other than regional beer-shelf staples, something they have not yet had, I would advise for fest organizers to acquire special release, limited, or one-off beers from breweries. They could be rationed out or released at a certain time to keep flow of a more expensive product down as well as generate buzz for the brewery and the fest. Spending a little extra on some great beers can only help all parties involved.
With all this said, myself and my fiancée, as well as my friends all had a blast at the fest. With a few tweaks, it could be even better next year! If nothing else, they should lower the ticket sales for the current venue or change locations, continue to include awesome distilleries for a change of pace, and keep the food samples; everyone gets the munchies at a beer fest.
Despite the few needed changes, I had a lot of fun and learned a few things too, and that’s what these events are all about; in my book, I’d consider it a success.