Tucked in gorgeous, tranquil Kohler, Wisconsin, the Kohler Company and The American Club Resort, once a year, play host to quite possibly the greatest beer festival the state has ever seen. The three-day-long Kohler Festival of Beer transpires over one of the first weekends of June and, in addition to unofficially marking the start of beer festival “season”, it also sets the bar for the year’s other festivals extremely high.
Due to the sheer volume of extraordinary events offered at the Kohler Festival of Beer, it’s near impossible to attend each and every one of them, so I’ll gladly delve into the ones I was fortunate enough to enjoy:
-Chocolate & Beer Tasting (featuring Anello Mollica of Central Waters)
-Beer Summit panel discussion featuring a handful of Wisconsin craft brewers.
-Rhythm & Brews:
Flanked by two refrigerated trailers, the main festival tent in the parking lot of The Shops at Woodlake housed a plethora of beer and excellent food as live music entertained. The feeling of intimacy bread by a combination of lower attendance and a more manageable selection of beers to sample. The small-but-diverse selection offered some rarities and one-offs as well as more classic staples from breweries, keeping the sampling fun and unique but safe and comfortable as well. Some highlights were Founders Curmudgeon Old Ale, Boulder Barrel-Aged Saison, a barrel-aged Belgian strong golden ale from Leinenkugel’s / Tenth and Blake, and Left Hand’s Smoke Jumper Imperial Porter, to name a few.
-The Horse & Plow Afterparty
-Eggs & Kegs
-Blackwolf Run Beer Challenge Tournament & Million-Dollar Shootout
-Crispin Cider & Cheese Pairing:
I’m embarrassed to admit that, while I love Crispin’s cider, the thought of pairing it with cheese never crossed my mind. Well, consider my mind blown. Mike and Katie of Crispin walked us through the origin of cider and it’s almost beer-like importance in society while weaving in five different ciders, sublimely paired with artisanal Wisconsin cheese. Katie brilliantly married the cheeses with Crispin’s diverse portfolio; a fine way to start the day!
-The Art of Barrel Making:
One of the fundamental aspects of the craft beer revolution is brewers’ inclination to age beers in various barrels. This slide-show of vintage pictures, narrated by Gary Hess, grandson of Frank J. Hess, owner of Hess Cooperage, Wisconsin’s Largest Cooperage from 1904-1966 dove deeply into the family’s rich history while briefly skimming the surface of the barrel-making process. Though Hess’ enthusiasm was, without a doubt, apparent, the family photo slide-show went a little long, cutting into the real reason a lot of people attended: learning the art of constructing barrels. That’s not to say there was no applicable education, though, as this beer-lover learned enough to grasp the concept and further increase his yearning for knowledge.
-Four-Course Beer Luncheon:
While sitting with Grant Holtakers of Tenth and Blake, my wife and I were able to discuss the varied fare with a like-minded individual. Four different beers were paired with four different plates for an exquisite, succulent lunch that completely satisfied with small, well-rounded portions. Whole Hog’s Raspberry Saison mated nicely with our petite green and duck prosciutto salad salad followed by Great Dane’s crisp Peck’s Pilsner and a fantastic grilled white tuna. 3 Sheeps introduced their new Baaad Boy Black Wheat which went very well with a “two ways” pork, a tenderloin as well as smoked cheeks. Superb! Lastly, we had a grand blend of beer and dessert with Leinenkugel’s Big Eddy Wee Heavy Scotch Ale and a mouth-watering dark chocolate sticky toffee pudding draped with malted caramel. Surely, this luncheon, the two years I’ve had the pleasure of attending, is one of the greatest beer and food experiences around.
-Bourbon Barrel-Aged Beer Pairings:
Little did we know, this pairing event featuring Anello Mollica of Central Waters and their famous bourbon barrel-aged beers, chef Matthew Bauer, and chocolatier Peter Clemens of Kohler would feature full pairings, virtually another meal after our four-course luncheon. I’m tempted to say “Oy”, but damn, was this one fine event! Nestled in the breath-taking cellar-themed Winery Bar underground in The American Club, the intimate seemed to fuel everyone’s already abundant excitement for the event. Mollica, Bauer, and Clemens walked us through each of their offerings, all paired together, and gave us ample time, as well as an ample pour, to savor them. With no disrespect to Bauer’s unique and playful dishes, the showstopper was, besides Central Waters’ Fourteen Fourteen, Clemens’ near-orgasmic chocolates. Thank God we were able to sample them there, for the following Chocolate & Beer Tasting was sold out far in advance.
-Beers Around the World:
Despite my inability to remember a host of specifics, never before have I seen so many quality, and in some cases, “rare” beers poured at a beer festival, and I even missed the first hour while in the Bourbon Barrel-Aged Beer Pairings! We didn’t get to explore as many countries’ offerings as we’d have liked, but holy cow did we enjoy some great beer! From a plethora of deep and complex Trappist beers to some great wild and sours, it was hard to move beyond the Belgian table and it’s surroundings at the back of the tent. If there were that many good beers in such a small concentration, I can only imagine that the remainder of the tent held equally wonderful beers.
-Chocolate & Beer Tasting
-Cheers to Beers:
The grand finale of Saturday’s already epic beer journey; Cheers to Beers takes place inside the vast and artistic expanse of the Kohler Design Center. A solo singer/guitarist serenaded the crowd with contemporary and classic songs interpreted acoustically. And what would one of Kohler’s beer events be without plenty of delicious food displayed directly in the center of it all? The layout has an initial haphazard feel, tucking brewery reps and their beer into every available space, but it’s quickly apparent that this flow allows the browsing patrons to explore everything Kohler has to offer in the design center, not just swig down their tasty samples. One of the most enjoyable parts of the festival is that, due to it’s prestigious nature, most breweries, especially the Wisconsin ones, have their presidents or brewmasters pouring their beer! It also means that, rather than a huge frat party, Cheers to Beers is a relaxed environment with respectful individuals who come, not only to absorb craft beer, but the surroundings as well.
-Eggs & Kegs:
A little hair of the dog, anyone? After a Friday night of imbibing and a Saturday chock full of walking from one beer event to another, you bet I’ll have a beer with breakfast! What could be a better way to start off a Sunday morning than with a plate full of The American Club’s tremendous food to go with those suds? It’s hard to beat breakfast outside on a patio surrounding a lake. Especially when sausage-and-cheese-infused hash browns accompanied my scrambled eggs with cheese, sausage links, and crispy, gleaming bacon on my plate while a pint of Duvel stood, carbonation heavily streaming, like a golden pillar of refreshment. Come to think of it, I should have made a beer-mosa with it! There’s always next year.
-La Trappe Quadrupel Oak-Aged Vertical Tasting
-Shorts & Chefs
With all that the Kohler Festival of Beer has to offer, I find it quite difficult to really encapsulate the weekend into one summarizing sentence, but if there’s one thing that stands out among all else, it’s that the hospitality and amenities provided by Kohler and The American Club cannot be beat. It makes the fact you’re experiencing great beer in an awe-inspiring setting that much more unforgettable.