In the last year or so in my trips back to visit family in Wisconsin, I’ve noticed an increase in the availability and variety of craft beer in the area. Given that my hometown doesn’t even have a single stoplight, I was pretty excited the first time I found New Glarus in the grocery store. More and more I hear about established Wisconsin-based breweries starting to ramp up production and becoming more prominent in the market in addition to new breweries popping up left and right. Suddenly, there’s an increasing demand for craft beer which leads to “beer bars” featuring local brews and, of course, craft beer festivals.
Living in Chicago has privileged me in regards to the quality of, not only beer, but the experiences involved in participating in the beer community. I bought my ticket to the inaugural Egg Harbor Ale Fest with an understanding of what a successful craft beer event should be like and was both pleased and disappointed in the outcome.
First of all, you can’t really beat the scenery of the event grounds in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin. One glance over your shoulder and you’re staring across the bay towards Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; a sight rivaled only by Sarah Palin’s view of Russia, I’m sure. Second, since the festival was in its first year and was held in such a small, tourist town outside of tourist season, there were no lines for tastings. You could pretty much walk up to a brewery’s tent and try each of their offerings without feeling like you’re holding people up. Third, I was able to show my mom and my sister (previously festival virgins) what exactly it is that I’m doing when I tell them I’m going to a beer event (I think my mom had her concerns). They both seemed to really enjoy the concept of sampling and getting an idea of what the variety available to them in the area looks like – which brings me to some of the disappointing items of the day…
One thing that really struck me as odd was that most breweries sent a local sales rep to distribute their product. You would think that selling beer would make them knowledgeable about said beer, but you might be wrong. I felt as though very few reps were interested in even talking about the beer much less having a working knowledge of the ingredients and their product’s flavor profiles. Most descriptions went no further than a mention of the style. There were two breweries (they sent their actual brewers to man their tent) that I had good conversations with; Stone Arch Brewing, located in Appleton, WI and Titletown Brewing, located in Green Bay, WI, both happened to have some of the best beer at the festival.
The only other real disappointment was the lack of food which consisted of one singular tent selling only pulled pork sandwiches (sandwich is generous, slider would be more accurate) that made you do a double take on what came out of your wallet in comparison to what went into your stomach. There are quite a few great restaurants in the area, why not sell a spot on the grounds to local restaurants to offer variety? Oddly enough, a woman from a nearby restaurant was walking around giving samples and we wound up in their bar not long after.
In the end, it’s about beer; lots of beer, lots of good beer! My favorites included Stone Arch Brewing’s Vanilla Stout (Easily one of the best vanilla flavored beers I’ve ever tried), Titletown Brewing’s IPA and Milwaukee Brewing Company’s Hoptoberfest. Overall, it really was a successful and fun event and I’m ecstatic that festivals like this are becoming regular occurrences despite being so far removed from “big” craft beer markets. Days like this only serve to help craft beer grow in an area that has long been waiting to experience a more diverse beer scene.