Sud Savant: Midwest Brewers Fest 2011

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.

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.

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.

Food: 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.

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 of Chicago 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.

Joel R. Kolander is the Cheif Blogger for Sud Savant, a beer-savoring blog for the rest of us. We’re not here to get plowed. We’re not here because we are world-famous beer critics. We’re here because we enjoy savoring a great beer with even better friends. Sharing great beer is just as amazing as finding it in the first place. Lets share!