This is the second of three festivals that I will have attended in under a month. Needless to say, my wife is a very patient person. There was a lot going on with this festival and I’ll just start right from the beginning.
The Grounds: The grounds were basically a city block in downtown Rockford, IL. While this does allow for plenty of parking of varying distances, it unfortunately places us in the midst of the asphalt jungle. We were surrounded by tall older buildings with some pretty neat architectural features which eventually provided great shade as the festival continued into the afternoon.
Since this was held on a city block, the seating was extremely limited. There were a few bunches of metal patio furniture set up, but I’m not sure of those were courtesy of the festival or if they were the regular offering of the restaurants they were placed in front of. A handful of circular city benches were also available, but fell far short of accommodating all those needing seating.
As you can see from the photos, tents ran down the center of the street with areas for traffic on the sidewalk and gutter areas. This didn’t leave a lot of room for moving around. Or seating. Or porta potties. Or shade through the midday hours. I feel bad mentioning this early and putting a bad spin on the festival, since as a whole I really enjoyed myself, however this was one of my main gripes with the fest.
The Facilities: Bathrooms were 5 porta potties, with one hand sanitizing station located at only one end of the fenced in festival area. Not really impressive, but the lines were never too long and everybody got along fine.
Less that 15′ from the Goose Island booth. I found ONLY ONE glass/mouth rinsing station which was a kegerator (the type of which one could find online with a crudely taped sign stuck to the front of it. I found it one hour into the festival and it was already empty. Boo.
The tents were large enough to accommodate the featured brewers, and maybe the fest-goers who were immediately being served – that was about it. Anybody looking for shade was forced to wait until the surrounding tall buildings naturally provided it as the sun set.
The Food: To their credit the food tent was not a tent at all, in fact, it was a half city block adjacent to one end of the festival. That means plenty of room to browse the different offerings and plenty of room to stand around eating it because there was no seating other than the curb that wasn’t taken up by food tents. Lots of local food vendors were selling their wares from small individual tents/booths. The selection was good: ribs, a chocolatier (!), brick oven pizza, sausages, cheese curds and a few other local restaurants including the Olympic Tavern. The only food I had during the fest was from said pizza tent (Woodfire Brick Oven Pizza) and it was fantastic. They were actually using their hands to mold the dough to the pan, “painting” it with what appeared to be butter on the outer edge, and adding fresh ingredients. It was extremely tasty. They also were offering free water and root beer for designated drivers.
The Beer: No complaints here! For a fest of this size they certainly came to represent and so did their brewers. Before I even get into the beer, some of the vendors had some pretty cool “accessories” for their booths (notably Left Hand). Check it out!
In no particular order, here are the vast majority of the beers I sampled and their 2 second review.
1. Southern Tier – Cuvee Series One: I had to taste this one twice even if it was extra tickets. There was so much going on in this big, big, mouth-filling, well-bodied beer that you can’t taste it all in one go. My notes read, “smells AMAZBALLS! Flavors of oak, cherry. Perfect warmth, vanilla, brown sugar, syrupy, and carmelized. Wow!”
2. Stone – 15th Anniversary: An Imperial BIPA that does the Stone name proud. I had this at the MWBF and it again did not disapoint. It smells of earth and pinecones or as I exclaimed in an overly-exicted state perhaps brought on by trace amounts of alcohol, “It smells like the forest floor!” The taste is earth, pine, toffee, and coffee. What a brew!
3. Smuttynose – Older Brown Dog: Wow did this pour thick and with the color of a burnt honey or a light caramel hue. An aroma of warmth, vanilla, and oak. Body and overall tone of a quad or tripel, but without the Belgian leanings. This beer was earth, molasses, dark fruits, and moderate alcohol. A BIG beer.
4. Capital – Autumnal Fire: A very round flavor. Bigger than a traditional Oktoberfest. Amazing color, just as the name implies. I was only disappointed that I don’t believe I got the full experience of this beer. It had Belgian notes in it, but I assume ONLY because I had just had a Goose Island and there were, as aforementioned, a distinct lack of rinsing stations. I’ll have to look around for this on again.
5. Carlyle Brewing Co. – Vanilla Creme Ale: This is a local brewer from Rockford and I was excited to try any and/or all of their beers because of the amount of local buzz it generates. It also has a pretty good look (aka marketing) to it. Check it out below. This beer’s aroma was ridiculous! It smelled of cake batter and vanilla. Wow! No strong alcohol like Southern Tier’s Creme Brulee, just sugary sweet goodness. The flavor had a hard time living up to such an amazing introduction, though still pretty tasty. The flavor was much more cream-based and was complimented by a lighter body and low carbonation.
6. Carlyle Brewing Co. – The New IPA: A great wet, soapy head on this and a great ocher color. Lots of resin flavor and bitter. Light body, low carbonation, crisp, drying, refreshing, and awesome lacing. Carlyle also earns extra brownie points for being the ONLY brewer at the entire. friggin’ festival. to have a tap of just water to rinse out your tasting glass. Kudos folks. Thanks for thinking of us.
7. Carlyle Brewing Co. – Black Walnut Stout: Doesn’t that sound delcious? It did to me too! Unfortunately I was let down. With no real aroma, a light body, light flavor, clean finish, and light bitter this beer could have weighed in as an OK brown, but not a stout. It was their only beer I was disappointed in. However, knowing the festival environment can often be less than ideal for a true tasting, I’m more than willing to give this beer a second chance. The name just sounds too good not too.
8. Crispin Cider – Fox Barrel Blackberry Pear: It is everything that its name implies. An uber-light body and high carbonation make it less of a substantial cider offering. Its flavor was tasty, straightforward, and sweet but could be quite enjoyable if in the mood for such a thing (and not seeking out whatever imperials the fest had to offer). I had some sips of their other offerings (Honey Crisp!) procured by my wife that were much better and excellent ciders in general.
9. Founders – Centennial IPA: Very citrusy aroma and a great bitter.
10. Founders – Breakfast Stout: Thick, heavy, with a dark brown head. Flavors of raw sugar, coffee, and light chocolate. Wow! A excellent, sharp, bitter finish.
11. Galena Brewing Co. – West Coast IPA: Starts out like a red by being very malty and creamy. In fact, it has a very complex malt, a light hop finish, and a balanced clean aftertaste. Not what I would call a West Coast IPA (at all), but that doesn’t make it a bad beer. Just grossly mislabeled.
12. Galena Brewing Co. – Old Uly Oatmeal Stout: Named after Ulysses S. Grant and his history with the area of Galena, IL, this is a beer of which the general would be proud. Very earthy, with light chocolate and coffee notes. This is very tasty and I lament missing this brewery at MWBF all the more.
13. Gray’s Brewing Co. – Oatmeal Stout: This is a microbrewery out of Janesville, WI. It’s probably no further than 25 minutes from where I was born, so I had to give this hometown brewer a try. Aroma was light, but smelled like a nutty oatmeal stout. Nice, even if I do like my stouts a bit more robust. The flavor was very creamy and not very bitter. Good body. Lots of oatmeal in this one, but not so much stout. I wish I had the opportunity to try more of their beers.
14. Goose Island – Pere Jacques: Dupel. More dark fruit than I remembered or expected, but it is pierced with a bright, but not sour, citrus and caramel. A very nice blend.
15. Left Hand – Black Jack Porter: To be honest, this was the first beer I had and it went down waaaaay to quickly. I remember it being good. I remember coffee. That is all.
16. Metropolitan Brewing Co. – : Krankshaft Kolsch: Big aroma, a bit drier, but it smells of apples and is crisp and bright. Not cidery at all. The flavor is of mellow malt, not sweet, fairly grainy with an ever light citrus. Well carbonated and with a clean, dry finish.
17. Potosi – Black IPA: Aroma is piney and light citrus. Flavor is char, resin, and a light, nice bitter finish that is slightly drying.
18. Samuel Adams – Imperial Stout: Lots of chocolate, vanilla/caramel, and a little alcohol with an authentic coffee finish and THEN a pronounced bitter. This was very good and one of the reasons that all the people who pooh-pooh Samuel Adams for being too big are ridiculous. It’s not about the size of the brewer, people. It’s all about the beer.
19. Samuel Adams – Cream Stout: Not creamy like an oatmeal stout, it is more cream-as-in-a-cream-ale type cream. This makes it sweeter than expected and with an odd bite for a stout. This is one of the beers that I wish I had a better environment to give it a true, in-depth tasting.
20. Smuttynose – Pumpkin: Spiced, delicate pumpkin. In that order. Far from overdone with a nice bitter.
21. Southern Tier – Pumking: Smells MUCH sweeter and creamier than other pumpkin seasonals. It is also less spicy, but offers more pumpkin flavors. Not pumpkin sweetness, just actual pumpkin flavor.
22. Lost Abbey – Inferno: This is their Golden Ale and it is a duzey! It has lighter Belgian tones than expected in a golden strong ale, but THEN comes a flavor like a banana crème. It is accompanied by a great carbonation, a little sour, and a little warmth. There is an unusual, awesome, balancing bitter. Almost hints of champagne! Very neat and I need to find this one again.
22. Finch’s – Cut Throat IPA: Aroma of crisp citrus. Flavor? Fresh. Wow! Lots of pine and “lymon.” For those of you unfamiliar with lymon, I strongly suggest that you go watch some old Sprite commercials (not that this beer tastes like Sprite at all). Go find this and drink it.
23. Founders – Kentucky Breakfast Stout: I saved this one for last for a reason. This is the first time that I have had KBS. The worst part is I don’t even live that far from Michigan (relatively)! It was served in bottles and after all its hub-bub, rarity, clamor, and high rankings on various lists I was very ready to get my hands on some.
Luckily, I was in front of the line as I got there 20 minutes before the pour time, and my wait time was not in vain. This beer is ridiculous delicious! A strong aroma of coffee and cocoa are only a hint of what is to come. The flavor is incredibly complex. It is also a very big beer without being overwhelming. It was sip after sip of cocoa, molasses, raw sugar, warmth, and toffee. My note reads, “AMAZballs blend.” Each flavor flowing into and complimenting the next. The finish is coffee, boozy, walnuts, and an espresso bitter. As it lingers in the mouth it becomes more nutty, but still shows its coffee roots and a moderate bitter. I can finally check this off of my list of “beers I must try” and I couldn’t be happier about that.
Miscellaneous: These observations don’t really fit into any other category, but I felt they were worth mentioning. Some the fest had control over, some it didn’t.
1. “The Line” This was one of the things the fest should’ve had control over, but didn’t. When entering the fest at almost the exact start time, the line was already stretched back 2 city blocks.
Not only was the line huge, but there were TWO of them, with the one on the left being much shorter. Why weren’t more people in that line? No one really knew. It’s because there weren’t any signs. No line knew exactly what they were waiting for unless, like me, you walked to the front to ask what the heck was going on. Some people waiting in one line, only to be told that upon reaching the front that they needed to be in the other line. They waited in line twice. Long lines. People were not happy. This lack of signage was also notable when trying to find fest designated parking or the fest itself in downtown Rockford. Sure, most people have lived there their whole lives, but I haven’t been back to the downtown Rockford area in quite some time and some signage would have been appreciated.
2. The people. This is one of the things that the fest had no say over. While in Rockford I did happen to catch some old friends from high school and my wife found a friend from college. How cool!? It’s just little surprises like that that help make things a little more… fun. I struck up conversations with lots of folks there and was very pleased with all of the interactions. There’s a reason they say that “Craft beer people are good people.” I even got to meet Matt from BeerDownload.com, though like a mythical Sasquatch, I was not able to snap a photo quickly enough.
3. The Homebrewing Tent. This thing had quite the extensive spread of beer ingredients for people to smell, sample, and learn about. They also had plenty of books and education pamphlets – they’re not just for the school nurse anymore.
4. The middle of a great day. This is definitely not something that the festival could not have controlled. In full disclosure, this festival fell right in the middle of a perfect day. In the morning I went early season goose hunting with my dad and an old friend, I then went to a beer festival with my wife (not every guy has a wife that wants to go), and then I visited with my parents, had an amazing dinner, and then fell asleep in front of a bonfire with a New Glarus beer on an brisk fall night with a bright, full moon. Perfect.
1. Commandeer the waterfront park. Perhaps I don’t understand the logistics of holding a festival (a distinct possibility as I have never thrown one), or maybe it just was reserved already, but Rockford has a waterfront park where they regularly hold festivals including their “On the Waterfront” summer music fest and it would have been, from what I remember, a much more preferable location. I’m not sure how it would be easier to get a city to cordon off several city blocks, but not have a festival in a park. Parking for either would be ample, but holding the fest in the waterfront park would have remedied many of the issues that, while not the utter downfall of the fest, made it less pleasant: space, seating (even grass), shade from occasional trees.
2. The Lines. Fix ’em. More people manning the gates during the opening time and….
3. The signage. How about some parking signs? Signs to designate which line I need to stand in? Those would be helpful
4. Better facilities. This should read, “more porta-potties, a hand-washing station, more trash cans, and more than one depleted, hastily labeled rinsing station,” but that wouldn’t be a nice concise bullet point, now would it?
All in all, this was a pretty awesome fest and the gripes that I have don’t take away from the fact that there were more beers there than I could try, the brewers that came brought their game faces, the food was tasty and unique, the weather was pretty perfect, and the price was low for general admission tickets ($25). I’d definitely go back next year (it HAS already been scheduled) and with their open solicitation of patron feedback, I’m sure next year will be even better! Cheers SCBF folks!
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!