Sud Savant: Brrr Fest 2011

This past Saturday was the inaugural Brrr Fest in Coralville, IA, future home of Backpocket Brewing, and I had absolute blast. The fact that this festival was indoors in no way dampened its spirit nor the spirits of those attending. There was great craft beer to be had from all over the Midwest and plenty of new breweries that had been unknown to me until this day. I love discovering new beers! Let’s get started, shall we? Wait! First we should make our pretzel necklaces.

The Fest was held in a local hotel that will be a neighbor to the new Backpocket Brewing building. Well, we weren’t gonna miss out on a chance to see a new brewery under construction, right? Maybe we should have. After standing around in the cold for a while, we were let inside the building and saw…(see picture gallery)

OK, so we didn’t see a ton, but we did get to check out the building in its roughest form as well as check out the floor plans for the place. It’s a large open design that will treat patrons to a direct viewing of the brewing and bottling processes. Now onto the fest.

The Grounds: After being led for what seemed like mile after mile of a this hotel/conference center, we were finally close to the festival entrance (thank goodness all this line waiting was Inside of the building). Upon walking in we were treated to the following view (see picture gallery)

It’s a clean, sterile looking environment that, admittedly, lacks the back yard bar-b-que charm of an outdoor gathering. But it’s January and I want to go to a beer festival, so right now this is the best thing out there. In fact, the lack of festivals in the winter is appalling! I’m insanely glad Brrr Fest chose to go this route.

As you can see the doors put you directly in front of copious amounts of beer stands and I wasted no time other than that of me dancing from foot to foot and clapping my hands like a 5-year old on Christmas morning.

The Facilities: The three pictures below describe everything pretty accurately. Big, temperate, and with plenty of elbow room. I thought that Brrr Fest did a great job with the limit they placed on ticket sales. It was plenty full, but no so much that you had to fight a crowd. Lines were always moving well and you could get a sample of a “special release” easily enough if you prepared accordingly.

There was a band playing and it set the mood rather nicely. Some classic rock stuff from what I heard, but that’s the best part… “FROM WHAT I HEARD.” This was not played at the typical outdoor festival levels or those of a live band in your local bar. The volume was actually sensible and I could easily talk to my fellow festival goers. I can’t say how much I appreciate that.

Seating was in the corner to the right of the band and was primarily there for concession stand patrons, but it was never roped off or designated as such. The amount of seating was ample and did not take up space that could have been used for beer.

The number of rinsing stations was average. There were simply pitchers of water and buckets placed upon barrels provided by Cedar Ridge Distillery (YUM!). They pitchers weren’t being filled immediately (which left buckets full of watery beer everywhere), but eventually the staff caught on and did a pretty good job of coming around with a cart full of pitchers and making sure every station had adequate water. As you can see in the pitcture below, there were also more than enough garbage cans provided.

As if that weren’t enough, the barrels were for SALE for only $50! If you were a home brewer intent on making a barrel-aged version of whatever… even if you’re a small brewpub and felt like experimenting a little with one of your proven crowd favorites this provides an amazing opportunity! At least I thought so, but I don’t have a ton of experience buying empty barrels soaked in goodness. Let’s just say that my wife was hoping I wouldn’t find out about the fact that they were for sale.

Brrr Fest will also be receiving extra-glitter-unicorn-brownie-craft-beer points for the following “little details”
1. Providing tasting glasses made with GLASS and not plastic.
2. Providing coat racks for all the people that would not be needing their coats during an indoors festival.
3. Ample parking in both garages and paid lots.

However, they will be deducted points for their programs being essentially black & white print on a booklet of folded 8×11 paper. Good information in there, but not a ton of effort made and no room for tasting notes!

The Beers

1. Granite City – “Batch 1000” Double IPA. I figured it was only appropriate to start the day with my former employer that showed me beer could be more than an adjunct lager or German. The aroma was of honey, pine, and citrus, while the flavor was malty, not sweet, and with a good round bitter.

2. Keg Creek Brewing – Breakdown Brown Ale: Very robust + a nutty roast. They even add some extra bitter for a brown! Nice touch!

3. Keg Creek Brewing – Blackpowder: Smells of cocoa. Flavor is bitter cacao and very robust. Mouthfeel is light considering the dark flavors. Another good job out of Glenwood, IA.

4. Lost Duck Brewing – Porter: A sweet aroma full of dark fruit leads to a flavor laden with raisins, nuts, and citrus behind them. Tasty!

5. Olde Main – Reindeer Fuel: One of their 3 winter seasonals, this beer smelled like milk and a little chocolate. I can only assume that the reindeer they speak of eat almost exclusively oatmeal. The flavor was of course round and smooth as a baby’s bottom with chocolate malts and a light coffee note. The carbonation was a bit high. Unlike anything I’ve ever smelled! Fantastic!

6. Olde Main – Elkman Milk Stout: The aroma was very true to a milk caramel and caramelized sugar. Very cool! The flavor matched this aroma almost perfectly, but added a little bitter for balance. I’d buy this!

I also had their “4 Men & a Buffalo” toward the end of the fest, but the only legible part of my notes reads “roast”. Doh!

7. Peace Tree Brewing – Rye Porter: The nose is smokey and oatmeal creamy. Flavors are strongly of Rye whiskey, oak, and a lighter smoke. Belgian yeasts are barely detectable, but offer a general sweetness. Wow.

8. Peace Tree Brewing – Hop Rangler IPA: Clean citrus aroma and a flavor that is anything but. It’s a spicy, bitter, and earthy IPA. A nice change from the citrus/pine varieties.

9. Peace Tree Brewing – Blonde Fatale: This is a neat Belgian/wheat hybrid. I can’t wait to have this during the summer.

10. Peace Tree Brewing – Templeton Rye Oak Aged Imperial Stout: This was one of the many barrel-aged beers at this festival. I seems that every 4th beer was aged in a barrel. However, this beer was aged in the barrels formerly used to house the famous Templeton Rye. The aroma is, accordingly, RYE. Wow. It’s almost like cherries are in the background and they’re accompanied by a warmth. The flavor, thankfully, is not as strong a rye note. In fact my notes read (in this order): chocolate, rye, smoke, and a light char.

11. Ommegang – Seduction: Poured by a local taphouse. This was welcome since I had not yet been able to pull the trigger on buying a bottle. Served with a nice soapy head, this beer was definitely a Belgian, but with generous amounts of chocolate and alcohol warmth. I’m now closer to pulling the trigger.

12. Rock Bottom Brewing – Chai Latte Stout: The aroma is an INCREDIBLE chai aroma, rich with cinnamon. It has a strong carbonation and a definite brown tea flavor to escort the more traditional stout tones. Very neat!

13. Rock Bottom Brewing – Jarler Juleøl: Pale ale with juniper berries and rye. A Belgian yeast sweetens things and rounds things out nicely.

14. Rock Bottom Brewing – Lagrange: My first reaction to this Black Double IPA? “Oh yeah…” Wow! There’s burnt malt, tons o’ hops, and caramelized sugar in a beer that’s sticky as hell. Good work.

15. Sutliff Cider – Hard Cider: Looks like champagne, but tastes closer to pure, pressed apple juice. It was served with a great head that fizzed out surprisingly quick. Almost perfect clarity. From Lisbon, IA.

16. Toppling Goliath Brewing – Robust Porter: VERY true to its name. This porter is über-robust, dark roasted, bitter, with what seems to be walnut notes.

17. Toppling Goliath Brewing – Zeelander IPA: This beer is made with New Zealand & Nelson hops. The aroma is simply, “WOW!” It’s full of passionfruit and grapefruit. The flavor is bitter and some hop flavors that I was unable to describe. I assume it’s the NZ & Nelson hops that I am unfamiliar with. Later on comes the more familiar pine and grass notes.

18. Toppling Goliath Brewing – Naughty 90 Oaked IPA: The aroma is citrus and clean. The flavor was oak + citrus, but seemed off. They came together almost as soap-like. Disappointing and given the other reviews of this beer, I am hoping that this was simply an off batch/growler. It did end with a nice bitter.

19. Toppling Goliath Brewing – Morning Delight: So I wasn’t actually poured a sample of this. My friend Kelly was poured a sample for this. I’m not sure how she managed this, but I don’t especially care since she gave me a sip of it. According to subsequent conversations in the Twitterverse only about 10 people were poured this during the entire festival. Let me just say this. Founders, watch your back. This is almost dead on to CBS without the maple syrup flavor added. It is thick, silky, and on par with anything on the national, nay, global craft beer market. I would trade half my cellar for 2 growlers of this stuff. No BS.

20. Worth Brewing Co. – Bar Belle Blonde Ale: The nose on this is insanely infused with flowers. Both my wife and I, in isolated tastings mind you, decided that this beer smells like paperwhites! Such a strong, floral aromatic nose! The flavor was honey and light Belgian yeasts. I would have liked to have had this earlier in the festival to have given it a better review!

21. Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales – Fuego de Antonio: I was disappointed that I didn’t make it for the 3:00 pm pouring of their Noel de Calabaza, but I’m glad I made it for this one as it was the only sour that I had during the entire festival. The aroma on this was almost all a very pungent Brett, but did have a few musty notes to it. This is one funky smelling Fuego! The aroma is, of course, sour, but not without some spice (cinnamon?) and more of the horse blanket mustiness.

22. Brau Brothers Brewing – Moo Joos: A sweet aroma of roasted malt and chocolate. A flavor more akin to a dull chocolate syrup and a light char.

23. Lucky Bucket Brewing – PreProhibition Lager: It smells like a lager with citrus! A pleasant surprise!

The Food: Can’t really speak to the food as I did not eat any, but it seemed like typical concession stand fare (pizza slices, brats, candy, soda, water, nachos, etc) for reasonable prices.

The Debauchery: (see picture gallery)These pictures will now be shown to embarrass all the people that went with me. They were great company for a very fun afternoon! In case anyone was wondering, we did NOT drive immediately home. We had a nice, long dinner first. I’ll start by embarrassing myself.

This was a great idea and Backpocket did a great job of putting it all together (at least, I assume they put it all together). My only regret is that I did not get to try a lot of the beers that I know and enjoy, such as Backpocket, Great River, Bent River, Cedar Ridge Distillery, Millstream, Goose Island, Breckenridge, New Belgium, Crispin, Boulevard, Schlafly, O’Fallon (my wife is especially fond of their smoked porter), Lake Front, Potosi, Sprecher, & Point. And that’s STILL not even all the brewers that were there. I wisely spent my time experimenting with brewers and/or brews that I had not tried before.

My only suggestions for Brrr Fest next year?
1. Make it longer
2. Hotel packages for out of towners?
3. We’re gonna need more than 1-2 pitchers at a rinse station. How about a cooler? Pony keg?

Congratulations to Toppling Goliath and Peace Tree for becoming celebrities of this event. Longest lines, special releases, tons of beers… good work. The event as a whole was a definite success and I look forward to getting my hands on some more of those eastern Iowa beers next year. If I can wait that long.

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!