2nd Annual Milwaukee Brewfest

(Please click over to my post on The Brew Bros to show them some support if you have time, and if you live in the PHX East Valley, be sure to comment to be entered to win an evening of beer tasting with The Brew Bros on Sunday, August 28th!)

Lately it seems there’s a new beer festival popping up every other day and each one is claiming to be the best in the state, region, or country – and occasionally world – before they even open their doors to the masses of craft beer lovers.  The Milwaukee Brewfest, however, isn’t quite ready to bestow upon itself such a grandiose title until it lives up to everybody’s expectations and can provide enough of what the people want in a beer festival.

We continue to learn from your feedback and will make every effort to make this the best festival in the Midwest.  We certainly couldn’t ask for a better city than Milwaukee to host this event and can’t wait to do it all over again.

– Milwaukee Brewfest

It certainly didn’t disappoint, regardless of 2011 only being its second year in existence.

July 30th, 2011 was the day thousands of people flocked to Milwaukee for what it’s become known best for:  beer.  But not just any beer – craft beer, in a city where Miller reigns supreme and the state baseball team is named for its history with fermented beverages…in a stadium named after the macro brewing company.  It’s a hard bubble to burst out of if you aren’t sure what you’re looking for.  That’s why festivals like this are so important, they allow people to experiment and wander outside of their comfort zones for next to nothing, when you consider what’s being offered, and with minimal risk, in light of the circumstances.

It’s a pretty sweet deal, especially when you’re at a new festival that can brag (without being elitist) about offering over 60 craft breweries, both local and worldwide, as well as a sell-out crowd that consists of the whole spectrum of beer lovers, from the hardcore macro-imbibers, to those who have never heard of Left Hand, Bell’s, or Lakefront, to those who have been homebrewing and drinking craft beer for upwards of 30 years.  Obviously none of these groups are exclusive and there is a plethora of combinations, but what I’m trying to say is that any event that can bring all of these people together for one general commonality, well, it’s a beautiful thing.

I flew from Arizona to take my dad to this festival in McKinley Park after looking for an excuse to visit my home state while further educating my family about the joys of local and craft beer.  Not that I need any more of an excuse than being able to see my family for a few days, but sometimes you just need something to keep sane more, you know?  One of the best things that has risen from my discovery and exploration of craft beer has been my relationship with my father.  For as long as I can remember, he’s always been a beer drinker, and has an iron stomach to show for it.  Unfortunately, I could never really get into drinking Miller Lite, except while in college, but I make no excuses other than that being poor and underage doesn’t help to promote voyages (independent or otherwise) into the land of good beer.  Regardless, attending events like the Milwaukee Brewfest have helped to broaden my horizons and now that I’m legal, I can fly back to the dairy land for beer and bring my dad with me to teach him a thing or two.

Having never heard of 95% of the breweries present, my dad was completely at a loss when we were finally allowed to enter the grassy field of tents flowing with suds.  Three enormous white tents radiated in the afternoon sunlight, even more striking against the cloudless cerulean sky, while the warm grass glistened with the last drops of dew.  Small birds were flitting between big old oak trees lining the perimeter of the venue, geese were honking in the bay next to the grounds, and a line of 200+ anxious people armed with VIP tickets and fanny packs were shifting and mingling, ready to charge the gates at the first opening creak.  Luckily there wasn’t a massive swell once the event staff finally unlocked the entrance, but I could tell people had been planning for this and some had mapped out a route through all three large tents and around the edge, where individual brewery tents had been set up, as well as timed when they wanted to visit the VIP tent, eat, and use the restroom.  My dad stepped in and looked utterly confused, so I offered we start around the outside and work our way in, as everyone else had bum rushed the center.  We were given a small Whole Foods bag containing a pint glass with the Milwaukee Brewfest logo, a bottle opener, and a map of the venue that included times of certain exhibits.  Taking our time to work around the outside, we made it through about 10 breweries (averaging about 2 tastings at each) before taking a break for some grub.
Once we filled our beer-laden bellies with some local food, we were ready to get going again, and headed straight for the VIP tent.  Neither of us knew what to expect when we finally squeezed ourselves into the shade, until we got a good look at some of the black buckets and their accompanying beer lists.  Some of the beers included were: Oskar Blues G’Knight, New Holland Dragon’s Milk, New Belgium Super Grand Cru, Southern Tier Mokah Porter, Founders Devil Dancer, Tommyknocker Hop Strike, Jolly Pumpkin Roja and Luciérnega, Goose Island Fleur, Lagunitas Lucky 13, Avery Collaboration Not Litigation, Anchor Fog Horn Barley Wine, Nebraska Apricot au Poivre, and a whole display by 5 Rabbit Cerveceria.  We didn’t get to try everything, but I made sure to point my dad to the paler brews while I convinced the servers I was ready for more.

Not wanting to spend too much time in the small area reserved for those of us who spent $5 more to get in a whole 2 hours earlier, we sauntered through the first large tent with relative ease, taking our time sipping at different styles and discussing our thoughts, but as the day wore on, it became more and more difficult to push our way to the beer pourers.  I seemed to get through the masses a little easier, and I’m not sure if it was because I’m a woman or because I don’t mind nudging people out of the way to get a beer, but it was an interesting observation.  As the general admission tickets were accepted, the venue swarmed with people who wanted two things:  a beer, and to get out of the sun.  I can’t remember the last time I was in Wisconsin and it wasn’t cloudy to some degree, but the day of the festival was bright and hot – reaching about 90º.  I might as well have been in Phoenix, except the grass was greener in Milwaukee…and the festival was a lot cheaper.  I’ll definitely be back to make this a yearly tradition with my family, especially considering that my younger brother and his girlfriend will be able to join us next year.  My only hope is that New Glarus will eventually join in on the fest, as they are a key player in the Wisconsin craft beer scene.

After finally making it through the final tent with a few spills, bumps, and temporary tattoos adorning my arms, we started slowing down.  With another hour to go, we had made it through almost every brewery on premise and had tried well over 70 beers each, at least that’s when I stopped counting.  We grabbed some more food (dad was coerced into trying alligator on a stick – 40% real alligator, the rest was chicken and pork, and I tried a tuna salad wrap) and sat on the picnic tables lining the middle of the field and listened to the crowd as it swelled around us.  We looked at each other, exhausted, sunburnt, and a little drunk, shook hands and smiled.  “Want to go to a bar?”  My dad had survived his first (6 hour) beer event and was still ready for more.  I stood up and grabbed his arm, “That’s why I’m here!”  Like father, like daughter.

For a full list of breweries that attended and poured at the event, click here.  

Visit the Milwaukee Brewfest Facebook page for information on next year’s festival, July 28th, 2012!

Gallery of many more photos below, click through to enjoy!

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