Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

October 11, 2007

Event Review:

Beer Fest, Mad-City Style

The Beer Dorks conquer the 14th Annual Quivey’s Grove Beer Fest
by Nigel Tanner

"It takes beer to make thirst worthwhile."
Contact Nigel»
October 6th was a beautiful day in the Midwest, a picturesque late Indian summer afternoon filled with bright sunshine, unseasonably warm temperatures, and colorful leaves glistening on the trees (and black walnuts beaning people in the head). However, these things have little to do with why it was beautiful. October 6th also marked the 14th Annual Quivey’s Grove Beer Fest in Madison, Wisconsin, and Nigel, Eddie Glick, and Jug Dunnigan were on hand for the festivities, along with a select few friends of the Dorks. This year’s event featured 34 craft brewers, many from the Madison area, as well as a number of the better-known Wisconsin and national brewers. Approximately 75 beers were on tap, so needless to say, if you were unable to get buzzed at the Grove, you have serious issues.

As is typical of this event, Quivey’s Grove sold out nearly a month ahead of time, with tickets priced at $30 a piece. The line getting into the Fest looked as though it stretched all the way to State Street, but clearly the folks at Quivey’s knew what to expect as we were shuffled in very quickly when the gates opened at noon. Ample space was available, with plenty of picnic tables and lawn space for blankets and portable chairs. Numerous porta-potties provided adequate relief, despite being placed on radioactive blacktop. A few food items were offered, priced at major league ballpark rates, but were good nonetheless (Nigel’s brat was the size of a WWII submarine).

Nothing too unusual to report among the festival goers, as the crowd ranged in age from college students to early retirement and all seemed to be enjoying the festivities on a fine day (despite the news of the Badgers falling to Illinois). The biggest hype seemed to revolve around the highly respected and better known breweries from outside the Badger State, but ample buzz also permeated for the local little-guys who were able to get their 15 minutes of fame. I’ll review Quivey’s Grove by using the standard, lame-ass “Top 5/Bottom 5” list, though, just to be different, I’m adding one to each. So, without further ado, it’s time for “Nigel’s Top and Bottom Six from the 14th Annual Quivey’s Grove Beer Fest.”

The Splendid Six:
6. Flying Dog. While not much buzz surrounded this widely distributed Denver brewer, major, major credit should be given to them for offering what many regarded as their two finest brews, Double Dog Double Pale Ale and Gonzo Imperial Porter. I’m surprised more people weren’t in line to sample these special-edition, uber-ballsy brews, though this may be due to the fact that the pourers looked like college kids who seemed far more interested in flirting with the local scenery (which, by the way, there was no shortage of) than promoting good beer.

5. Dogfish Head and Rogue. Neither of these well-known breweries had anything terribly spectacular to offer on tap (Festina Peche and Punkin’ Ale for DFH, Dry Hopped Red, Shakespeare Stout, and the interesting Chipotle Ale for Rogue), but their mere presence created quite a boost for the credibility of the event.

4. Bell’s. Though already widely known throughout the Midwest and not needing to prove anything, Bell’s supplemented their relatively timid offerings of Lager of the Lakes and Best Brown with a nice surprise: cask-conditioned Two Hearted Ale. Nigel, Eddie, and Jug all scooped some up early before it quickly disappeared, and were glad for the experience. Also, props to Bell’s for providing so much free stuff that by the time everybody left, you’d have thought they were the only brewery there.

3. Ale Asylum, Great Dane, and Grumpy Troll. These small but respected local breweries had a nice platform in which to show off, creating a lot of buzz and fairly long lines. Great Dane and Grumpy Troll seem to have taken full advantage of this with solid, tasty offerings (Oktoberfest and Old Glory Pale Ale for GD, Maggie Imperial IPA and Spetsnaz for GT). Ale Asylum was not so fortunate, as many (including the Beer Dork crew) were hugely disappointed with their Diablo Dubbel. Honorable mention here should go to nearby Tyranena, who was solid as usual with Bitter Woman IPA and Chief Blackhawk Porter.

2. Brewery Ommegang. This Cooperstown, New York maker of craft Belgian ales was a welcome addition to the Fest and proceeded to prove why with the fantastic offerings of Hennipen Farmhouse Ale, a saison, and Rare Vos Belgian Style Amber, a Belgian dark ale. Both were awesome brews, and there seemed to be a very positive response to the Ommegang crew throughout the afternoon.

1. Lake Louie. A no-brainer here. This tiny brewery from nearby, equally-tiny Arena, Wisconsin, clearly blew away the competition. Lake Louie easily had the longest lines throughout the day, mainly because of the timed release of brews as the afternoon progressed: Louie's Reserve Scotch Ale, Mr. Mephisto's Imperial Stout, and (surprise!) Lake Louie Warped Speed Scotch Ale. This was proof positive that if Lake Louie can find a way to expand their operations, they could quickly take the Midwest by storm. (Boo to Milwaukee Ale House for offering their “Louie’s Demise Amber Ale” right next door.)

Honorable Mention: South Shore Brewery, with three great offerings and merchandise despite being a relatively small, remote brewery; Sprecher, Capital, and New Glarus for offering good selections (Piper’s Scotch for Sprecher, Autumnal Fire for Capital, Uff da Bock and Staghorn for NG), New Holland for their Pilgrim’s Dole and Ichabod, and to Jug Dunnigan, whose homebrews were far and away the best beer I had all day.

The Super-Sucky Six:
6. Lakefront Brewery. I’m SHOCKED that I have to put Lakefront on this list, as I LOVE this brewery. However, even looking past the so-so selections of Riverwest Stein Beer and Pumpkin Ale (appropriate given the season) my main disappointment was the service. The guy working the mostly-empty booth had the personality of a paperweight (odd given the super-fun environment you experience at the brewery), and poured—literally—one sip in the glass. While the Pumpkin Ale was met with fairly positive reviews, the ambiance was pathetic, a far cry from what you’d normally expect from this typically fun-loving, quality Milwaukee craft brewer.

5. City Brewery. OK, it’s not like anybody expected much form this brewery that is housed in the giant former G. Heileman brewery in La Crosse, Wisconsin, but honestly people … La Crosse Lager on tap at a craft beer festival? Why don’t you just piss in a cup—it’d be far better than this macro-clone swill. Pathetic.

4. August Schell, Berghoff, Leinenkugel’s, and Stevens Point. Nothing out of the ordinary here, just shitty “craft” breweries (how’s the Miller/Coors merger treating you, Leinie’s?) who had absolutely NOTHING to offer in a sea of quality beer.

3. Fauerbach, Hausmann, and J.T. Whitney’s. While I wasn’t expecting much from these Madison-based micros, this could have been a breakout day for otherwise unknown commodities. Not to be. Despite being in their own backyard, they created NO buzz, and the booths were empty for a vast majority of the afternoon. Not only were the brews met with a collective yawn, Nigel’s post-Fest research shows that Fauerbach and Hausmann brews are made at Gray’s in Janesville, which may explain why the Gray’s booth was smack-dab in the middle of them. I’m guessing nobody is rushing back to Madison to stock up on these lame offerings.

2. Minhas. First of all, to trace the origins of Minhas, I’d suggest reading my review for Berghoff Pale Ale. The former Huber Brewery in Monroe, Wisconsin was bought by Canadian siblings who use it to brew their “Canadian craft” selections (if that doesn’t turn you off, nothing will), which were available at the Minhas booth (Berghoff had a separate booth). The Mountain Creek Lager would give La Crosse Lager a run for its money as worst beer at the Fest, and the Lazy Mutt Farmhouse Ale is—intentionally, mind you—a pathetic attempt to copy New Glarus’ popular Spotted Cow. Please, Minhas, keep your shit in Canada, get distribution with Molson, and don’t even try to pretend that you can compete with the wide variety of phenomenal craft brews located only a few miles from your brewery. I honestly wanted to picket outside of their booth because I think what Minhas is doing is thoroughly disgusting.

1. The guy who dipped his glass in the rinse tub. Yeah, it’s true. While Nigel didn’t personally witness this, Astrochick, the official editor-in-chief did, and knowing her for many years, I know she didn’t make this up. Apparently the water coming out of the rinse pipes didn’t flow fast enough for his tastes, so he dipped his glass right in the tub, hoping nobody would notice. This is not only incredibly disgusting, but also illegal, as those rinse tubs are property of Leinenkugel’s, and are to be sent directly to Miller so they can used in the first batch of Apple Spice. Dude, you’re just nasty.

Honorable Mention: Angry Minnow and Central Waters, for being small, quality Wisconsin craft brewers who were inexplicably absent from a potential platform for their products. It also would have been nice to see brewers like Michigan’s Dark Horse, Founders, and Jolly Pumpkin, Minnesota’s Surly, northern Illinois’ Two Brothers, and Cleveland-based Great Lakes (perhaps preoccupied with Indians playoff games). Any of these would have been a welcome addition to an already spectacular fest.

The Beer Dorks crew would recommend ya’ll attend the 15th Annual event, which will be held September 28, 2008. We hope to see you there.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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