Some of us at MBR are a little newer to the whole "craft beer" thing than others. Prior to last year, I would have classified Heineken as a quality beer and my experience with imports was limited to Labatt's, Molson, Corona, and Guiness. I had no idea things like "The Great American Beer Fest" even existed, let alone the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild and their world-reknown Great Taste of the Midwest.
Of course, I had heard of Oktoberfest in Germany, but couldn't have told you that it was held in Munich, let alone in September. Hell, I couldn't have circled the Bavaria Region of Germany (Bavaria is in Germany!?!) on a map. The extent of my interaction with Belgium was a vague knowledge of their soccer league (I'm still not entirely sure how I came into possession of a Club Brugge soccer jersey). And the fact that Guiness is in Ireland really held no special significance except that I knew I could drink it on St. Patty's Day with abandon.
In other words, I wasn't the full-blooded, regional craft beer snob that you see before you today. I thought beverage snobbery was relegated to wine and scotch. Little did I know. After all, beer is ... well ... beer. It's something that you consume with a bong for God's sake (we'll ignore the snobbery and conoisseurship of other items that can be consumed in bongs). When was the last time you saw a wine bong? Or a scotch bong? Standing on your head to drink beer is considered a skill.
But beer, unlike wine and scotch, is a social drink. While wine parties exist and scotch parties, too, they are nothing to the all-night kegger. Wine parties are something that you invite your close friends to and sip while discussing whether Bitsy is handling her pregancy well, or whether Tad is going to get that offer of partnership. Scotch is best consumed in a dark room with your closest confidantes with an "imported" cuban cigar. But beer. There's an exuberance, an interactivity, to beer that makes it perfect to consume in quantities with total strangers.
Of course beer doesn't have to be consumed a dozen at a time. Pouring a Sam Adams Uptopia (25% abv) into a snifter to be sipped gently (pinky sticking straight out of course) while reading Kant and Vonnegut is about as far from your typical evening with beer as you can get. Yet, both the kegged American light lager and the American strong ale are part of our (American) brewing language. Neither is more, or less, authentic beer than the other. There is a place in the lexicon for both.
And, this dichotomy of ranges, but inclusiveness of tastes, is what makes beer fests like Mount Horeb's Thirsty Troll Brew Fest, such great events. Hippies, lawyers, college kids, tourists (hippie law students from Iowa?), and the curious all packed into Grundahl Park to sip everything from Spotted Cow to Autumnal Fire. Packed under the big tent on a beautiful last-day-of-summer, the hordes could take their complimentary 4 oz sampler glass up to any one of dozens of breweries and brew pubs and sample any one of almost one hundred beers, sodas, and wines.
As for the event itself; it seemingly went off without a hitch. We were greeted with a brewery list, useful pencil (provided by this fine site with a handsome "www.madisonbeerreview.com" stenciling), a sampler glass, and a little marble to drop into a bucket of our favorite brewery. There were no long lines or long waits. There could have been more food. The music, by Madison favorites The Kissers, was surprisingly good.
It's the fifth year the Mount Horeb Chamber of Commerce has put on this event. The Thirsty Troll Brew Fest is gloriously Wisconsin-centric. Only three breweries were from out of state (to be fair, there were two out-of-state no-shows) but even those three are widely available and loved here (Bells, Goose Island and Summit). It acts as a great showcase for the craft brewing industry in Wisconsin (we'll put "craft" in quotes though, since, as we've discussed before it's seems difficult to lump Leinies, or even Goose Island, or Sprecher into the "craft" label). If only more had shown (or been invited?). It would be nice to see Viking, Central Waters, and some of the other "North Woods" breweries represented; but practically every major Southern Wisconsin craft brewery was there (though no Lakefront, and no Brewery Creek). The beers they brought were representative of their breweries. My only qualm is that, with the exception of Goose Island's Matilda, Capital's Autumnal Fire and two beers from Sprecher, there were very few "special" beers there. Tyranena did not bring their Brewers Gone Wild series; no specialties from New Glarus, Grays, Ale Asylum, Lake Louie, Sand Creek, or Summit.
Being Wisconsin-centric and the end of summer the beers themselves were mostly wheats and lighter beers. A few brought along their Oktoberfests and IPAs. But there were very few porters or stouts or dark lagers. That isn't a complaint; just an observation. For me, the winner of the day was Stonefly, a small brewpub near UW-M in Milwaukee. With names like "Moustache Ride Pale Ale" and an IPA that triggers twitches it's so bitter, it's exactly the type of small brewer striking it on their own that makes Wisconsin such an exciting place for beer lovers.
The fact that Stonefly and Leinies can co-exist under the same tent makes the Thirsty Troll Brew Fest such a fine exhibition of Wisconsin beer. So, kudos to Mount Horeb. Thanks for the fine beers and the local breweries. We look forward to the brew fest reappearance next year; hopefully your continued success will bring more Wisconsin breweries into the fold.