Soak up the suds and get insider face time at Wisconsin Beer Lovers Festival
It doesn't take a genius to know Wisconsin is serious about its beer. Tastings, beer dinners and festivals are everywhere, and you can't throw a bottle without hitting a craft brewery.
That last part might be a bit of an exaggeration, but there are enough hardworking, passionate brewers in this state to earn it a spot in the top 10 in craft breweries per capita. And there are plenty of thirsty beer lovers that share their enthusiasm.
To celebrate their quality suds and the people that enjoy them, the brewmasters of the Wisconsin Brewers Guild decided to organize a festival of their own. Now in its third year, the Wisconsin Beer Lovers Festival – which returns to the Bayshore Town Center this Saturday – offers a unique chance for the public to get their beer, plus all the information they could want about it, straight from the source.
"You get to visit with the people that make the beer, that started these breweries, and that's an attraction that you don't get at every festival," said John Hamilton, president of Sprecher Brewery and the Wisconsin Brewers Guild. "It's actually the brewmasters and owners of the breweries coming to this event."
"It's all about the Wisconsin Brewers Guild, and it's about what we bring to the table," said Bo Belanger, brewmaster at South Shore Brewery in Ashland and one of the guild members who helped create the festival.
"When we first started doing beer festivals, it was a cool networking kind of fraternity. You got to talk shop a little bit, you got to sample some beers. But, as these beer festivals have grown and grown in numbers we've lost that kind of networking. It's pretty important for our craft brewing industry – the exchanging of information and ideas. We made that a component – not just the sales staff, not just some kind of distributor – the actual people that make all the decisions will be there to meet and greet the public."
The festival will host over 30 Wisconsin breweries and their representatives, who will in turn serve up over 100 different brews. They've also included several local restaurants to serve up specially-made dishes to complement particular beers.
"All of our breweries are paired up with a local restaurant or cheesemaker, so we actually put a fair amount of time making the food and the beer work together," said Hamilton. "Chefs will pick a particular beer from that brewery and pick a food item that it's going to pair nicely with."
"Sometimes you drink a beer and you're like, 'Oh, I know exactly what would go with that!' All of them have different characteristics," said Tony Hargrove, executive chef at Devon Seafood Grill, which is paired with Central Waters this year. "As a chef, you don't always know all the breweries out there or even all the restaurants that are out there, so you also get that opportunity to walk up and down the street and meet some of the other chefs and some of the brewers and talk to them, see what kind of cuisine that they're doing and just pretty much what their restaurant is all about.
"Everybody's so laid back there. It's a great vibe. Brewers are a wonderful group of people. They definitely enjoy sharing their craft with everybody they can, and they're really enthusiastic talking about it."
Beer aficionados and novices alike can share in that enthusiasm from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 16 in the Bayshore Town Center. Tickets are available online for $40, or $20 for Food Lovers (which don't include beer samples). Both include admission, unlimited samples and a chance to spend the afternoon talking with the people behind your favorite craft brews.
"These are passionate people. You don't get into craft brewing unless you're passionate about it. It's a marriage of science and art, more or less," said Belanger. "We'll talk beer until tomorrow or the next day, so if anyone is interested in what makes the product click, that's the time to find out."
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