Beer here!
A guide to Wisconsin's craft-brewing festivals

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Russ Klisch, co-owner of Milwaukee's Lakefront Brewery, the state's second largest craft-brewing company. -PHOTO: Courtesy

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Thirsty Troll BrewFest in Mt. Horeb

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Door County Beer Festival, Baileys Harbor -PHOTO: Courtesy

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Two revelers at the Milwaukee Firkin Beer Fest. –PHOTO: Melissa Miller

With Milwaukee Beer Week (isn’t that every week?) winding to a close on May 3 and Madison Craft Beer Week firing up on May 2, one thing is perfectly clear: Beer season is upon us.

Wisconsin’s brewing heritage is celebrated with outdoor festivals throughout summer and fall. As a public service to the state’s storied beer drinkers everywhere, WiG offers below a list of many of the events on tap. Have your designated driver ready — he or she gets a discounted entry fee at most festivals — and prepare to celebrate with beers of the region and the season.

Madison Craft Beer Week, Madison, May 2–11

The more accurate title for this event would be “Madison Craft Beer Ten Days.” The citywide celebration features special beers from across the state and around the nation and involves most of the Capital City’s bars, brewpubs and restaurants. Unique to this festival is “Common Thread,” a special beer jointly created by area breweries. This year, 12 different brewers participated in production of a Bohemian pilsner that’s sure to be memorable. For more information, go to www.madbeerweek.com.

Waterford’s Brewfest IV, Waterford, May 2

Area businesses located in this Racine County village have come together with the local Lions Club to sponsor this one-day event. For more, go to www.waterfordbrewfest.com.

Belle City Brewfest, Racine,  May 10

Belle City, held at the Racine Civic Center, offers a 28-brewer lineup that includes Public Craft Brewing Co. and Rustic Road Brewing Co., both from nearby Kenosha. Entry is $25 through May 2, $35 thereafter. Info at www.racinebeerfest.com.

Wisconsin Micro-Brewers Beer Fest, Chilton, May 18

Thirty Wisconsin breweries will come together for the 23rd annual Wisconsin Micro-Brewers Beer Fest at the Calumet County Fair Grounds in Chilton. Hosted by Rowland’s Calumet Brewing Co., the fest is attracting brews ranging from Hayward’s Angry Minnow to Randy’s Fun Hunters from Whitewater. Tickets are priced at $40 and available in advance only. Info at www.rowlandsbrewery.com.

Beer Barons World of Beer Festival, Menomonee Falls, June 7

Milwaukee’s premier homebrew club hosts the 11th annual World of Beer Festival at the Schwabenhof Pavilion in Menomonee Falls. Billed as “the best festival you never heard of,” the event features 200 handpicked beers, meads and ciders from around the world. Tickets are $40. Info at www.wobfest.com.

Door County Beer Festival, Baileys Harbor, June 14

Wisconsin’s picturesque peninsula opens its arms to craft beer lovers for a one-day festival at Baileys Harbor’s Town Hall Park. Brewers from Wisconsin and other states, as well as a number of Belgian breweries, will be on hand to promote their products. Memphis blues legend Earl “The Pearl” Banks will provide the music. Tickets are $40 in advance, $45 at the gate. For information, go to www.doorcountybeer.com.

Great Northern Beer Festival, Eagle River,  June 14

Perhaps the only beer festival to offer camping is the Great Northern Beer Festival, held at the Hi-Pines Campground. The event attracts brewers from around the state and offers a great opportunity to become acquainted with beers brewed in northern Wisconsin. Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 at the gate — if still available. Info at www.greatnorthernbeerfestival.com.

Wisconsin Beer Lovers Festival, Glendale, June 14

Staged at Bayshore Town Center in Glendale, this festival pairs craft beer with Wisconsin cheese manufacturers and dishes by local chiefs. More than 150 craft beer selections from more than 40 craft breweries throughout the state are represented. This year, Kyle Cherek of Wisconsin Foodie will host seminars about beer and food pairings. General tickets are $45 in advance and $50 at the door. Three hundred VIP tickets are available for $80 each. Infor at www.WisconsinBeerLoversFest.com.

Oshkosh Brews ’n’ Blues Festival, Oshkosh, June 21

More than 30 brewers and two blues bands take over the Leach Amphitheatre on the banks of the Fox River for the 19th annual Brews ’n’ Blues, a craft beer, homebrew and music festival presented by the Oshkosh Jaycees to benefit community charities. Tickets are $35 in advance, $45 at the gate. Info at http://jcioshkosh.org/brews-n-blues.

Appleton AleFest, Appleton, June 28

Appleton’s Stone Arch Brew House helps host the Appleton AleFest at the city’s Memorial Park. A benefit for the Appleton Family Ice Center, the fest features a host of state breweries, including Pigeon River Brewing Co. from Marion and Madison’s MobCraft, the world’s first “crowd-sourced” brewery. Tickets are $40. Get more information at www.appletonalefest.com.

Milwaukee Firkin Beer Fest, Milwaukee, July 19

Milwaukee craft beer fans thought it “was about firkin time” that they got their own beer festival, which led to formation of the Milwaukee Firkin Beer Fest in Cathedral Park. (A firkin is a small keg or covered vessel used in the beer brewing and aging process.) All the usual suspects from the Wisconsin craft beer scene will be there, along with select brewers from California, Colorado, Massachusetts and Michigan. General admission is $46. Go to www.milwaukeefirkin.com.

Milwaukee Brewfest, Milwaukee, July 26

Still in the planning stages at press time, the fifth annual Milwaukee Brewfest at 1600 N. Lincoln Memorial Dr. on the city’s lakefront will cover much of the same ground as the Firkin Beer Fest — but this time with Lake Michigan as a scenic backdrop. Info at www.milwaukeebrefest.com.

Lac du Flambeau Lions Club Brewfest, Minocqua, July 26

Those who like their beer festivals backed by stunning north woods scenery might want to give the Lac du Flambeau Lions Club Brewfest in Minocqua a try. Held in Torpy Park in downtown Minocqua, the event draws breweries from as close as Minocqua Brewery, located right next door to the fest, to as far away as Quebec, Canada. No word yet on this year’s entry fee, but the proceeds benefit local charities. Info at http://lacduflambeaubrewfest.com.

Great Taste of the Midwest, Madison, Aug. 9

Beer fests come and go, but The Great Taste of the Midwest, sponsored by the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild, is the standard by which all others are judged. Now in its 28th year, the Great Taste attracts up to 150 craft brewers from across the nation. There’s also live entertainment, educational sessions and an entire tent devoted to cask ales. The $60 tickets go on sale at noon on May 4 and will be gone within an hour. Go to http://greattaste.org.

Great Lakes Brewfest, Racine, Sept. 13

Now celebrating its 10th year, the Great Lakes Brewfest is the only Wisconsin beer festival that takes place in a zoo — the Racine Zoo, that is. Due to its timing and location, this fest features more beers from Ilinois and Michigan breweries than many of the other Wisconsin festivals. General admission tickets cost $49 and proceeds benefit the Racine Kilties Drum & Bugle Corps. Tickets go on sale at noon on May 1 and have sold out for the past 8 consecutive years, so make your plans now. Go to http://greatlakesbrewfest.com.

Thirsty Troll Brewfest, Mt. Horeb, Sept. 13

More than 25 brewers pouring over 100 beers will highlight the Thirsty Troll Brewfest in the Norwegian community of Mt. Horeb in south central Wisconsin, which bills itself as “The Troll Capital of the World.” Held at the city’s Grundahl Park, the fest features many area beers and is the only one with a mascot — Jorgen the Thirsty Troll. Visitors like to have their pictures taken with Jorgen. The entry fee is $32. For all the details, go to http://trollway.com/event/annual-thirsty-troll-brew-fest/.

Rails & Ales Brewfest, Green Bay, Sept. 20

Ever have the urge to sip craft beers while examining historic trains? If so, you won’t want to miss the Rails & Ales Brewfest at Green Bay’s National Railroad Museum. A standard ticket ($35 in advance, $45 at the door) allows you to talk with area brewers and winemakers while sampling dozens of their beverages. A premium ticket ($55 and available only in advance) buys you a three-course meal aboard the museum’s 1939 restored dinette-lounge car “Silver Spirit.” Tickets went on sale April 1, so call before the limited number of premium seats is sold out. Visit www.nationalrrmuseum.org.

Quivey’s Grove Beer Fest, Madison, Oct. 4

Before becoming known for saving Ten Chimneys, the historic Genesee Depot home of actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine, the late Joe Garton was a restaurateur who turned a circa 1855 stone farmhouse and barn into Quivey’s Grove, one of Madison’s better restaurants. Quivey’s Grove holds an autumn beer fest, which celebrates its 21st anniversary this year. More than 45 brewers serving over 100 beers will participate, with music provided by Westside Andy and the Mel Ford Blues Band. Info at www.quiveysgrove.com/beerfest/beerfestmain.htm.

Dells on Tap, Wisconsin Dells, Oct. 18

Wisconsin brewers will close the season with Dells on Tap, the annual beer festival held in one of Wisconsin’s top vacation destinations. Smaller state breweries, including the Port Huron and Dells Brewing Co., as well as nearby Blue Heron Brewery from Marshfield, American Sky Brewing from Hudson, and Woodman Brewing from Woodman (Pop. 96), offer a slightly different round of participants along with a lot of statewide favorites. Tickets are $35 in advance or $50 on the day of the event. Find more information at www.wisdells.com/wisconsin-dells-attraction/wisconsin-dells-on-tap.cfm.

Beer festival survival tips

If you’ve never been to a beer festival, proceed with caution. For craft beer lovers, these events are kid-in-a-candy-store opportunities. Be careful to keep track of your consumption.

It is possible to get the most from an event and still remember it. The following tips may help you and others to avoid becoming what organizers of Munich’s Oktoberfest call “bierleichen,” or “beer corpses.”

• Beer fests are about selection, not consumption. Even at most modest fests, you can’t sample everything. At 2 oz. to 4 oz. each, the pours are small, but they add up quickly. Pace yourself.

• Eat something to help absorb the alcohol. Some beer fests offer food, while others don’t. Eat hearty before you arrive, and you will be better prepared to imbibe. Eat nothing and you may be courting disaster.

• Drink plenty of water between beers. Water will dilute your alcoholic intake, fill you up and slow down your consumption. Alcohol dehydrates you, so you need water to rehydrate.

• Narrow your selection. A friend went to a larger festival in pursuit of as many saisons, or Belgian-style farmhouse ales, as he could find. He had plenty of interesting beers to drink and didn’t damage himself in the process.

• Try something new. This is not a place to quaff your everyday favorites. Look for new, odd styles and new breweries to broaden your beer education. That’s what beer fests are — or should be — about.

• Beware the high-octane monsters. Increasingly, brewers are dabbling in new hybrids and experimental styles. Invariably, these beers come with high alcohol by volume (ABV) levels that pack a punch. Try what interests you, but limit your intake. You will thank yourself later.

• Arrange for transportation home before you arrive. You’ll need a designated driver. If you don’t have one, you are toying with your life and the lives of others. Designated drivers get a reduced rate at most festivals, while events like Madison’s Great Taste of the Midwest arrange transportation through local taxi companies that will go anywhere in the city for less than $5.

Enjoy the festivals.

Sober as a (beer) judge

Beer fans are a finicky lot, and the Beer Judge Certification Program was created to make sure the judges are qualified. BJCP’s testing standards for would-be judges are rigorous. 

Founded in 1985, BJCP has already tested 7,846 potential judges worldwide, and 4,909 of those tested are currently active judges. But only 717 hold the rank of national judge or higher.

To date, certified beer judges have ranked 899,128 beers — and the number keeps growing.

Criteria are different for each beer. Try adapting BJCP criteria at your next fest. Not only will you impress your sodden friends, but you’ll enjoy your experience more.

Here is an edited version of what BJCP judges look for when judging a basic German Pilsner:

Aroma: Typically features a light, grainy Pils malt character, sometimes Graham cracker-like with distinctive flowery or spicy noble hops. Clean, with no fruity esters.

Appearance: Straw to light gold, brilliant to very clear, with a creamy, long-lasting white head.

Flavor: Crisp and bitter, with a dry to medium-dry finish. Maltiness is low to moderately low. Hop bitterness dominates the taste, continues through the finish and lingers into the aftertaste. Hop flavor should be derived from German noble hops.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body, medium to high carbonation.

Overall impression: A crisp, clean and refreshing beer that prominently features Noble German Hops bitterness accentuated by sulfites in the water. Drier and crisper than the original Bohemian Pilsner.

BJCP offers similar guidance for 28 beer and cider types, with three to six different styles for each type. For more information about judging and certification, visit www.bjcp.org.