With so many festivals going on now – seemingly one or more every weekend, especially during the summer months – it gets hard for each one to separate itself from the pack. The Oak Park Microbrew Review has been going on for eight years now, so they should have their shit together, right?
Check out Ryan’s impressions of the 2014 Microbrew Review here.
What’s the Doppler say?: During the Replicale-only portion of the event (1:30-3), it was insanely hot and muggy out, with temperatures near 100 degrees. While this went very nice with the Replicale saison, sweat was all around and water was the preferred beverage. A nice, brief shower would’ve been just the thing.
Then the bagpiper played to open the rest of the fest.
Within a half hour, the sky opened up. It started innocently enough, with a few drops that actually felt good. Then the heavy, hurtling rain (what I call attack rain) started and everyone sought cover. Then the wind came, blowing the rain under the tent and the tent itself. Then some flooding, at least in the Triptych tent.
And then it stopped, but it was enough to basically soak everything I was wearing including my shoes, which now sounded like I was walking on sponges and added about 10 pounds of weight.
Yeah, we brought the same stuff last year. Deal with it.: Haymarket brought the thunder again this year, with Uber Mathias and Clare’s Thirsty Ale making appearances, the same as last year. They could bring these two offerings perpetually and they would still get mentioned. Clare’s is up there with the fruited Bourbon County variants (Bramble/Backyard) as one of the best fruited bourbon barrel aged stouts and Uber Mathias is a Cascade dry hopped version of their great Mathias DIPA.
Truth be told, this was a) the only substantial line I waited in all day and b) the main reason I attended the fest. I was debating whether or not I should, and then Haymarket released their taps. In.
The “Walking” beer of the fest award: This is a beer, usually light, refreshing, and not too harsh on the palate that I can walk around the festival with while seeing what other breweries are there, waiting in line, or talking with friends. All those qualities fit Noon Whistle’s Gose Smack. I actually got two pours of this one. Yeah, I walk around festivals a lot.
Replicale, replicale, replicale, replicale: While the concept is intriguing, there has to be a better way to implement it. 59 breweries all made the same base saison (87% Pilsner malt, 10% flaked rye, 3% aromatic, 25 IBU from European hops, WLP 566 yeast, and a specific gravity of 1.048), but could use any spice, fruit or dry hopping. It’s very hard, especially at a beer fest, to try 59 beers, let alone 59 beers of one style; I was starting to peter out at around 7 or 8. I had a few memorable ones – Imperial Oak’s brewed with cactus was odd in a good way and DESTHIL’s was clean, crisp and refreshing –but it just became overwhelming and repetitive to try a big number. It also didn’t help that giant pours were de riguer.
I’ll take a half pour, please: I found out this meant half the glass, not half of the 4oz pour line (which is located at about half the glass). While some I wouldn’t complain about, when everyone there was filling to the 4 oz pour line, and some beyond, it really hinders your ability to try as much as you can. 1-2 oz would have been ideal for 95% of the beers.
Tell me where you got that: Upon getting the standard, “Try this,” and proceeding to smell and taste “this”, I found out “this” was the Cocoa Vanilla Stout from Village Vintner Winery & Brewery in Algonquin. The nose was full of marshmallow and chocolate, while it had big chocolate taste with a hint of vanilla sweetness. Consensus was it smelled like marshmallow fluff and it tasted like they used Nestle Quik. The big surprise for me at the fest.
Unusual ingredients/brewing technique: Including the aforementioned cactus saison from Imperial Oak, unusual combinations were everywhere at the fest. Middle Brow had their Cobrastyle saison with barrel aged coffee, Goose Island Clybourn brought their Last Word Berliner with pineapple and mint (the combination worked well enough, but the mint might have been too much), Lake Effect had their now fest-standard watermelon saison randalled through a watermelon and Triptych had their You Don’t Win Friends With Sours #003, made from a blend of their cherry chocolate stout and some barreled dark ales, then inoculated with sour cultures. It was slightly acidic, with notes of chocolate and dark fruits (black cherries, dates). In a fest dominated by saisons and hoppy beers, it was nice to have a sour available. Definitely my favorite sour of the fest.
Most Impressive “New to Me” Brewery: Blue Island Beer Company. They brought their Hard Luck IPA, Early & Often (American black seasonal ale), Massive Political Corruption (Pre-Prohibition Style Ale), and Kellsch, not Coalsch (kolsch). All were solid, with the standout being the Early & Often with its slight roastiness and chocolate flavor. I will definitely be checking them out soon.
Dark beers, present!: Not too many stouts, porters, or barleywines were there, but the ones that were made for a nice change of pace. Haymarket brought their Claire’s, and Pollyanna had their Eleanor porter, with a medium body and notes of coffee and chocolate, was delightful. Pollyanna is making it hard to not want to go check them out in Lemont. (Note: Eleanor is the beer in the glass of the main photo.) Goose Island brought Bourbon County, but by the time I checked them out it was gone. Oh well.
Photobombing asshole of the fest: Jon Naghski, new head brewer of Goose Island Clybourn.
Speaking of GI Clybourn: Jacob Sembrano, former head brewer and at his last event for GI Clybourn, brought weather appropriate beers to the fest, including two takes on his Last Word Berliner. The Raspy was my #2 walking beer of the fest – refreshing, tart, and bursting with raspberries.
Near miss: In terms of space, the festival was massive. It was so big that I had completely neglected an entire wing of breweries, which I thankfully rectified about 30 minutes before closing. It would seem fitting, then, that Alarmist Brewing was there. I’ve been want to try their Pantsless Pale Ale since it came out a few months ago, but always seemed to keep missing it. Making my way over, I found that.. they didn’t have it. I grabbed their Phobophobia patersbier and Excursions IPA just before leaving the fest. They also have one of the best tap handles out there (see picture).
Food, food, everywhere: Easily the most food booths I’ve seen at a festival. Other festivals (FOBAB, Great Taste of the Midwest) should take note. There was variety (saw nachos, chorizos, and short ribs amongst others) and even if you didn’t want anything being served, there were restaurants lining the festival. Only complaint I had would be that some of the food vendors were mixed in with the beer tents, where as I would rather have a “food court” where all the food vendors are to grab food from.
Definite purchase. 92 plus breweries, many of them new, pouring at the festival made it the one festival where I knocked off breweries that I had heard of but not had (Alarmist, Blue Island Beer Company), then add in breweries that are nowhere close to each other (Pollyanna, Noon Whistle, DESTHIL, Triptych, 350 Brewing, Cademon, Temperance) and you’ll get caught up with what’s new in breweries in one fell swoop. The food selection was the best I’ve seen at a fest, the water was plentiful and available at many locations around the fest, and the bathroom lines were manageable. The ReplicAle portion, while a creative and interesting way to get people into actually thinking about beer and its ingredients, wasn’t worth the extra price for VIP, with some brewery representatives not even there to pour you their version.
I think Pete Crowley summed it up best. When I got to the front of the Haymarket line, I asked why Clare’s Thirsty Ale and Uber Mathias weren’t at the Great Taste of the Midwest the previous weekend. He replied saying that there were so many options available to people at the Great Taste that some of the great beer gets lost. He then said he would rather bring those beers to a local event that people would appreciate the beer more.
It’ll definitely be looking to go next year. Just hope it doesn’t snow.