Thursday, September 20, 2012

Autumn Brew Review 2012

Better late than never, I'll give you folks the low-down on the yearly crazy beer experience called ABR. Each fall we have one of the coolest beer festivals in the Minnesota, usually held down on the grounds of the old Grain Belt Brewery guessed it: Autumn!  As with any outdoor beer festival, weather can be a trial, so dress appropriately.  A few years back it was rainy and really cold, but this year was about 85, sunny and still.  Even with shades, hat and sunscreen we were a bit red-necked and dehydrated by the end of the day. 

The first part of the process is getting tickets.  Back in the day, this wasn't such a big would be available for a while.  You could talk to all your friends, arrange a ride, plan lunch and then bite the bullet and get tickets.  Now, with the explosion of interest in craft beer, the tickets sell out within minutes and crash Internet servers.  This year they held back some tickets for a second round of selling and Sj managed to snag us two on that day.  Let's hear it for amazing wives!  If you miss the microsecond sales, your best bet to get into the fest is the secondary market.  Craigslist, beer forums, etc are a good way to get in, but you run risks of duplicate tickets and scams.  Many of the local brewers, homebrew shops, liquor stores, etc hold will raffle off tickets as well so keep your schedule open and your ear (or eye) to the social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, and such.  My buddy Rob from Limited Release gave away a few tickets this year as a promotion.

You have your hard-earned or ill-gotten what?  Well, for starters you drive down to the brewery, preferably early to get in line and be right at the gate.  I recommend getting there 45-60 minutes before it starts.  This year it started at 1 PM, but last year they had two sessions.  I think a bunch of the really special beers ran out during the morning session and made a lot of the afternoon group a bit cranky... You receive a fresh taster glass to use on the grounds and take home.  Don't drop it.  As the afternoon goes on you hear more and more crashing sounds and the entire mass of drunken humanity will give a collective shout of  "OOOOOOOOOHHHHHHH!"

Once in the grounds, the special beers (Surly) get huge lines right away, so getting your first one under your belt before the big crowd forms is a good idea.  Then you can spend your time tasting others and go back when the line ebbs.  There was a huge number of booths, and a growing number were Minnesota Craft beers.  I found that many of the "Big" craft breweries present (Lagunitas, Dark Horse, Capital, Big Sky, etc.) brought only their usual line-up and many of those were in bottles.  Meh, I can buy those anywhere.  As a proper beer geek with a low alcohol tolerance I want to taste the stuff you can't get anywhere else!  The big winners for me this year were Surly and Fitger's. Fitger's had a ton of special beers including the Cherry Batch and a bourbon barrel aged Imperial stout.  Overall the MN breweries brought it strong and I got to try great new beers by Indeed, and Pour Decisions.

Surly deserves its own section.  This year they had two lines, one for cask and special release stuff and another for their other beers.  The cask/special line had releases each hour and had the biggest lines at the fest.  I had the Wet in cask with fresh wet Simcoe hops, which was very good and a bit cat-pee-esque.  Also tried the bourbon barrel aged Pentagram, but that was acetic and nasty.  They also served up Three and a brett version of Bandwagon, neither of which I got to try.  The "regular" line included Fiery Hell (see my post on the Blackbird Dinner,) Darkness 2011, Bandwagon IPA, Smoke, Cacao Bender, Surlyfest and Syx.  I tried pretty much all of them and all were amazing except Bandwagon.

What happens when a ton of people get drinking?  The mad munchies happen.  There were about 6 food trucks out there this year, giving a bunch of options for famished fest-goers.  I had some fantastic mahi-mahi tacos from Barrio, and a Foxy Felafel sampler that was tasty despite its lack of meat. 

If you need a break from drinking there are booths for local beer-related things to stop by. was there, as well as Barley's Angels and Northern Brewer.  Also you can gather a ton of swag, stickers, posters, bottle openers, etc at this event.

I also got to meet up briefly with several friends at the fest, though it was so crazy busy that it was tough to stay together with a group for more than a few minutes.  If you have an especially tall friend with a really loud looking shirt you might be able to make this work though (I'm talking about you Rob!)  A couple of my friends were there and I never found them!  Hope they had a good time there too.

The heat and the sun, as well as a conspicuous absence of potable water made this event a bit tough to handle for me.  It was hard not to get dehydrated and trying to drink a barleywine or stout in that climate was difficult.  But I powered through, still having a great time.  I tried to just have a taste of these beers so I could try more, but there were only two dump/glass-rinse stations in the whole place, which made this problematic.  By the end I was hot, full and almost a bit queasy, but not especially intoxicated.  Overall, a fun way to spend the day, and I'd recommend it to anyone who has never been there. 

Oh and not to forget my Octoberfest plans, I did try the Great Lakes Octoberfest again on tap.  Not bad, but not my favorite.  Still a bit too one-note.  Especially compared to some of the crazy stuff I had that day!

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