For those of us with prior responsibilities, Midwest Gaming Classic was not an option. What could be more tempting than a room full of free pinball? Craft beer, of course! While many of you were traipsing around the Milwaukee area soaking in all things geek, I went to the 2nd annual Firkin Fest beer festival at the Happy Gnome in St. Paul on March 21st, accompanied by my wife and sister-in-law. I even brought my camera this time!

The first thing one has to think about when going to a beer festival is getting home. So we rode the bus there, ensuring we would be extra hungry for the event by getting a contact high at the second stop. We also arranged for my sister-in-law’s boyfriend to pick us up. The kids were at Grampa’s house, so we were set for a day and night of nonstop drinking of great beer.

The first thing I noticed while approaching the site at 2PM was that the crowd was noticeably larger than last year. I had also heard that there were going to be around 50 firkins (a firkin is 9 gallons, or 1/6 of a hogshead) this year. There were 30 craft breweries attending, as opposed to maybe 10 last year.

Upon entering, we found out that you could buy 20 tickets for $20, each ticket getting you a 4oz beer. You also were given a souvenir glass with the Happy Gnome logo. Also included in a 20 pack were two additional bonus tickets: one red and one blue. Those tickets would respectively get you a taste of two special beers, Ola Dubh 30 and Jaipur IPA. Ola Dubh 30 is an ale aged in 30 year Highland Park Scotch barrels. I have an 11.2oz bottle in my beer fridge that cost me $20 about a year ago. Jaipur is an IPA from England (which is ironically not commonly made in England anymore).
I tried the two special beers before my palate was destroyed, and both were very good, although I was a bit let down by the Ola Dubh 30. It was a bit musty and not enough scotch came through. Jaipur was very good, but I didn’t see why it was one of the special beers. It wasn’t anything that I would have tried a second time, though I did like the mango and citrus flavors coming from it.

In the back of the tent was bar food; burgers, brats, wings, pulled pork. For a few tickets we grabbed some food and then got back to the main event, which was tasting as much craft beer as we could handle.

I was impressed that the Happy Gnome learned quite a bit from last year’s festival. There were plenty of pitchers of water, which was essential for rinsing of glasses and hydrating. They had a lot more seating and food this time around. I could have done without the music in the background, which made conversation difficult. The setup of each brewery was easy to access and the food tent was in a separate area that allowed for easy ordering.
On a side note: it was entertaining when I had to leave for the port-a-potty, since upon my return it was inevitable that some random guy would be trying to strike up a conversation with my wife and sister-in-law. I was the proverbial turd in the punchbowl… the ultimate griefer. On one trip I noticed a clever person penciled in, “used beer dept” over the urinal.

Another fun person I saw at the fest was Todd, the head brewer at Surly. This guy is awesome. He has long graying hair and was wearing a shirt that stated, “Fuck you, you fuckin’ fuck.” To cap it off, he was wearing Slayer (yes, the METAL! Band) Converse hightops. That guy knows how to make beer.
I did make it to just about every brewery that day, and I had to buy a second set of tickets for myself. 4oz of beer is not a lot, but multiplied by 40 it is. On top of that, most of the beers were in the craft beer tradition of 6% or higher ABV. I’m not going to do any full reviews here, but some of the standouts were:

Surly 16 Grit. This is what I have been known to serve out of my trunk. It is an awesome beer, similar to Furious but with lighter roasted malt and more tropical fruit flavor in the hops.

Surly Tea-Bagged Furious. This is Furious, but they take a bunch of hops, put it in cheesecloth, and let it soak in the firkin. Intensely spicy and hoppy and fresh.

Lift Bridge Kimono Girl Saison. Lift Bridge is a brewery in Stillwater, MN that I hadn’t heard of before Firkin Fest. I will have to keep an eye out for them. This beer was great, and I believe it won the gold medal people’s choice award at the fest. I had a few of these. It was slightly fruity, had biscuity overtones, and was satisfying to drink.

New Belgium La Floie Love. I think that New Belgium is a bit overrated, but they certainly do make some good beer. This one was amazing. A sour beer is not a common style, and I like my sour beer puckeringly strong. A good sour beer is akin to good blue cheese… most people don’t like it because it’s too funky. You could smell this beer 3 feet away after having 10 beers. The taste was amazingly powerful, and as my wife put it, “like drinking vomit.” Now, I wouldn’t go and say anything negative about this beer but I can see where she’s coming from. Crazy acidic with lots of funk through and through. The best surprise of the fest for me.

Lagunitas Olde Gnarlywine. This is a barleywine that was very sweet and full bodied. I believe it was the only barleywine at the fest, and it was a real standout with a great flavor profile.

Left Hand Milk Stout. This is a beer I’ve had before, and I love it. It’s a very smooth and sweet stout that’s made with milk sugar. From my understanding, milk sugar does not ferment (at least not with beer yeasts), and so it gives the beer a very sweet flavor. It’s great for dessert pairings and for people who don’t like traditional beers.
At the end of the fest, we had one more go at the wings under the food tent and then went to the Muddy Pig, another great bar down the street. If you go, try their Cuban Sandwich and the Wings. The wings are grilled and are the only ones I will admit are better than mine. I ended the evening with two more beers, this time full sized and both weighing in at over 8%.

Lagunitas Sneak Release Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale. This is an awesome super hoppy beer. I tried it for the name alone and stayed for the taste. Highly recommended, and available now in bottles for a limited time.

Furthermore Thermo Reefur. This beer is made with tons of stuff, including beets. Brett (wild) yeast is used and this was very interesting. My palette was pretty dead by this time, but I liked this a lot for what it’s worth. Very earthy, fruity, dirty, funky.

Well, we had a good time. If you have a beer festival in your area I would say give it a shot. Where can you find out about them? Well, beeradvocate dot com has event listings. It is a great way to try new craft beers and it’s very affordable. See you next time!

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22 Responses to Beer Talk: Firkin Fest

  1. Moe says:

    Mmmmmmilk Stout! So delicious. I think this may be my favorite kind of beer. Can I buy this in bottles? I’ve only had it on tap.

  2. skreesha says:

    Are you going to Dark Lord Day, Zinswin?

  3. Hilden says:

    The Thrist. Feel it….consuming….must drink….BEER!

  4. D.J.I. says:

    hahaha I totally wanna try the shut-down beer.
    Great write-up, sir.

    Come to MGC next year. You can hit up my booth waypoint cooler of micros.

  5. John says:

    This article reminded me that I can drink beer while working from home. To the basement!

  6. SimpleNate says:

    Very nice article. I’ll have to give this ‘beer’ stuff a try. It sounds refreshing.

  7. carrotpanic says:

    John Says:
    April 3rd, 2009 at 9:53 am

    This article reminded me that I can drink beer while working from home. To the basement!

  8. John says:

    It’s noon somewhere…amirite?

  9. carrotpanic says:

    You’re not wrong Walter…

  10. Hilden says:

    @John: I fucking HATE you!

  11. John says:

    That’s not necessary. Nobody’s stopping you from coming over and enjoying a frosty beverage.

  12. Zinswin says:

    @ Moe: yes, LH Milk Stout is available at Heritage Liquor in Maplewood. It is very hard to find elsewhere. I asked Ed to start carrying it and he was nice enough to do so.

    @skreesha: I would love to go to Dark Lord day, but cannot. I’m always willing to trade a Darkness for a Dark Lord, though, if you know anyone willing…

    @ DJ: Shut Down is great. They made it after being shut down for 20 days by the feds for something I can’t remember. I think they have the story on youtube. At MGC next year, we will have to have a beer-off Boss Battle.

  13. Hilden says:

    We’ll be drinking Undercover Investigation Shut Down on this week’s show. Found it at my local store. Can’t wait!

  14. skreesha says:

    We have 4 tickets to buy Dark Lord, so we should have plenty to trade for a Darkness.

  15. Zinswin says:

    Done! Just message me over XBL and we can set up a trade when you get your hands on it. I’m off to buy bubble wrap.

  16. John says:

    Well, Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale is named properly. That shit shut me down last night and this morning. I’ve never had a beer hit me so hard and kick my ass for so long. I feel like death this morning.

  17. Nanny Skeksis says:

    Yeah, you have to watch out for that Undercover Shut Down Ale. After Firkinfest I believe it gave me the ability to teleport. One minute I was eating fatty food and drinking delicious beer at the Pig and the next I woke up on my living room floor. I had only had maybe 25 4oz samples of beer before that, so I’m definitely blamng the Undercover Shut Down.

  18. John says:

    I’m glad to hear it’s not just me. I still haven’t recovered. I feel utterly horrible today. I hate getting drunk like that. But damn, that was some good beer.

  19. Zinswin says:

    This Saturday the 20th is Firkin Fest #3 at the Happy Gnome in St. Paul. Pre Paid tickets will save you $5. Hope to see people there!

  20. Zinswin says:

    Off to Firkin Fest! Hope to see some people there!

  21. John says:

    Jealous. I think Moe and Hilden might be there, though.

  22. Zinswin says:

    We had fun and drank lots of beer. Estimates of 4000 people this year. 7 Port-a-potties. A bit of a fail there. Highlights: Tyranena’s Smoked Chipotle Porter, Everything by Lift Bridge, Founder’s Red’s Rye P.A. and Dry hopped Darkness.

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