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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Milwaukee Firkin Craft Beer Festival

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Bastille Days, Jazz in the Park and the East Town Market are three of Milwaukee’s most beloved summertime activities, traditions that many of us commit ourselves to at least once a year. The reason all three are well regarded in their category—ethnic festival, weekly neighborhood music and farmers’ market—is because the people behind these events, the East Town Association, are committed to producing organized, safe, fun gatherings that promote neighborly communion. This year, East Town focused its urban vitality beam on Milwaukee’s rich brewing roots, as well as beer’s bright future in this city, to host the first Milwaukee Firkin Craft Beer Festival on Saturday, June 12, from 3 to 7 p.m.

Although there are several stellar beer festivals hosted in the Milwaukee region throughout the year, none have Firkin Fest’s ideal real estate: picturesque Cathedral Square Park in the heart of Milwaukee’s vibrant Downtown, and just a short stroll to the lake. And when it comes to a beer festival—a gathering for which the main purpose is to taste and compare different varieties of potent brew—location is everything. There’s no need to get behind the wheel the day of the beer fest, as there are a number of unique transportation options that serve Cathedral Square’s convenient location: Cream City Rickshaw pedicabs, the Downtown trolley loop, and the Oak Leaf Trail. Be on the lookout for the 16-person bicycle-powered Milwaukee Pedal Tavern, a literal pub on wheels.

The Milwaukee Firkin Craft Beer Festival—named for a type of wooden beer cask that pours using good ol’ gravity—is hosting 14 of Milwaukee’s most notable microbreweries, craft breweries, contract brewing companies and brewpubs, as well as a handful of home brewers and guest brewers who hail from outside the region. A ticket to Firkin Fest ($39 online, $45 at the gate) includes a souvenir sampling glass and unlimited samples of more than 50 Milwaukee craft beers (including many special recipes not normally offered by the breweries) from:

III Dachshunds Beer & Cider

Buffalo Water Beer Co.

Chameleon Brewing

Horny Goat Brewing Co.

Lakefront Brewery

Leinenkugel’s 10th Street Brewery

Miller Valley Brewing

Milwaukee Ale House

Milwaukee Brewing Co.

Rock Bottom Brewery

Sprecher Brewing Co.

St. Francis Brewery

Stonefly Brewery

Water Street Brewery

For the cost of a $55 VIP ticket, Firkin Fest attendees are given a T-shirt, access to the VIP tent at 2 p.m., cheese and sausage appetizers and the opportunity to meet some of the brewers, like the godfather of Milwaukee’s resurgence as a beer town, Randy Sprecher. For the designated driver, there are $15 tickets that include a festival T-shirt, unlimited soda, bottled water and pretzels, and a souvenir glass. In an attempt to minimize the tasting lines, the East Town Association is selling only 2,500 tickets to its craft beer festival.

By the sound of the impressive entertainment lineup, the organizers didn’t allow all that craft beer to drown other aspects that will make Firkin Fest a well-rounded festival. The early afternoon will unfold to the flamboyant accordion of Pezzettino, followed by the Alex Wilson Band at 3 p.m. Southbound takes the stage at 4:30 p.m., and the Ben Ripani Music Co. closes at 6 p.m.

Firkin Fest is currently listing only three food vendors—Streetza Pizza, Miller Baking Co., and Flannery’s Bar and Restaurant—but keep in mind all of the nearby Downtown restaurants where attendees can start or cap the craft beer festival with a solid meal.

Each Milwaukee brewery will enter up to two signature beers to contend for the “Big Firkin Award,” and each attendee votes for his or her favorite Milwaukee craft beer. Regardless of which brewery goes home with the “Big Firkin,” Milwaukee is the real winner with this Downtown craft beer festival.