Crafting the Best Brews
Kohler Festival of Beer
It's mid-morning on a Tuesday and Anello Mollica is busy brewing a porter beer. It's the Mud Puppy Porter today, a malty dark brew that's one of the select varieties found at Central Waters Brewing Co., situated between Stevens Point and Waupaca in Amherst, Wis. As Mollica and partner Paul Graham can attest, the craft beer industry is not only holding strong, it's growing.
"People's palates are becoming more refined," Mollica points out during a break in the brewing cycle. "They're willing to spend more for a craft beer-and once they try it, there's no going back."
Beer aficionados wanting to sample a wide variety of flavors in one weekend can get the Central Waters brews and a host of others over the Memorial Day weekend in the first Kohler Festival of Beer, held in Kohler, Wis. The festival, featuring breweries from across the country, gives beer fans a weekend filled with home-brew competitions, tastings and samplings. Given the success of the Kohler Food & Wine Experience held every fall, one of Wisconsin's favorite "foods" was destined to have a weekend all its own. (After all, this is the same Kohler that devotes an entire evening to chocolate.)
The three-day event features the Cheers to Beers Grand Tasting and Competition, where event-goers can sample a variety of home-brewed beers and participate in "The People's Choice Award" for top brewer. There's also an amateur home-brewers competition, as well as Beer Bingo and a number of other beer-themed activities and meals.
Wisconsin breweries will be well represented at the festival, including Milwaukee's Lakefront Brewery. Founded in 1987, Lakefront Brewery has grown to become a local favorite. Lakefront also achieved national acclaim with such firsts as its New Grist beer, a gluten-free brew that was designed for people with Celiac disease. According to Lakefront President Russ Klisch, New Grist, which will be featured at the Cheers to Beers sampling, is a steady seller that is popular with all types of beer drinkers.
Klisch will bring along four other beers, including his ever-popular Riverwest Stein and Fuel Coffee Stout Ale, brewed with Milwaukee's Fuel Café coffee. Festivalgoers will also get a chance to sample Lakefront's year-old addition, the Bridge Burner Special Reserve Ale, which Klisch describes as "big heady ale, well balanced with hops and malt for the true beer geek."
For those looking to cleanse their palates in between beer samples, Sand Creek Brewing Co. will bring along its summer seasonal Hard Lemonade. The "lemonade," now in its fourth year, is brewed like a beer but contains natural fruit juices, says Mark Knoebl, sales manager for Sand Creek. Located in Black River Falls, Wis., Sand Creek started out in 1999 when home-brewer Cory Schroeder began brewing right on his dairy farm. When he and partner Jim Wiesender teamed up with the Pioneer Brewing Co., Pioneer brew-master Todd Krueger came on board and created one of the craft beers appearing at the Kohler Festival: Oscar's Chocolate Oatmeal Stout.
In 2000, Oscar's Stout won the Gold Medal in the Oatmeal Stout category at the World Beer Cup competition, with Krueger creating a "demo version" of the recipe in collaboration with others, Knoebl says. "He was like Pete Townshend doing a version of the song, and other band members pitch in and come up with the final version," he adds. Oscar's is the brewery's No. 1 seller in winter, with the Hard Lemonade coming in first during the summer months.
For those who closely watch the latest offerings from their favorite brew houses, other participants in the Kohler Festival of Beer include Wisconsin's Sprecher Brewing Co., New Glarus Brewing Co., Tyranena Brewing, Capital Brewery, Hinterland Brewery and Titletown Brewing Co. Chicago's Goose Island will participate, along with Bell's from Michigan, Lagunitas Brewing out of Petaluma, Calif., and Dogfish Head Craft Brewery from Delaware.
The choices, like the samples, are many. But the focus of the festival is on quality, rather than quantity.
"Craft beer has grown over the years," says Lakefront Brewery's Klisch. "People are looking to drinking less and drinking better."
The 2009 Kohler Festival of Beer runs May 22-24 in Kohler. For tickets, hotel packages and a complete schedule of demonstrations, tastings and entertainment, call 1-800-344-2838 or visit www.DestinationKohler.com/beerfestival.