Thursday, August 11, 2011

An Afternoon with Ale

I know people are waiting for my photos and my reactions to the first annual Wheaton Ale Fest. Here goes post #1 in what will be a series of posts.

It rained Saturday morning and the threat of rain hung around all day. It was overcast by 12:30 which kept the temperature down. But the humidity! Oh the humidity. "Dripping" is a nice word to use. 85 degrees is fine but when the humidity is around 70%, it's still uncomfortable. The above photo is at Hale and Front Streets. 

My ticket said 12-5. It also said that VIP people would get in an hour earlier. It was not specified anywhere that I saw, that this 12-5 time included the VIP early arrival time. Plus, I received emails every day from July 30th, reminding me this was upcoming, that they were sold out of VIP tickets, that proper behavior was expected, that parking was here and here, etc. I found those emails to be very informative. For a festival revolving around alcohol, daily reminders that proper behavior was expected is not too much.

I am glad I arrived at 11, however. They started lining people up at 11:30. The real entrance was not clearly marked, something I pointed out in my post-event comments. A flag or some other marker would distinguish where the actual entrance was. People were going to the fence at the street, when the actual entrance was a few steps to the south. 
And to further discuss the event times, as we are standing on line, people who were not VIPs got in line since it was obvious this was the line going in. They had to be turned away and told to wait for an hour. 

We were processed through very efficiently. Because I had a VIP ticket, I got a lanyard, a heavy glass drinking glass and a tee shirt. I was supposed to get a sausage and cheese tasting but never found that. 

The tents visible at Hale and Front were the bigger brewers, Sam Adams and Goose Island. I know them. I've tasted their beers. I wanted the small craft beers. Those were across Main Street. 

The fest took up two blocks of Front Street, from Hale to Cross. This view, looking east, is where the micro/craft beers were located. I know this will sound really odd, coming from me, but this is where I did the majority of my drinking.

Each tent had two companies. I don't know how they decided who got which tent. I love dark beers so those were the ones I searched out first. I started with Grumpy Troll. I mean, with a name like that I had to stop there. Very nice. I tried Grumpy Troll's summer ale which had a honey flavor to it. It was nice but not something I'd regularly order.

I had an Emmett's Red which was too bitter for me. There was another dark from a brewery I didn't write down that I liked, a lot, and then an Old Brown Dog Ale that, while not the stout consistency, was a dark brown and very good. I also had Great White because they advertised it as a "citrus India Pale Ale" and the name is great. The combination just seemed strange enough that I would like it. I did. I wasn't sure I'd like a light colored beer but the distinct flavor of oranges and lemons was very nice. 

I went to Limestone Brewing Company. They did not have their dark beers with them so I tried The Wheatlander. It was okay, but I've had better German-inspired beer. At this point, I looked around and decided to head back the other direction and just see what Sam Adams and Goose Island had with them.

The press release on Sunday said 1700 people funneled through the festival. 

There were lines by some of the tents but they were not impossibly long. I think the most you had to wait was 2-3 minutes. Goose Island had a peanut butter beer. I kid you not. It was supposed to have a "delicate" peanut butter finish. I tasted the peanut butter, alright, and decided it was not for me. It's the only beer, out of all that I tried, that I did not finish. I added water to it and poured it out. 

I went to the Sam Adams tent and they had a beer with a pear finish. Having had Great White with the citrus overtones, I was interested to see how pear would work. It was okay. I can see people liking it but it's not a beer I would order.

After drinking the pear Sam Adams, it was now pushing 2:15 and my knees were beginning to ache. I had consumed enough, for me, and felt that I'd gotten a good value for my VIP ticket. So, I packed it in and headed home. Having arrived early, I found a spot on the street a couple blocks from the festival. This is the east end.

The people they had stationed at each end of the "blocks" were very knowledgeable, not only about the festival, but about downtown Wheaton in general. They often directed people to places in downtown or how to get around this event. 

Wheaton has a French Market every Saturday from May through October and it was going on at the same time as the festival. It ends at 2. That was a great idea because I saw people come from the market to the festival. 

Police presence was there and then it wasn't there. They directed traffic at Main and Front streets for sure, but there were uniformed officers walking with the crowd. They said hello to people and thanked them for coming to the festival, but they were not obtrusive. 

There were just enough volunteers to man all the booths and to do the things that needed to be done at a festival like this. One of the problems they had was not every brewer who sent their wares sent someone who knew about the beers or sent any kind of publicity. A few of the booths were manned by festival volunteers who said, "I don't know anything about the beers. I'm just here pouring them." That's too bad because so much of the presence of a craft beer is having someone who knows it tell you about it as they serve you. There were a couple of brewers who didn't show up, too. 

I saw on the Facebook page that people who arrived as I was leaving ran into the problem of some tents running out of beer. That is something I don't quite understand. The festival was limited to 2000 people. Surely you can plan for how much beer you need to serve 2000 people realizing that some will come back more than once and some people won't care to try what you have. 

Another thing I told them they need are cooling centers. I stopped to get some yogurt and there were 3 people inside the shop because it was air conditioned. If it had been one of those horribly hot July Saturdays we had, more people would have been in there. While that's probably good for his business, you don't want people collapsing from the heat. They should have gotten those mist towers and provided a place where attendees could go to recover from the heat. 

Bottom line, I had a great time. It was akin, in price, to attending a concert. I think it was a good value for how long I stayed and what I got. If I can afford it, I will go again next year. 

Beverage:  Earl Gray tea


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