Local beer finds a fan

Reid Stratton

On Saturday the Northeast Wisconsin Beer Festival was held here in Appleton. The event featured over 250 beers and over 50 wines.
While the bulk of the beers came from the Midwest, there was also a selection of beer from around the country and the world. I attended the event in search of finding some good craft beers.
Craft beers, also known as microbrews, include familiar names like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and New Glarus Spotted Cow, as well as some hard-to-find but well respected beers like Dogfish Head ApriHop or Full Sail ESB. These are the exact opposite of macro-brewed beers like Miller Lite, Coors, or Budweiser.
After being dropped off by my designated driver, I went into the festival, surprised to see the massive crowd within. There were two floors open at this event – the top floor was just beer, and the bottom floor was beer and wine.
Booths had been set up and manned by representatives from local breweries. There were also a few booths manned by distributors dispensing different imports.
The large crowd made it difficult to even make it up to the booths, but after working my way to the front I would peruse the selection – most breweries had five or six beers to choose from – and select a beer to taste.
I got a few ounces in the bottom of the glass, then retreated to a quieter corner of the room to sample my beer. I followed the three-step tasting approach the beer nuts at BeerAdvocate.com use: look, smell, and taste.
The star of this beer festival was Samuel Adams Utopias, a beer that retails for over $100 a bottle. This beer is fermented very carefully for a very long time to reach an alcohol level of 25 percent by volume, about five times as strong as most craft beers. The beer is also aged in barrels that once held cognac, sherry, and whiskey.
While I was too late to get a taste of Utopias – it ran out very quickly – I heard from those who snagged a little that it tastes strongly of whiskey and maple syrup. Most the people I talked to agreed it was good, but not worth a hundred bucks.
The best beer I had that night was from a home brewer’s organization called the SOBs – the Society of Oshkosh Brewers. They were pouring an India Pale Ale that went from the keg through a tube filled with fresh hops, and then into your glass.
They called this device a hops transducer, and it imparted the strong floral and citrus flavors of the hops into the beer. It was the freshest and most flavorful beer I’ve ever had. The only problem, of course, is that it’s not available for retail.
Other good beers from Wisconsin I tried included J.T. Whitney’s Rauchbier, a style of German smoked lager created by roasting malts over a beechwood fire, and Sprecher Maibock, a somewhat malty but light lager. New Glarus Road Slush, an oatmeal stout, was also very good.
Perhaps the best beer I had from outside the state was Chimay PremiŠre, which is from one of seven Trappist breweries in the world where monks brew the beer in their abbey.
What I came to realize over the course of my four-hour, tastebud-killing beer tasting experience, was that Wisconsin really has a lot to offer in the world of craft beers.
So many of us think of Milwaukee as Brew Town, since they churn out Miller and other high-volume beers, but Wisconsin has so much more to offer. Right here in Appleton we have the Fox River Brewing Company and the Stone Cellar Brewery, which is just a few minutes walk away from campus.
So the moral of the story is to get on out there and try something new, tasty and fresh. Not only can you support local business and the microbrew revolution, you can get some tasty brews in the meantime. If you’re looking for recommendations, try the Marquette Pilsner from Stone Cellar or the Buzzin’ Honey Ale from Fox River.
Here’s to good, local beer!