Wednesday, June 20, 2012

St. Paul Summer Beer Fest 2012 (State Fair Grounds, St. Paul, MN)

International Bazaar stage

According to my notes, I haven't been to the St. Paul Summer Beer Fest since 2009 when it was at Midway Stadium.  While 2009 was a perfectly good time, the Midway location wasn't the conducive location for a fun festival.  Good beer, but drinking in a parking lot didn't cut it and was a part of why I hadn't returned.  When some friends, Heather and Scott, suggested we do the festival together, I thought it was time for a return visit at the state fairgrounds location.

After a Chipotle stop, we showed up early to the fest and stood in line--to my surprise--in the sun.  I predicted we'd have rain, or at least clouds.  Plenty of sun (and a bit of a burn, unfortunately), but a great day to drink. Hit list in hand, we headed in at 1:30 pm, an 1/2 hour before the posted time.  There was a bit of confusion as to when to start serving beer--some people (Jeff and Gene!!!) got beer before 2 pm (and my theory was I wasn't cute enough).  At 2 pm, we headed back to the grassy area for Surly, etc in  for the start of the day.

Beer crowds under the bazaar 
For taking notes, I only took a pen and decided to rely on the festival program because the organization seemed promising online.  For a festival, my main consideration for a program is the ease of use when drinking.  Period.  For the Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison, my main critique of the festival is that the program becomes useless  because it lists the breweries by state. It's impossible for me to find the state, then the brewery, etc.  It needs to be alpha order or something very clear and easy to navigate because--well, you know why.   With large numbers in the corner for each brewery, the program for the St. Paul Summer Beer Fest looked to be good organization.  

However, since the matching numbers weren't on the brewery booths, I had to look at the map in the center of the guide to see which set of numbers I was near and then head to the general location in the festival program to flail around until I found the actual beer in my glass.  In short, the program was hard to use.  The numbers would be great if the physical space was clearly marked for each brewer so that it could be easily located.  I would think that the brewers would want patrons to be able to very easily get to the right spot in the program since the purpose of the festival is sell more beer through name recognition. Plus, there wasn't an alpha order list of the breweries, so it was very difficult to find a brewery by name because the only option was to scan the entire list for a particular brewery. Maybe fewer patrons care about this than I do, but I don't see where program confusion is a benefit for anyone.  I would prefer an alpha list with the numbers beside the name to locate on the map.

While my analysis of the program may make it seems like I didn't have a good time, I really enjoyed the festival.  While the picture above looks crowded, it was not a problem to get from beer to beer.  Everything is very much contained is an easily navigable space. The music from the stage was great and served as a nice background when not too close to the stage--it was a bit loud for me when right up front. Locating the festival at the International Bazaar is a great idea and the setting is a plus that will encourage me to return.

For the pre-festival prep, my hit list had 39 beers that are new to me from breweries I've tried before and 14 brand new breweries.  This should be more than enough to keep me entertained for four hours. As it turns out, it was more than enough.  I counted 38 new beers on the list--not all of them from the original hit list.  The accuracy of what was offered compared to what was listed in the program varied considerably from brewery to brewery, so I tasted several that I wasn't aiming to drink.  Nine new breweries on the day as well, which is really good for a local festival.   McNeill's Brewery from Vermont was best new brewery I sampled; good beers across the board, the Dark Angle Stout was my favorite.  For a new Minnesota brewery, Third Street Brewhouse from Cold Spring was a good initial experience, especially the Lost Trout Brown Ale.  However, Olvalde's Brynhildr's Gift was easily the best beer on the day--an amazing brew that I will most definitely be finding in the near future.

A very affable festival, I ran into a lot of friends: beer, work and family.  In fact, I had so much fun chatting and hunting beers, there are only two pics that I took at the last minute.  To finish the day, I had planned to eat at the fest and ride the (free--another great idea) Bus #3 to downtown St. Paul to see my wife's performance, but friends  offered a ride after dinner at the St. Clair Broiler.  Breakfast for dinner fit the bill with a four egg cheese omelet (provolone and smoked gouda), well done hash browns and wheat toast.  Lots of other veggie options, so will have to try to get back at some point.  

If you haven't been to the St. Paul Summer Beer Fest, it's time to check it out.  If you haven't been in a while, like me, it's definitely time to give it another chance.

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