The Autumn Brew Review (ABR) is one of the state’s oldest festivals, showcasing both national brands and in-state breweries like Summit, Schell’s, Fulton, and Third Street. This is also an opportunity to discover some of the smaller start-ups like Barley John’s, Burning Brothers, HammerHeart, and Pryes. Put on by the Brewer's Guild, this is not just a chance to try the main brands, but a festival that caters to the adventurous beer styles. ABR also celebrates specialty and barreled beers, and with a bazillion beers being poured on at the festival on Sept. 19, it raises a question about how it all works? How does a brewery pick who gets to stand behind the taps pouring samples, and how do they decide what beer to pour in the first place?
We asked a few breweries from around the state to weigh in on the process.
"612Brew gives the first opportunity to attend ABR to our brewers and production team," says co-owner Robert Kasak. "[We] always like to bring at least one flagship beer, either Six Pale Ale, Unrated Rye IPA, or Gateway Park Pre-Prohibition Lager. They are our flagships for a reason so we like to show them off," he says. "However, people who attend ABR are always looking for the latest and greatest offerings from the breweries, so we pack our line-up with seasonals, specialties, and one-offs…usually in the form of an infusion or cask."
Expect the same this year: "We don't want to give away everything but look for a 612Brew flagship, seasonal, cask, and perhaps an infusion."
People always ask if ‘the brothers’ are there," Lynn Richason, Sales and Marketing Director of Brau Brothers says. "Since they wear so many different hats in the brewery operation, they often are just too busy to attend just about any fest, but they really do try to make exceptions for the Guild ones, including ABR." The brewery has seen a lot of changes since moving from tiny Lucan to Marshall, and Richason stresses the popularity of MooJoos milk stout. "Since MooJoos is our #1 seller, roughly 60% of our production, we usually have the original or some one-off version of it there. These fests are also a time that we get excited to showcase some taproom exclusive beers." What kind of exclusives? Richason says it’s more along the lines of a sneak peak at upcoming plans instead of something just for the festival. This year expect Pumpkin Joos, Prickly Pear APA, Baconcreagie, and more.
"ABR and All Pints North are some our brewers’ favorite events, so usually there are 2-3 brewers present at them," says Hilari Bandow at Dangerous Man, who also send other staff. With the fall focus, barrel beers are popular, and Dangerous Man’s ever-changing line-up is no exception. "We do not make a beer special for this event," she explains. "However, we will save specialty beer to have it available for ABR." The roster for 2015’s festival is no exception. In addition to special tappings throughout the day, the taproom-only Northeast brewery will pour Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Oktoberfest Marzen, Peanut Butter Porter, Chocolate Milk Stout, and a Cabernet Barrel-Aged Belgian Dark Strong.
"When choosing what beers to bring out events I try and choose 1-2 taproom staples and then at least 1-2 new ales that are being offered at the taproom," says Hayes owner/head brewer Pugs Hayes. "Sometimes we may even do a special cask of one of our staples but we make it different and unique by adding fruit, hops, or even oak chips." Hayes likes to pour himself, giving a personal introduction to the company and a knowledgeable voice about what his beer is all about. Festivals are great, he feels, for showing off popular beers from the previous event. "Beer drinkers may have heard about it but didn't make it to the last one," he reckons. At ABR, that will mean some of their best sellers like O'Ruaidhri's Irish Red, The Dullahan Coffee Porter, Clíodhna the Goddess Apple Ale, Dreadful Red I.R.A., and cask specialties like O'Hanlon's Imperial IPA and Hartfiel's Smoked Export.
Like Hayes, Lift Bridge appreciates the value to brewer to customer interaction. "Getting members of the production team out to larger events like ABR is a great thing because they get to see and hear reactions of their craft first hand," explains co-owner Brad Glynn. A mix of flagship and specialty, will include pulling rare beers from the reserves instead of making them new. "Firkins and randalls are fun," Glynn notes, and the idea of the festival is limited release beers and making a big impression representative of the brand.
At Tin Whiskers, it’s about what’s in production and seasonality. For ABR this year co-founder Jeff Moriarty says that the brewery will focus on their Schottky Pumpkin, made with real pumpkin and spices. "Then we always like to bring at least one thing special, which is usually one of our beers in a firkin with different dry hop or other ingredients added in the firkin. Sometimes we will bring a special batch or bring one of our prototype beers we are working on from our Fourier series, but there won’t be one at ABR this year."
It’s a different experience with newer breweries than old, and festivals are a chance to introduce themselves. "Being new to the industry the owners, myself, Kaye, Pete, and Dee DeLange along with head brewer Tom Schufman, have attended pretty much all of the festivals," says Tom DeLange of Waconia. "Not only are we proud of the beer we make, but we are also fans of other breweries and sampling their beer." Waconia Brewing Company will bring an IPA, pale ale, brown ale, and a soon-to-be-released Oktoberfest. With so many to choose from, the brewery chooses to focus on getting people into their brewery later. "We want people to come seek out our taproom exclusives," he says.
Besides the insider aspect of picking the beers and who will rep them in a face-to-face with hundreds or thousands of fans, beer festivals are a gathering of like-minds. This is a chance for beer lovers, those with a sample cup in hand or those who make the brew, to try new things and celebrate craft. "The biggest thing we like to do at these festivals," DeLange says, "is to try all the cool specialty beers and seeing the creativity. We couldn't narrow it down to one beer."
-by Loren Green