Let me preface this review by saying that I don’t like lines. And by that I mean lines to get into a movie or a restaurant or night club or bar. If I walk up to place and I hear that there is a wait of more than 10-15 minutes to be seated, 99 times out of 100, I’m walking away and going somewhere else. That’s just the way I am. Very rarely over the last 30+ years of going out to places have I found anyplace worth wasting mine or anyone else’s time to wait to get in.
Having said that, I got to the beer fest a little later than I would have liked, the pouring started at 1PM sharp and they let folks enter around Noon. But I didn’t get in line til around ten after 1. The line to check in when I arrived was about 300-400 feet long and it reached from one side of the back square at Town of Tioga all the way to the other side and a bit more (see the pic below).
Did I mention I don’t like lines?
It took about 20 minutes for my spot in the line to move around to the check-in. Which considering how many people were attending (1400 tickets pre-sold) wasn’t bad. And the line moved at a decent pace. At the check-in the event organizers (the Hogtown Brewers) dutifully checked I.D.s and verified tickets holders, then passed out the sampling glass with the Passbook, a small booklet listing the different vendors and their products and a map showing their location. Immediately after the check-in tables was a guy dressed in some kind of Incan Sun-God King outfit (at least that was what it appeared to be to me) pouring out samples of Bold city Killer Whale, a Cream Ale, which seemed kind of timid for a craft beer festival. But then if you’re someone who is not familiar with craft beer this would be a good crossover beginner beer. But who am I to judge… I once drove 4 hours just to get some Genesee Cream Ale, and one of my favorite Swamp Head brews is Wild Night, a honey cream ale.
One of my friends, the Blainenator, was helping out at one of the vendor booths and I stopped by the booth to say hi. He hadn’t had a chance to wander around the festival yet. So we decided to explore the festival together for a bit. He had heard about a Maple Milk Stout so we went to the pod which had Florida Avenue Brewing. This stout wasn’t in the passbook as one of those they were serving so it was a surprise. and a good one at that. Definite hints of the maple syrup as well as chocolate and coffee hints that a lot of stouts will have were present and it also had a smooth texture.
While we were in the same pod, we also stopped at Copp Brewing, where I had the 1821 English ESB, and at Three Palms Brewing where I sampled the Guess Again, which is a sour ale. The Guess Again I thought just ok but then I like some sours and not others. I am, however starting to become a big fan of ESBs (Extra Special/Strong Bitter). Don’t let the name fool you. The ESBs I thought were the best tasting were not overly bitter as the name suggests, In fact, they have very well balanced flavors. Copp Brewing’s ESB is one of these balanced beers.
We then wandered to many different pods trying the various samples available to us. The breweries that I had samples from included (but were not limited to): 3 Daughters Brewing, Aardwolf Brewing, Abita Beer, Bell’s Brewery, Bold City Brewing, Brew Bus, Bugnutty, Cigar City Brewing, Copp Brewery, Engine 15, Florida Avenue, Florida Beer Co., Founders Brewing, Green Flash Brewing, Intuition Brewing, Left Hand Brewery, Lost Coast Brewing, Motorworks Brewing (soon to be covered in a review by Rowdy), Ommegang Brewery, Persimmon Hollow Brewing, RJ Rockers Brewing, Sixpoint Brewery, Southern Tier Brewing, Sweetwater Brewing, Three Palms Brewing, and Uinta Brewery. Then of course I had to stop by the locals (Swamp Head Brewery & First Magnitude Brewing). And there were probably three times as many breweries represented that I did not sample. Most of the beers were good, a few were just okay, but none of them made me want to dump it out and wash my mouth out.
I think the one I liked best for the day was a Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout by Lexington Brewing and Distillery. They weren’t even listed in the passbook but I really like stouts and the bourbon flavoring on top of this one was really tasty. The Blaineanator and I got into line for their booth and only had couple folks ahead of us. After we got our samples we turned around and saw the line had grown back about 20 or more people. It literally grew in the blink of an eye.
Did I mention I don’t like lines?
And beer was not the only brew being offered; there were a few (mostly local) vendors who had samples of ciders, meads and some local wines as well.
And of course there was the killer 55 foot trailer that was converted into a large multi-tap dispenser. Dubbed “Craftzilla” this beast is a beer drinker’s dream.
I was very glad to see not only the local breweries (Swamp Head, First Magnitude and Alligator Brewing) being represented, but also some of the local tap rooms, like BrassTap and Gainesville House of Beer. And I was especially glad to see a lot of local food vendors.
I’ve been to beer fests where the food vendor is basically Domino’s or Pizza Hut Pizza, a fast food place, and Baskin Robbins Ice Cream. I have nothing against any of these places. But they, in my opinion do not even come close in comparison with the likes of our local places. For pizza you could choose from one of the Food Truck’s which was called Humble Pie (see blog on First Magnitude brewing for a mention of them) and one of Gainesville’s must visit pizza places, Satchel’s Pizza had a booth. The Reggae Shack café had a booth, if you like Caribbean cuisine, and there were several other local food truck vendors. For me there were three highlights as far as food goes for the day.
First, Stubbies and Steins, one of the first establishments to bring craft beers to Gainesville and the best german style sausages anywhere, had a booth. This was one of my favorite places for food right up until they closed last year. So seeing the staff from there back serving the most awesomest sausages was a great treat. I also purchased a tee and some glassware from them for memories sake. Hope to see more of them in the future.
Second… What is a beer fest without pretzels? One of the best german traditions is hot fresh soft pretzels and a stein of beer. Particularly served with either mustard or a horse-radish sauce. Well, friends, I’m here to tell you that there’s a new player in town. A little company by the name of LEJ Pretzel, Co. has arrived and they make some really great pretzels. Soft and chewy without being too dry these tasted great. I am wishing them well in their new enterprise and hoping to see them in other events around the area. (P.S. – they have a Facebook page so you can find them there.)
Third, and while my last vendor mention they are in no way the least, is Sweetberries Eatery & Frozen Custard. I have not had the opportunity to sample any of Sweetberries other foods, but their frozen custard is the best. This time I had their Honey flavored and it was a perfect topper for the other foods and beers I had that afternoon. I could tell that they used good quality honey to make the custard, and not some syrup substitute. The flavor came through that well. After purchasing my custard, I said “bye” to the Blainenator and slowly walked toward the exit of the festival, savoring every bit of the frozen treat. I was half tempted to lick the bowl clean it was so good and probably would have in the privacy of my home.
I made my way to the front of Tioga Town center where I had been lucky enough to happen upon a parking space just as someone was leaving, otherwise I would have had to drive to the overflow parking and ride the shuttle back. The one drawback of Tioga Town Center for use of any event is the lack of sufficient parking. I feel bad for the businesses located there when these events happen because it must be a deficit for their customers. I had to park in front of Blue Highway Pizza to find a space. And when I got back to the vehicle I realized that a pizza for dinner would be nice, so I figured since I parked in front of their shop I should at least patronize their business.
I ordered a special which was basically their Greek pizza with Tzatziki sauce instead of tomato sauce and the pieces of meat that are normally roasted on a spit (can’t remember the name). It was delicious. If you haven’t tried Blue Highway (whether this one or the one in Micanopy) you need to.
When I got home, before I settled down to eat dinner, I spread out the Swag I had bought or collected (with the Blainenator’s help) which you can see below. Not a bad little haul. Glad I brought a little shoulder pack with me.
If you couldn’t make it to the Hogtown Craft Beer Festival this year, you should have. There were a lot of great people, some who you may have known and probably a lot you didn’t. There were plenty of great beers to sample and lots of good food to eat. They even had a little area for kids to play in. The price tag for the entrance was $45. Some of you might hear that and think to yourself “Why would I spend that much for beer when I can buy a twelve pack of my favorite beer for less than $15?”
And if all you want to do is drink your normal everyday Lager and drink it and nothing else, then I agree with you that is what YOU should do.
But if you want to be able to sample multiple styles and breweries in one spot, eat some of the best food in Gainesville, and meet some really great folks, then spend the money… it was more than worth it. I’ll certainly be back again next year. My hat’s off to the Hogtown Brewers for throwing such a great event.