Craft Beer Scene Around Rockford: A look back at Milwaukee’s Firkin Fest

By Michael Sears
President, Forest City Brewers

Greetings, all!

What beautiful weather we have experienced lately. It’s just the type of weather that begs for us to enjoy some craft beer in the great outdoors, so make sure you stop into your favorite bar or restaurant that has a nice outdoor seating area and bring some friends.

Speaking of craft beer in the great outdoors, if you remember my article from June 25, I talked about some of the beer festivals coming up. Well, the weekend of July 19, my wife and I breached the Cheddar Curtain for a trip to Milwaukee, more specifically to attend Firkin Fest. This was the first time we have attended, so we did not know what to expect. Let me tell you, it was a great experience.

Saturday afternoon, we checked into our hotel nearby the festival (no driving after one of these events). It was a little early before the festival started, so we decided to walk around the area a bit. Downtown Milwaukee near the riverwalk is a real neat area, as it is full of restaurants, bars and things to do. It is also very beautiful with the many old cathedrals and ornate bell towers.

We came upon a small park, and in the park was the Sprecher Brewery fire truck, complete with nine taps … nirvana! We decided to stop by for a quick pint, and started some small talk with the bartender. She was telling us during the summer months they are there every Monday through Saturday in the early afternoon serving beer and lunch. Only in Milwaukee!

After finishing our beers, we headed over to the festival, which was a short four blocks away. Once inside, it was a cozy environment — not overcrowded, as some festivals are — on grass with plenty of trees providing shade. The weather was splendid, sunny and upper 70s, perfect for sampling beer.

Our first stop was to sample some mead (my wife’s favorite) from Bos Meadery. They had six different meads, but our favorite was the Pomegranate Pymet. Quite the start, as most of these were 8 percent or above!

We made our way around the rest of the festival, which consisted of 54 breweries featuring 210 beers, 46 of which were on cask and four homebrew clubs pouring their own beers. Some of our favorites and not-so-favorites were, in no particular order: Nutty Cherry on cask from the Milwaukee Beer Barons homebrew club, 2 Hearted Ale on cask from Bells Brewery (super delicious), a very interesting Blue Cheese Amber (yes, blue cheese) and Kolsch from Bell City Homebrew club, Bacon Bomb Rauchbier from Brenner Brewery (would have been better without the smoked malts, which gave an off flavor of phenols/medicinal), Peruvian Morning Imperial Stout with coffee on cask from Central Waters Brewery (very good), Rubaeus raspberry flavored from Founders Brewery, Elliot Ness Red Lager from Great Lakes Brewery, Cherry Lager from Lakefront Brewery (nice and refreshing), a Rye beer from Milwaukee/Chicago Area homebrew club, Coffee Stout from New Glarus Brewery, an interesting IPA infused with red pepper flakes from North Shore homebrew club, an Abbey Triple from Sprecher Brewery, Double Stout on cask from Tyranena Brewery, a Chocolate Cherry Milk Stout from Waukesha Homebrew Club (very well done and tasty, one of my wife’s favorites).

Last, but certainly not least, was a beer from Founders Brewery, which was a wheat wine aged in bourbon barrels for 16 months, then blended, called Sweet Repute. Oh my, so complex and many flavors! A truly great beer, but alas, this was a limited release from 2013 and cannot be found again. At least I had the pleasure of a few precious sips.


Michael Sears is president of the Forest City Brewers. The Forest City Brewers is a homebrewing club dedicated to the art of finely crafted beer. The club meets the first Wednesday of each month at Thunder Bay Grille on East State Sreet. For more about Forest City Brewers, go to If you have comments or recommendations, please contact Mike at

From the July 30-Aug. 5, 2014, issue

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