The inaugural Minneapolis Beer Festival took place on Saturday, September 24th in the parking downtown parking lots at the intersection of Fourth Street South and Portland Avenue South.
This first annual beer fest for the masses was simply that – a beer fest for the masses. The massive selection of beer and overall size of the space made the event easy to get around and even easier to get beer, but there were several issues that made parts of the experience inconvenient or downright disappointing.
Upon approaching the two city blocks of the festival from the ample parking areas, the big brand inflatable bottles appear first alongside the Schell’s truck. The sound of a few hundred beer drinkers begins to swell, and bearings must be found in order to find the proper entrance. There was a separate VIP entrance on the Third Street side of the event and the general admittance and advance ticket pickup were on the Fifth Street side. There was no line at will call an hour and a half into the event, but where in will call can you pick up tickets? After being bounced to three different lines, wristbands were put on and a souvenir plastic cup was handed out.
Now the fun can begin! The first tent behind will call was hit hard. By 6:30, most of the breweries represented in the tent were out of beer or very close to being out, and with more than two hours to go. Most of what was left in the first tent was Mike’s Margarita and AB-InBev brands of Bass, Beck’s, and Boddingtons, and Colt 45’s Blast. Boulevard was hanging in there, but it looked like they were going to be finishing up pretty quickly.
Moving on to the next tent, Four Loco was the first to make an appearance alongside Mike’s Lemonade, the second Mike’s stand. Poor Sam Adams was sandwiched between Four Loco and Twisted Tea (which is made by the Boston Beer Company) and next to Tobacco Grove. Tobacco Grove had a huge line for most of the event, which translated into cigar smokers everywhere.
There were an additional four tents totaling over 300 beers from more than 65 breweries with various brands ranging from local favorites like Summit and Flat Earth to the huge mega corporations like Bud, Miller, and Coors. Everything in between was available, but there was not anything new or anything that was not easy to find anywhere in the Twin Cities area. Any product available for general admission could be picked up at the liquor store. There were only a few local producers as well, and with such an explosion in breweries across the state and immediate Twin Cities area, was disappointing.
The JJ Taylor VIP experience is where the value was at the Minneapolis Beer Festival. VIP ticket holders were privy to many perks like free adjacent parking, early admission, a separate entrance, free barbecue and prime rib with beer sauces and marinades from Stanley’s Northeast Bar Room, Guinness chocolate cake, deck seating, full pours of select beers and private restrooms. The restrooms proved to be the biggest perk of the VIP experience, since the lines for the other portables were outrageous. Additionally, this was the only location where you could get more interesting beers. New Belgium, Flying Dog, Breckenridge, Crispin, and Summit all had cask conditioned brews available, alongside 2010 Deschutes Abyss and Flying Dog Horn Dog kegs. That’s what $75 gets you.
Along the sides of the event were various beer suites for those companies that were primary sponsors like Guinness, Heineken, August Schell, and Corona. Schell’s was also the main stage sponsor and 4 on the Floor was followed by the White Iron Band for everyone’s entertainment. All of their patrons seemed to be enjoying themselves, and the Guinness mascot was having a good time entertaining people. Four Loco had another suite as well, pouring even more of their reformulated alcoholic beverage.
Food trucks like Barrio, and the Chef Shack were the main source of solid sustenance for the day. Cafe 128, and Buffalo Wild Wings, the Smack Shack and Turkey To Go were also present for the festival. Lines for the food trucks were long, but seemed to be moving at a decent pace. A few more would have helped shorten the wait if they could find some space to put them.
Being in a month of incredible beer events, the Minneapolis Beer Festival left a little to be desired. Their logistical issues of bathrooms and will call will surely be sorted out, but for a beer event sponsored by mostly beer distributors, companies, and a major liquor store, seeing some less available beers and more local breweries would make it a more exciting event to the ever growing community of beer geeks and enthusiasts and less of a frat party.
That being said, most people enjoyed themselves, and many a little too much. Gallons and gallons of beer were poured, and hopefully some of the people in attendance discovered a new brewery. Overall, the inaugural event was probably measured as a great success based on the numbers, but they still have some work to do.