Firkin Fest at the Happy Gnome…for the last two years I have had little positive to say about it. My recaps of 2010 and 2011 were full of tales of woe; too many people, too few “facilities”, frightening firkin abuse, and many other forms of general unpleasantness. The quality of beers on offer and the mere fact that the Happy Gnome made a celebration of cask-conditioned beer happen seem to be the only positives I could muster. 2011 was better than 2010, but nonetheless I had sworn off the event.
This year though I was convinced to give it another go. The Gnome learned from the past and had instituted some changes that seemed like they would make the event go better. They did!
The improvements started right off the bat with the lines. The entry was moved behind the restaurant where they could have multiple lines heading through the gates at once. This definitely streamlined the process and facilitated getting people in the door more quickly.
An hour of early-entry sampling on an empty stomach was beginning to take its toll. I needed to eat. It took me a minute to find the food, which was tucked on the Happy Gnome patio outside the tent. What a great place for it. It was off away from the hub-bub of the fest and there were lots of tables to sit at, at least when I ate. The food was good too. Pulled pork and cheese curds on a beautiful sunny afternoon on the patio; How can you beat that?
You beat that with barrels of cask-conditioned beer, of course. As in past years the beer was great. All the usual suspects were bringing it strong. Lift Bridge took the people’s choice golden firkin for the too-many-to-count time. I couldn’t hear what the winning beer was, but I suspect it was the coconut infused version of their Irish Cream Stout. It was very nice. J. W. Lee’s Harvest Ale and Harviestoun Old Engine Oil are two of my favorite beers anyway, so I was very happy to be able to taste them on cask. Schell’s Imperial Deer Brand was actually surprisingly good; unfiltered and dry-hopped with Nelson Sauvin hops. The sneak-peek of the Stag Series Czech Dark Lager makes me even more excited about its expected April release. I was happy to see several new comers there like Lucid, Lucette, and Boom Island.
My favorite two beers of the day were a Bazooka Bubblegum infused Fatty Boombalatty from Furthermore Beer and Odell IPA infused with orange. These two beers fell at opposite ends of the spectrum. Bazooka’d Fatty was a gimmicky trifle. The powdered sugar flavor of bubblegum blended right in with the banana and bubblegum flavors of this imperial witbier-ish ale. Odell’s “Danny Mac” IPA was a more sophisticated sipper; kind of a bitter Grand Marnier. Both were delicious.
And what about the crowds? Considerably fewer tickets were sold this year than last, and it worked. Was it crowded in the tent? At the festival’s peak it was. Was it ever uncomfortably crowded? Never. Moving from one side of the tent to the other was never a seemingly impossible task. At no point did I feel like the 30th sardine in a tin made for 20. I miraculously managed not to use the facilities until well into the event. When I did, there was no line at all. I walked right in to one of many unoccupied units. Well done.
All in all I would say that this year’s Firkin Fest was a rousing success. For those who stayed away this year because of bad experiences in the past, you can come out now.