Sunday, March 27, 2011

Firkin Fest 2011 - Minnesota Style

As luck (or the work of the Beer Gods) would have it, a work trip to Alabama fell on the days preceding Firkin Fest and I had the opportunity to layover in Minnesota before returning to Portland. This is the fourth year of the festival and I’ve been there since the beginning. For those of you that haven’t, a quick recap of how it started to give you some perspective on where it is now.

Year 1: I’m pretty confident in saying the festival, held the Sunday of St. Patrick’s Day weekend, was an afterthought and simply a way to generate some additional revenue inside the tent (that likely wouldn’t have been taken down by the rental company until Monday) The Happy Gnome had erected in their parking lot. It was small (about 20 firkins), but not bad for the first time around.

Year 2: While larger (about 60 firkins), the festival still seemed to be a St. Patrick’s Day hanger on. That was ok; it was still fun.

Year 3: This was the first year it seemed like the festival was starting to stand on its own. Unfortunately, standing on its own also seemed to mean there wasn’t enough cash to rent a sufficient number of port-a-potties and since there was no cap admission, there were far too many people there.

Now that you’re caught up with the first three years, onto Year 4. This year the festival was clearly its own event. Held a week and a half after St. Patrick’s Day, for the first time on a Saturday instead of Sunday and finally, finally one entrance fee for as much as you wanted to drink (no more dealing with those pesky tickets for each sample) it seemed like things were coming together. The organizers were expecting over 80 firkins this year and as a response to the crowding issue from the previous year, they said they were capping the number of tickets they would sell.

That all sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? They’re addressing all the issues of the past and bringing in more firkins. I wish I could say, “Yes, in the fourth year, Firkin Fest was a roaring success!” Unfortunately I can’t and here’s why:
  • Although someone apparently budgeted for more port-a-potties, there were still not enough. Beer is the focus of a beer fest, but dang, you can only drink so much before you have to make room for more!
  • The festival was sold out and however many tickets they sold out of were entirely too many. By 2:00 pm (VIPs got in at noon, general admission started at 1:00), the place was getting uncomfortably packed.
  • The overall quality of the beer seemed to have diminished. Don’t get me wrong, I had some mighty fine beers but I got the sense that the emphasis was more about increasing the number of firkins over the previous year. There were certainly fewer beers I was super excited about.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t have a good time. In fact I had a GREAT time! However, my great time had much more to do with the friends I went with and the many, many friends that I have missed since moving to Portland who were also there than what the festival offered. (And here’s the shout out to Joe, Tom & Tom!)

For those of you in Portland who decided to read about a festival in MN that you’ll probably never attend, thank you. I’m excited to attend the firkin fest at the Green Dragon in April to see how it stacks up. See you there!


  1. Wow! Blogging coherently at 6:11 in the morning the day after Firkin Fest. That's impressive.

    I totally agree with your assessment of this year's FF. Not enough port-a-potties (again), ans still too many people. At least more firkins meant they didn't start running out of beer quite as early as last year.

    I'd be curious to know what you ended up with as your best beer of the event. I picked Lift Bridge's Di's Nuts.

    Anyways, it was still a good time, and it was nice to meet you after reading your Minneapolis blog regularly. I will check out your Portland blog mere often!

    Oh, and thanks for the shout out!


  2. I know one of the reasons I skipped it this year was that I figured once again it'd be a clusterfuck. Plenty of beer on the list but really not a thing that I got excited about. Most of it has been found around the cities at various establishments in the past. Seems as always, The Happy Gnome is just in it for the big profit first and foremost.

  3. @Joe - I have a horrible track record for voting for my favorite beer at any festival, and this time around was no different. That being said both of the beers Brau Bros had I thought were excellent. I had never had either before. A long time favorite was Dark Horse Double Crooked Tree.
    @Ben - I agree that after attending for four years, it is clear that money is the primary motive for The Gnome. Too bad, I love me my cask beer!