RACINE — After a difficult growing season last year, some were ready to sample some old favorites and new creations in micro brews and hard ciders at Saturday’s Great Lakes Brew Fest.
Thousands attended Saturday’s Brew Fest, hosted at the Racine Zoo, 2131 N. Main St. The packed event marked the 10th anniversary of the specialty brew-apalooza.
Charles Cook, 46, of Pleasant Prairie, said cider and wine makers have become more creative as a result of the tough growing season for some fruits last year in Wisconsin and other portions of the Midwest.
“I noticed in the ciders and the fruit wines they switched to alternatives,” Cook said. “New Glarus switched to the Serendipity (wine) because of that (cherry shortage). As they kind of had to dig deep to pull through, they ... came up with some ideas they may not have tested out (otherwise).”
Charles McGonegal, owner and cider maker at AEppelTreow Winery & Distillery in Brighton, said the warmer-than normal March last year meant the trees — including apple trees — began to bud early. That was followed by a-normal April which, he added included six “killing frosts” after the “trees woke up early.”
“We lost 70 percent of our crop,” McGonegal said. “The freeze wouldn’t have mattered without the early warm.”
He said because of the apple crop loss, he could not be as selective as he typically is when choosing apples for his ciders.
“There are apples and pears that are only for drinking, because of their tannins. They’re astringent,” he said. “I can’t sell cider to wine people. I find beer drinkers more adventurous.”
Because he needed to try some alternatives because of the hit crops took, McGonegal said he’s “had to go more fruity and floral. In some ways, it’s more approachable, but less unique.”
Cider is light, and local brands will tend to be less sweet, McGonegal explained.
However, “the national brands are going for broad acceptance. They’re going for America’s sweet tooth,” he said.
“When faced with crisis, creativity results,” said brew festgoer Kristy Cook, 40, also of Pleasant Prairie.
Micro brewers and cider makers also have become more creative because of changes in diet, allergies and medical conditions, Kristy Cook said.
“There (has) been a lot of creativity come about because of celiac disease,” she added.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune digestive disease that is triggered by eating gluten, which is found in barley, wheat and rye, according to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.
Saturday’s festival was an annual benefit for the Kilties Drum and Bugle Corps, featuring more than 250 beers, meads and ciders, according to organizers.
To some, the event may be a sort of brew-topia — complete with a Home Brew Island and Cider Cellar.
“It’s hard for me to get my wife to drink beer. But she’ll drink this. She loves the hard cider,” said Casey Klawonn of Zion, Ill.