Despite the sweltering temps inside the beer tents, brewers and volunteers were more than cordial. (Photos by Steve Coomes for Insider Louisville.)

What goodness Todd Antz hath wrought.

Six years ago, Antz, owner of Keg Liquors, and several craft beer friends, created the Keg Liquors Fest of Ale as “basically a good excuse to have a party that was all about good beer,” Antz told me.

Seventy-five people attended the inaugural kegger, which mushroomed into a few hundred the next year and to 800 by year five. Somewhere along the way, organizers decided to donate the proceeds to the WHAS Crusade for Children, which happens the same day.

When I arrived at 4 p.m. last Saturday, Antz told me, “There’s got to be a least a thousand out there,” gesturing with his head toward the well-spaced crowd circulating throughout tents covering representatives of more than 40 breweries and six wineries—and their creations.

The headcount was estimated by the number of logoed plastic beer mugs handed out to participants. “You arrived at the perfect time. A ton of people try to get here right at 3, when it opens and the lines are huge.”

Because they I.D. everyone, even those sporting sun-dried faces like mine, and apply the standard “permission to imbibe” bracelets to attendee’s wrists.

Which brings me to your first tip for next year — because you really want to go to this if you’re a brew lover — arrive at 4 p.m. You’ll coast through the gate.

Tip 2 is to arrive well hydrated. Saturday’s temp was 93 F, 12 degrees above normal, and brewery reps were pouring really good suds, most of which were above-average gravity choices.

Adding high-test beer instead of water to one’s bod can produce a rapid-onset buzz, and when you’re sweating like cheap hamburger, it’ll happen. (Plenty of free cold water is available at its own tent, though soft drinks are for purchase at the food trailer.)

One of our new buddies sported her temporary Founder's Brewing tattoo.

The challenge then becomes to pace yourself by sipping slowly and taking time between visits to beer stations bearing names like Upland, Rogue, Barley Island, Sun King Flying Dog, Founders … and all our Kentuckiana faves, of course. That wasn’t easy, Saturday.

Believe me.

What made it worse were the people pouring the beer: Brewers and their associates are naturally friendly and willing to talk trade and products. Despite sweat pouring down their faces, they clearly were having fun chatting up crowds and doing quality checks, of course.

Despite the sizable crowd, the high number of offerings limited waits to about a minute at worst.

Conversations with brewers also led to conversations with other drinkers, which doubled the fun.

Maybe it was the confluence of suds and sun that turned so many shy guys and gals into Loquacious Lenny and Lucy. Or maybe real beer drinkers are instantly at ease among “their people.” Dunno. Either way, it was a great crowd.

Which brings me to Tip 4: Bring a chair and find a good place in the shade.

Not only did that provide a chance to make more friends among the beer brethren, it distanced us—however briefly—from the kegs, allowing a chance to sip something other than suds.

The St. Anthony of Padua campus is flat, spread out and had ample tree cover along its periphery. Plenty of pleasant places to plant it.

Given that there were more than 40 breweries sharing 150 choices, plus eight wine choices, there’s no way anyone can or should try to taste everything anyway. Unless you’re sipping, spitting and rinsing like they do at wine competitions, palate fatigue will set in.

If you’re planning on coming next year and expect to, um, indulge, bring a designated driver: Quaffers’ chauffeurs get in free! Just bribe them with food. Additionally, event volunteers eagerly call cabs for those needing a ride home.

Bottom line: Anyone looking liquored up is denied service.

Dig this lager-head's life philosophy on his shirt. (Click to enlarge.)

Of the selections we did try, following are our favorites. And I should state that in choosing what to try and what to risk overlooking, I skipped over our locals’ creations since chances are greater I’ll get to enjoy theirs sooner than the out-of-towners.

In no particular order:

* Sheet Metal Blonde, Barley Island Brewery, Noblesville, Ind.

* Wee Mac Scottish Ale, Sun King Brewery, Indianapolis

* Nut Hugger Brown Ale, Upland Brewing Co., Bloomington, Ind. (yeah, creepy title, but a great beer)

* Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale, Founders Brewing, Grand Rapids, Mich.

End notes: This year the event donated $7,225 to the Crusade for Children, a huge increase over last year.

Antz said brewery reps said the crowd was well behaved and enjoyable.

“I don’t know that we’ll cap attendance next year, but with the way it’s growing, it’ll get to the point at which people can’t talk to the brewers,” he said. “That small talk is important to everyone. There are other festivals

Organizer and Keg Liquors' owner Todd Antz does a TV interview at the 2011 Fest of Ale.

I’ve been to that are so crowded that it’s like, ‘Here’s your beer, now get out of the way.’ ”

Could something like this happen in Louisville? Antz said he certainly thinks so.

“The number of people who came from Louisville is a lot, so the demand is definitely there,” he said.

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Steve Coomes
Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 24-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Louisville magazine, Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass and Food & Dining Magazine. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.

4 thoughts on “Fest of Ale 2011 featured region’s best of ales, fantastic crowd

  1. One tiny thing:  The article states, “Given that there were more than 40 beer choices and eight wine choices,
    there’s no way anyone can or should try to taste everything anyway.”

    There were more than 40 *breweries* with approximately 150 beer choices.   🙂

  2. One tiny thing:  The article states, “Given that there were more than 40 beer choices and eight wine choices,
    there’s no way anyone can or should try to taste everything anyway.”

    There were more than 40 *breweries* with approximately 150 beer choices.   🙂

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