Beer and Cheese Fest is back – Isthmus

Madison’s Beer and Cheese Fest will be held next weekend after skipping 2021 due to the pandemic. There are some major changes, however.

The event, formerly called Isthmus Beer and Cheese and held (as were a number of events) to support the publishing of the paper, is no longer affiliated with Isthmus. The former owners of the newspaper, who also operate Red Card Meal Plan, retained rights to the events, while the newspaper re-formed as a nonprofit, Isthmus Community Media.

Organizers are also imposing safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

All attendees, brewers, vendors and volunteers must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. (This means two doses for vaccines that require two doses; it does not factor in boosters.) “Despite the virus, people are still getting out and going to events, so we tried to develop Beer and Cheese this year in ways to address the different comfort levels that attendees have with large public gatherings,” says event director Ryan Richards.

Everyone entering the festival must show a current vaccination card with the dates of doses, along with the usual ID showing proof of age. Photos of vaccination cards, as well as a copy of records from Wisconsin Immunization Registry, will be accepted. Negative COVID tests will not be accepted for entry. 

As in years past, the event will take place in the Exhibition Hall of the Alliant Energy Center. Attendance is expected to be down from the 6,000 seen in 2020. Currently, ticket sales stand at arround 2,200, according to Reynolds.

The smaller crowd will allow greater separation between booths of brewers and cheesemakers, and for the tasters to move through the hall. “Things have been intentionally spread out, and with a smaller crowd there will be more space for everyone,” says Richards. While masks are not required when eating or drinking, they will be encouraged when not sampling. Handwashing and sanitizer stations will be available.

As of writing, 100 breweries have signed up, down from 130 in 2020. Cheesemakers are fewer — just three, Capri Cheese, Klondike Cheese Company and Harmony Specialty Dairy Foods, all from Wisconsin. Still, with different styles of cheese from each cheesemaker, there are various pairing opportunities. There will also be food carts vending onsite (inside).

There is also entertainment: Piano Fondue dueling pianos, silent disco, and hammerschlagen are all back.

Richards says brewers have told him they’ll be bringing more experimental brews and one-offs because a smaller crowd allows for a slower pace to the tasting and more conversation about unique beers. It also means limited fest-only releases will last longer in the festival’s general session and a larger percentage of the overall crowd will get to try them; in previous years, sometimes only those with V.I.P. tickets (which allow entry a couple hours before general admission) have snagged these bonus beers.

More than 250 (possibly up to 300) different beers are expected to be poured during the fest. Among the new breweries making a debut at the event is Madison’s Starkweather Brewing. The brewery is yet to open on Atwood Avenue in the former location of Next Door Brewery. Those attending Beer and Cheese will be among the first to try its beers. Among Starkweather’s offerings will be First and Foremost, a West Coast pale ale, and Sweet Heat Plum, a gose-style beer infused with plum and scorpion pepper. 

Also new to the festival is Madison’s Young Blood Beer Company. Among its new beers to be released at the fest is a black lager called Slayer Owes Me $16, and a fruited sour named Elite Hug made with blueberries. 

Full Mile Beer Company and Kitchen will bring its weizenbock, a wonderful example of a German wheat-based bock and an early sign of the annual bock beer season. Brewer Bill Morgan also plans to be pouring vintages of the brewery’s annual anniversary stout called Collusion. Those with a ticket to the pre-festival’s Very Important Drinker (VID) session can sample Full Mile’s Boosted, a new barrel-aged fruited strong ale from the Sun Prairie brewpub.

Capital Brewery’s Tanner Brethorst will unveil Juice-O-Rama, a hazy IPA and his first attempt at making the style since being hired as Capital’s brewmaster last summer.

Alt Brew is a fan favorite for gluten-free beers and will bring several new recipes to the fest, including the brown ale Ravenswood. 

Recent startup Amorphic Beer is another first-timer to Beer and Cheese. The brewery opened in early December in Milwaukee’s Riverwest Neighborhood. Its festival tappings include Schrodinger Paradox, a double dry-hopped IPA made with Citra and Strat hops and oats, and The Horse You Rode In On, an Arizona-inspired kettle sour loaded with cactus fruit and hibiscus flowers.

If the Green Bay Packers are playing in a Saturday play-off game there will be a television for updates and 608 Brewing Company from La Crosse plans to pour its double IPA that was inspired by the Packers. Its MVB (Most Valuable Beer) is bursting with tropical juicy flavor from Riwaka, Sabro and Mosaic hops.

Beer and Cheese fest takes place on Saturday, Jan. 22. The VID (Very Important Drinker) session is from noon–2 p.m. with general admission 2–6 p.m. Tickets are still available here.

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