When locals breweries are the highlight at beer fests, everyone wins.

The beer festivals that I attended seven or eight years ago generally consisted of samples from breweries all over the United States. The fun was trying beers that didn’t make it to local shelves—I distinctly remember the thrill of trying Cigar City Jai Alai for the first time at a Sierra Nevada Beer Camp in Chicago (I’ve had my fair share of the IPA since then).

The wide range of breweries from basically everywhere was a reflection of the craft beer industry at the time. The scene has changed a lot since then. The growth of smaller, local breweries has altered the craft beer landscape.

Two weeks ago, I went to the Winter Beer Fest in St. Joseph, Michigan, a relatively small gathering in a couple of tents overlooking Lake Michigan (a decidedly smaller affair than Sierra Nevada’s event on Navy Pier).  It was my second year in a row, and it didn’t disappoint. I sampled some amazing stouts like Greenbush Brewery’s Sailor of Circumstance, a tasty barrel-aged porter in Arclight’s Hail to the Darkness and the amazing M-43 IPA from Old Nation. What’s notable about the 15 or so breweries that made it to the small fest is that they were all from Michigan, and 10 of them are an hour’s drive or less from St. Joseph. A hyper-local fest like this would’ve been tough to pull off five years ago, but it certainly works now.

I’m not saying Michigan is the only place doing this. The Wisconsin Beer Lovers Fest has been pouring Wisconsin-only brews at Bayshore Town Center for nearly a decade. And last summer’s Wisconsin IPA Fest at Third Space Brewing, organized by the Milwaukee Craft Brewery League, was an outstanding show of what the state can do with hop-forward brews.

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But, I’d like to see this approach more now that we have enough breweries in southeastern Wisconsin to make it possible.

“Wisconsin seems to have a lower amount of local love at beer festivals and in general,” said Henry Schwartz, MobCraft founder and one of the guys behind the MCBL. “You walk into a bar in Portland or Denver, every tap is a local one. Don’t get me wrong there are some great bars around that heavily support local beer and I greatly appreciate that. But there are a lot more Milwaukee breweries out there cranking out every style of beer imaginable than there are draft lines to serve them. However, we’re definitely moving in the right direction.”

Thankfully, the MCBL is helping the cause. The group just finalized plans for the second annual Milwaukee Craft Brewery Week from July 26 to August 5. The Wisconsin IPA Fest is scheduled for Milwaukee Craft Brewery Week, and will again be held at Third Space Brewing. Be sure to save the date.