On Saturday, I attended the Tomah Rotary Beer and Sausage Fest in Tomah, Wisconsin with a group of friends. Leading up to the event we thought it sounded like a good time, but didn’t know what to expect. It turns out, based on conversations that I had with others at the event, that we were not alone in not knowing what exactly to expect.
This was the 3rd year that the Tomah Rotary Club has offered their Beer and Sausage Fest as a fundraiser. The event held at the Recreation Park Building at the Monroe County Fairgrounds was advertised with the flyer to the right, which led quite a few people that I talked to, to assume that the event was going to have a good selection of beer and sausages to sample. The folks in my group, and others we spoke to at the event, shared a common theme, that the beer tastings offered were more than what was expected but the sausage side of the festival was lacking.
After the event, when I was researching how many years the event has been offered, I found the following explanation of the event, as a Facebook comment on the event page, that did a better job of explaining what the event was going to entail:
Please join us and please share this event! Live music from “Marty and the Sharks”, lots of beers to taste, Klement’s sausage, pulled pork competition and brewing demonstrations. Saturday, September 9th, 4 to 8pm at Recreation Park Gold Building in Tomah. 8 to midnight after party with beer bar, food and beanbag tourney. No ticket required for after party. Tickets for beer tasting are only $20.00!
My Experience at the 2017 Beer and Sausage Fest
While the doors opened at 4:00pm, we decided to arrive around 4:15pm, so we didn’t have to stand in line. This did mean that we sacrificed our ability to get a “Klaus Beer Tasting Glass”. These glasses, pictured on the left, were offered to the first 100 people through the door.
Tickets were $20, and were available at from the Tomah Chamber of Commerce, Tomah Rotarians, or at the door. Based on the people that showed up around the same time as we did, a lot of tickets were sold at the door. After we had paid for our tickets, it was learned that designated drivers could enter for free and would be able to drink soda and water for free. Since we had already paid, our driver decided to sample a few beers. In addition, we were under the impression that the tickets were for sampling sausage as well (more to come on that).
Beer Offerings at the Tomah Rotary Beer and Sausage Fest
The number of beers offered at the Beer and Sausage Fest exceeded my expectation. They had over 60 beer offerings from approximately 15 breweries. Breweries that were represented included: Boston Beer Company, Door County Brewing, Karben4, Lake Louie Brewing, Leinenkugel’s, Milwaukee Brewing Company, New Glarus Brewing, Pabst, Pearl Street Brewery, Potosi, Sand Creek, Titletown Brewing, Toppling Goliath, Tyranena-Lake Mills, and Wisconsin Brewing Company.
Each brewery had a table with their offered brews chilling in a tub. All of the beers were poured from bottles or cans, none were on tap. A sign offered limited information about each beer, mainly the brewery, name of the beer, logo of the beer, and the type of beer it was (IPA, Pilsner, etc.)
I personally was hoping that there would be a representative from the brewery on hand to talk about the beers, make recommendations, and make tasting notes. However, the tables were staffed by Rotarians who were volunteering their time to pour samples. While they did a great job, they couldn’t offer much information about the beers that they were pouring.
The exception was a table that was staffed by the Tomah Zymurgy Club. They had an educational display, which was the advertised brewing demonstration, and a few beers to taste that they were able to fully describe. I really enjoyed the ginger beer that they offered.
Since I was not one of the first 100 to walk through the doors, to get one of the special Klaus tasting glasses, I had to rely on the plastic cups at each station, but there were plenty and reusing your cup for sampling was optional. This worked out well when I wasn’t impressed with a sampling, and needed a fresh start. About an hour and a half into the event, they put tubs of pretzels out at each of the brewery tables which helped differentiate between beers,
Sausage Offerings at the Tomah Rotary Beer and Sausage Fest
The Sausage side of the Beer and Sausage Festival didn’t quite meet my expectations; however, I’m not sure exactly what my expectations were. I was assuming there would be a variety of sausages to try, based on “Sausage” being a main part of the festival’s name. It appears that I wasn’t the only one that was a little disappointed in this part of the festival based on some conversations I had during the event, and at least one person who commented on the Facebook Event page stating, “Kind of disappointed the sausage wasn’t included in the entry fee. I wasn’t the only one…”, after the event.
They had three styles of sausage at the event. They had Brats, Italian Bombers, and Smoked Polish Sausage, all from Klement’s Sausage Company. While they did have small samples of each available, the main purpose appeared to get you to buy the sausages for $3 each.
Of course, since I primarily focus on food, and not beer, I tried all three of the sausages, some maybe more than once. The first offered (on the left) was the basic Klement’s brat. Not much to say about the brat, as it had good flavor, but wasn’t anything special. The second offering (in the middle) was the Klement’s Italian Bomber. These were cooked up with sweet peppers and served with an Italian sauce. This one had a good flavor profile, was a good sample, and ultimately was one of the sausages that I purchased. It didn’t disappoint, and was a great sausage to be served up in a bun. The last offering (on the right) was the Klement’s Smoked Polish Sausage. The picture above seems to have it with sweet peppers and the Italian sauce; however, it was just the sausage when I tried it. The Smoked Polish Sausage had a great smoked flavor and was a tasty sample. It reminded me a lot of the Polish Kielbasa that we have for dinner occasionally. I said it on Saturday night, and I still think it is true, that this sausage was good as a sample, but I don’t necessarily think it would make a great sausage in a bun to eat. Since I didn’t purchase one and eat it this way, it is only my assumption, based on the flavor profile.
Pulled Pork Competition at the Tomah Rotary Beer and Sausage Fest
I am still beating myself up for missing out on the sampling of the pulled pork competition at the Tomah Rotary Beer and Sausage Fest. This was setup in the corner of the room, and we ended up there after only two brewery tables. When a few in our group decided to do the pulled pork tasting, I was holding out for the sausage, thinking it was going to be more involved part of the festival than it actually was. By the time we had made it around the room, and I saw what the sausage part of the festival was, the pulled pork competition was packed up and gone.
The Pulled Pork Competition consisted of five crock pots of different pulled pork entries. The contestants appeared to be all Rotarians. You could purchase a ticket for $5, which allowed you to taste all five pulled pork entries. They were using 4oz Styrofoam bowls for each of the samples, so you got a decent amount of pulled port to try for your $5. When you tried all five entries, you placed your ticket in the entry that was the best. I didn’t catch who won.
Like I said, I didn’t get to sample any of the pulled pork; however, from those in our group that did they were impressed by the quality and taste of the entries.
Overall Impression of the Tomah Rotary Beer and Sausage Fest
Overall I thought the Tomah Rotary Beer and Sausage Fest was a great event worth the $20 entry fee. The parts of the event that I was disappointment in, was based on my expectations, which could have been avoided if the event was marketed differently. Based on what we experienced, it was a beer festival. I think it was a little bit of a stretch to add the “and Sausage” part to the title. As a beer festival, it had a great selection and was well priced. I think this may be how the organizers saw the event as well based on a reply to feedback about the sausage not being included in the entry fee, “and our entry donation was about half of what other beer festivals are getting for entry.”
I was impressed by the number of beers offered, and we didn’t have to spend a lot of time in line waiting for samples. The crowd was great, a good representation of Tomah, and there were some great conversations. My only recommendation on the beer side, would be to see if they could get some of the breweries to have a representative to help add to the education side of the event. As a beer novice, I would have found this extremely helpful and interesting.
I hope the Tomah Rotary Club takes the feedback it receives and makes adjustments for next year to help the event meet people’s expectations of the event. This is a great event, that I’d like to see keep growing. Being a food guy, I hope they keep the Sausage part of the Festival and just beef it up [pun intended]. I’d like to see more sausage companies represented and some larger sample sizes. I think this is doable, while keeping with the event’s purpose, as a fundraiser.
I also noticed on Facebook, that there was interest by a couple of companies to have a vendor booth present at the event. While I didn’t see the companies that asked about it at the event, I don’t know if they decided not to attend or if the event was not accepting vendors. I think it would have been easy to add a few of these vendors (home brewing, drinking paraphernalia, etc.), which may help offset some of the costs. I know there was a lot of interest in the home brewing side of things, based on how busy the Tomah Zymurgy Club’s table was.