Drinking with the Animals… Great Lakes Brew Fest

We couldn’t help but get excited when we heard over 90 breweries would be in attendance at the 8th annual Great Lakes Brew Fest in Racine Wisconsin. The festival is put on to help raise funds for the Racine Kilties Drum & Bugle Corps, as well as gather craft brewers and beer geeks all in one place.  This was our first year going to this festival and at first were a little apprehensive about making the trip all the way north to Racine; however, once we got there the apprehension was replaced by excitement.

Great Lakes Brew Fest

We arrived at the Racine Zoo at 2pm which was the start of the extra hour for VIP ticket holders. This was the first year the festival was at the Zoo, and being my first year attending I didn’t have the previous venue to make comparisons. The venue was fantastic. Right on lake Michigan and plenty of open space. Trees were throughout which provided some great shade when you needed a break from the sun. The festival was in a section of the zoo away from the animals, so no fear of being mauled by a lion or gorilla. I was able to spot a few penguins and zebras, but the spider monkey cage on the walk in was empty. I was really looking forward to snapping a photo of a spider monkey drinking a brew. We did grab some photos of various animals drinking though they turned out to just be people in costumes.

Drinking with the Animals

The first hour we had the opportunity to walk about the beer tents with the crowd of 500 VIP’s before they let the additional 4000 General Admission attendees in. This extra hour was great and allowed us to get some great beers and relax a little before the crowd. Right away we heard people asking if we knew where Three Floyds was hidden, as they were the only brewery on the list that was not on the map. We began to wonder ourselves, and this became a reoccurring theme as we went from tent to tent until eventually we found them later in the day. With all the mystery, I was hoping for a special offering from them, but no such luck. Although I can never turn down a fresh gumballhead.

More Cowbell

The festival was a two day festival with Friday night being only Wisconsin breweries and then Saturday having the additional breweries such as: Founders, Dark Horse, New Holland, Goose Island, Wild Onion, Bells, Magic Hat, and Alaska Brewing. There were too many to name here and too many to be able to sample everything at the fest. We had so many great beers from the breweries it really is hard to talk about them all and after a while we found ourselves with a more focused attach strategy of trying many of the local Wisconsin brews that we don’t get in the Chicagoland area. One of the breweries that I was impressed with has just begun to distribute in Illinois, Hinterland Brewing, out of Green Bay. Their pale ale was a great way to start and had just the hoppiness I was craving. Ale Asylum is another great brewery that is worth the trip north to grab a 6 pack of. Hopalicious is a great IPA that I can never turn down. Lakefront Brewery had a Pumpkin Lager. I’ve been on a pumpkin ale kick recently and this is the first time I had a lager. It was a very solid pumpkin spice beer and much closer in characteristic to the ales out there then a standard lager.


New Glarus

Some of the other great Wisconsin breweries we sampled included: Tyranena, Sprecher, New Glarus, Vintage, and Horny Goat. Again just too many to list. The festival was just a great time to relax, meet new friends, and catch up with others. The venue itself really set this fest off from others and I think was an outstanding location. I can’t think of anything in Chicago that would compare to the location and the amount of breweries and beers being served. While I love the city, this festival is something I recommend to everyone to attend in coming years. It may be a bit of a drive, but you should go at least once. They did have shuttles scheduled from local hotels for those who came from out of town so you could make the festival a weekend trip. If there was anything to complain about it was lack of bathrooms, 10-15 minute waits. I think this being the first year of this venue they will fix this next year.

On the Lake


So keep an eye out around this time next year when the 9th festival is scheduled, pick up your tickets and schedule your trip to the next Great Lakes Brew Fest.








For more scenes from the Racine Zoo for Great Lakes Brew Fest be sure to visit our facebook page  (dont forget to hit the like button)




Founder of Chicago Beer Geeks also Founder of Windy City Stangs, a Chicagoland Mustang Club. I work in the IT industry but also do some DJ work at local bars and clubs.

One Comment:

  1. You might want to let the ladies know that there are “Ladies only” bathrooms with shorter waits and they were exceptionally clean.

    Sorry you are a man!

    This was our 2nd year and we loved it! Our son is a teacher in WI and we are planning to take him there for his birthday for years to come.

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