Downtown Janesville taps first craft beer festival

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Marcia Nelesen
Wednesday, June 11, 2014

JANESVILLE—Two downtown bar owners are heading up the city's first annual craft beer festival this weekend: the Janesville Craft Beer Experience.

It's a celebration they are confident will grow every year.

Badger Spirits, 1507 Center Ave., also is participating and will offer samples during the festival.

Joe Quaerna and Matt Schreier, owners of O'Riley & Conway's Irish Pub and The Looking Glass, respectively, intend to nurture the event over the next several years and eventually hope to include as many as 100 craft brewers.

About a dozen brewers are involved in this year's event. In the future, Quaerna and Schreier want to erect tents throughout downtown and also include home brewers.

The event, which opens today and runs through Sunday, June 15, is inspired by the Great Taste of the Midwest, a craft beer celebration held in Madison every August. Getting into Great Taste isn't easy because of its popularity and limited supplies of tickets.

“There is a lot of interest in craft beer,” Quaerna said. “With the Great Taste being sold out, I feel there's a real demand for a well-organized, larger, better-tasting event that maybe we're not necessarily seeing in the month of June.”

The craft beer market has exploded in the last five to seven years, Schreier agreed.

That newfound popularity has given small brewers across the country much-needed exposure. Those brewers are involved with every batch they brew, Quaerna said.

“There is nothing wrong with celebrating beer,” Schreier said, noting that alcohol can have a negative reputation these days.

“If you look at craft beer, you're not looking to get drunk,” he said. Craft beer fans like to compare tastes, textures and brewing methods. “It's more about the experience.”

“That's why I think the word 'experience' is a good word for the event,” Schreier said.

“Each craft beer is a real conversation piece,” Quaerna said. The focus is on “how people perceive that beer, what they get out of that beer. They make notes and do research. There's a lot of information online. They take that information as they're drinking a beer.”

Some of this weekend's highlights include barrel-aged beers from Potosi and Abita, cheese tasting, and Cajun and Creole food and root beer floats at The Looking Glass.

Coronado Brewing, Evil Twin Brewing and Stillwater Brewing will send representatives along with a couple of special-release beers.

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