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Saturday, February 28, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 14.0° F  A Few Clouds
The Daily
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The inaugural Bacon, Brew & BBQ Fest in Sun Prairie revels in its generous excess
Beer and bacon make up two-thirds of this summer food festival trifecta.
Credit:Kyle Nabilcy

Bacon's reign is far from over. The land is fertile for craft beer festivals. And who among us omnivores doesn't love barbecue in the summer? The organizers of the new Bacon, Brew & BBQ Fest, held Saturday in Sun Prairie, felt like it was only sporting to mash 'em all together in one big event.

Sun Prairie's Angell Park is a nice venue for an open-field event like this, but I'll say that the space could have been filled a little more smartly. There were big spaces between the three tents, filled with almost nothing -- though that "almost" hides maybe the best food of the fest, which I'll get to in a moment. The "pit row" section was so far removed from the rest of the food action that I actually never found it.

But other than noting the one garbage can dramatically overflowing by 1 p.m. (the VIP gate had only opened at noon), there were few true complaints to lodge with this rookie festival. The beer selection in particular was strong, with local brewers Vintage, MobCraft, House of Brews, One Barrel, and Karben4 sidled up with Wisconsin heavy-hitters like Leinenkugel's, Milwaukee Brewing, and O'so.

Karben4, continuing its on-point brand awareness campaign, got its logo on the sampler glasses opposite the event logo. (Their bottles are so going to fly off the shelves.) MobCraft brought a quality lineup, including a terrific soured version of its Batshit Crazy coffee ale and its newest bottle release, Mistah Tea, a black tea-infused red ale. La Crosse-based Pearl Street Brewery served a refreshing orange juice beermosa made with its El Hefe Hefeweizen during a special 2 p.m. pouring. Brewers like Giotto Troia from MobCraft and the seemingly-omnipresent Page Buchanan from House of Brews were on hand and happy to chat up their products.

Bacon might be the only thing more pervasive than Buchanan, and it was put to pretty good use at the festival. Sweets like bacon bourbon apple pie (with a fine scratch crust) from Lammar's Smokehouse BBQ and Vintage's applewood bacon and abbey ale caramel tart with fresh liquid nitrogen-made ice cream -- dramatic! -- came off well.

It's too easy to serve bacon perfunctorily, though, and some presentations were just pile-ons: a brat slice/bacon chunk/beer cheese soup blob hors d'oeuvre from Varsity Bar & Grill, an unceremoniously-served mediocre onion ring wrapped in bacon from Mojo's Sports Pub, a dish of potato chips with some kind of mildly bacony dip that made such a minimal impression I'm sorry to say I forgot who served it.

My top three show how diverse the food vendors were: Callahan's Sports Pub's bacon-wrapped chicken cordon bleu-style Swiss cheese curd, served with honey mustard, was hot, crunchy, and gooey. The Oaks Golf Course offered a startlingly fresh gazpacho with bits of crisp bacon throughout and a dollop of guacamole on top. Yes, it scared off some of the manlier men I saw nearby; it was their loss.

The best bite was a bacon-wrapped pheasant and jalapeño popper from Milford Hills Hunt Club in Johnson Creek. Smoky and lightly grill-charred, with juicy marinated pheasant and respectable heat from the pepper, these bites deserved to be already running low by 1:30 p.m.. The Milford Hills tent was a standalone affair in the middle of the aforementioned open expanse between big tents, like an oasis in the desert. People were flocking.

The Rigby served its pulled pork at its main booth, so stupid me was at least able to try that barbecue; it was good, and generously piled on a soft bun alongside ghost chile baked beans that weren't nearly as hot as most attendees apparently feared, given how many cups were left behind. Most of the non-pit row stuff was more BBQ than barbecue, with lots of sauce-drenched items and not a lot of smoke. A bacon BBQ cheddar burger from the Nitty Gritty -- the only burger at the event, somewhat surprisingly -- was like a double-wide White Castle slider, and I do mean that in a good way.

I think a change in the way the beer/bacon tents are both placed and internally organized would help the festival; it felt a little slapdash. Counterprogramming La Fête de Marquette isn't the worst idea, but it means that getting festival pros like Smokin' Cantina (deep-fried bacon on a stick!) or Double S BBQ is made doubly hard. But it was mostly worth the ticket price ($50). Hopefully a second annual Bacon, Brew and BBQ Fest will have enough standing in the scene to bring in a few more impressive food competitors. But for year one? That'll do, pig. That'll do.

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