It was Beer and Bacon Festival’s third year on October 10th. They now have Hormel Black Label Bacon as their major sponsor. And they added BBQ! So now, it shall be know as Beer, Bacon & BBQ Festival! My husband had to work and I was very sad he did not join me. I will admit, he really is my better half and I even say this in my bacon blogging. I was joined by good friends though and they made the festival fantastic.
Let’s get started with a review:
* Photo opportunities were very much improved. I mentioned my concerns in the review from the 2013 festival……
* Hormel Black Label Bacon had a cardboard standee of Kevin Bacon. If you took a picture and posted it with #HormelOrlando, you got a shirt! So I got my hubby one! I have no clue what happened to the picture of me and my friend Brook.
* Bacon Man was also out taking pictures with anyone who wanted one. He was also handing out the same shirts.
* And of course, the Pig returned for his third year for photos.
* The beer variety was just as amazing as the last two years. You really get your money’s worth with the unlimited sampling wristband.
* Being there with friends and even running into friends I haven’t seen in years made the whole experience fun!
* Every person behind the pouring stations was smiling and in a great mood all night. I also had a couple people point out that the staff (be it actually staff from the brewery or just volunteer) had a great knowledge about the beer they served. They were prepared to tell you anything you wanted to know: pairings, location and history of the brew, where to buy it, etc. It was impressive to see because as the same friends told me, this is actually hard information to get from those behind the booth at most beer fests.
* There were many booths with wheels to spin for free prizes. The last two years had a few booths, but this year seemed to be really big on giving out free stuff. Some of the booths that had great prizes was Sonny’s BBQ, Dave & Buster’s, and the Orlando Magic. In fact, my friend Brook won tickets for the Orlando Magic!
* I want to make sure to highlight one booth in particular.. The Orlando Outreachers. “Orlando OutReachers’ purpose and commitment is to raise awareness for the causes of several diverse philanthropic organizations, community foundations, and charitable institutions in the Central Florida area by inspiring sustainable volunteer commitment from individuals in the community which, in turn, will foster trust, solidarity, and reciprocity among the citizens of our area.” At their booth, they were selling three pieces (Applewood, Jalapeno, and Black Maple Pepper) of bacon for $3. Sounds like a rip-off but it was going towards supporting their organization… plus they gave you a coupon for $3 off a package of bacon. If you want to give your support financially, they do currently have a GoFundMe for Harbor House.
* With BBQ being added to the event and Sonny’s being there, of course they went all out! They had cooking demos set at 3pm, 4pm, 5pm, and 6pm. And after each demo, they passed out LOTS of free food. It was fresh off the smoker and absolutely delicious. They really went above and beyond to stand out at the festival and make BBQ and bif part of it.
* The Little Lamb ( the catering side of The Hammered Lamb). Crab cake with Bacon Remoulade. My enemy from last year. It seemed to actually improve on side this year. So that’s a bonus. I refused to try it though. I could still remember last year and just couldn’t make myself try it. So, I relied on my friend Brook to tell me what she though. She said it was good and that it was moist on the inside yet crisp on the outside. The only compliant she had was that the Remoulade could use more bacon.
* Miller’s Ale House returned for a third year! So in 2013: They had great basic menu items that were perfectly priced. In 2014: They only had bacon to sell, and it ran out quick. This year: They had PLENTY of bacon and they were just passing it out for FREE. It was delicious! It was soggy but the flavors were great and FREE with great portions is even better! The flavors were Bourbon Maple Bacon, Sriracha Bacon and Ranch Bacon. They actually gave out so much that some of my friends were begging for bread. I’m just hoping they will actually show up with some food options next year.
* The Hammered Lamb. They didn’t do too bad on the Biscuit with Bacon Mash and Bacon Gravy. There were some things I did find wrong though: The Bacon Gravy lacked flavor: little chalky. But the the mashed potatoes were creamy and perfectly cooked – you just didn’t get a bacon flavor unless you pulled out the half slices of bacon they mixed into it awkwardly. Yes, yes, there were some smaller pieces, but the majority of the bacon was in huge pieces. The biscuit was a biscuit. It was definitely a good idea and the base was great, but the effort to pull it off failed. It’s like half way through they just tossed it together.
* Sonny’s BBQ. They had a Redneck Eggroll that was absolutley delicious. Autumn and I inhaled it so quick I forgot to take a picture! So, I took a picture from their website. But the picture works because the presentation looked the same. It was crispy on the outside as it should be and the pulled pork was tender and moist on the inside. The mixed flavors of the coleslaw and cheese blended wonderfully. It almost didn’t need it, but the sauce it was served with was matched spot-on. So why under the “mixed feeling”? Well, there wasn’t any back in it, and I can’t ignore that fact. I think just a hint inside or maybe even just in the dipping sauce would have been a good add for bacon.
* Ellie Lou’s Brews and BBQ. We dove in and tried the Triple Pork Puppies (Bacon, chopped pork, & sausage). The hush puppies were crispy and obviously fresh. You could taste there was meat it it, but wouldn’t know there was bacon unless told. They were on the smaller side, but two for $2 was a perfect price for the portion you got. The sauce that was provided was very obviously a melted Velveeta cheese log. It was too strong and didn’t have much of any other flavor. But I have to applaud them for their menu choice: Triple Pork Puppies (Bacon, chopped pork, & sausage); Bacon, Spinach, Artichoke, & Roasted Corn Dip; and Chipotle Cheddar Bacon Tamale. They were unique ideas, the staff was so pleasant to be around and talk to, everything was fresh, and they made sure to keep both bacon and BBQ flavors in the menu items. I think that detail alone would bring me back. That says a lot to their dedication in the festival and presentation for their restaurant.
* * Why are we not seeing any bacon beer? I mean, I can understand not wanting to throw the obvious out there. And to be honest, some bacon beers sucks. Some beers are listed as a “bacon beer” but only have a smokey taste to them – those are the ones that usually make me nauseated. But, it’s kind of the reason for a beer fest, if you focus on the side of it. The idea of a beer fest is to try beer you may not have wanted to buy a whole 6 pack of without knowing how it tastes. You may even be surprised to find something you never heard of. And if you try something you don’t like, simply toss it and move on. It’s an experience. And it would be nice to add the the experience using the theme of the festival.
* Gates opened at 2pm. Beer sampling started at 4pm. This was an earlier gate opening by an hour. But there was a reason why. They added a new feature to the wristbands. You could pay extra to sample earlier than others. I really could not wrap my head around the idea of someone paying an extra $15 just to sample for an extra hour. I felt like this was an absolute waste of money. An extra hour was not even necessary. The normal 3 hours for the regular ticket was plenty to enjoy. It was much more worth saving that extra money to use towards food.
* The first pour. We arrived early at 3:30 and was given wristbands for the sampling and then a ticket for our first pour. Going by my first complaint, you must know I had the wristband that starts for the 4pm sampling. As I approached the tent for the first pour, I was denied my first pour. Yup, that’s right. If you had a wristband for 4pm, you don’t even get your first pour until 4pm. This was new. For the last two years, we always arrived before the sampling time started so we could try some food (I believe that’s the point of the scheduled times). We always were given our first pour. That was the point. You arrive, get a first drink and look around, get food, and enjoy the first beer before sampling started. Not this year. You had to wait and if you were there early, you had to go back down to either end of the stretch of vendors to get your first pour. And on top of that, the first pour was just a sample size. If you didn’t get it yet, then it wasn’t even worth going back for. The last two years offered you a bigger amount as your first pour, but this year was just a small sample. It would have been worth just skipping the tent. Even the bacon pieces they were giving out were ridiculously small. Think of a normal slice and break in into thirds. And yes, this back was cooked that morning and reheated.
* With BBQ being added, I felt bacon got pushed out of the way a little. Many vendors jumped on board with the BBQ ideas and were leaving out bacon. It was still a good variety.
* Some places were just repeats of what they had last year and even the year before. Ex: 4Rivers Bacon-Wrapped Jalapenos, Sliders, Cupcake Crazy same ol’ cupcakes (both for them and at any festival with bacon), and The Hammered Lamb with the repeat menu.
* The Little Lamb (the catering side of The Hammered Lamb). My friend brook purchased the Mini Bread Bowl with Bacon Carbonara. Not so outstanding. The idea of the dish sounds good. But the flavor was lacking. By the time you were finshed, you were left with this awkward bread bowl you weren’t sure if you should even eat. If the dish was a little more saucy or maybe even let the Bacon Carbonara sit in it for a bit and steam it up, you may have had an edible bread bowl no one could resist. But you didn’t and so the bread bowl became pointless and a waste of food. It just didn’t pull off well for this event.
I said this last year and I will say it again: I do find myself becoming more picky with bacon treats now and it seems hard to impress me. I feel let down a lot. I’m not a great chef myself and can have a pretty bland pallet at times, but when I go to an event I am revved up. If I wasn’t there to give a review, I would say it was great in a every way. And that everything I ate was great. But I have done this quite a few times now, and my expectations are getting higher.
The festival overall is very well organized. They seem to be doing very well to be able to get a big sponsor like Hormel Black Label Bacon and add the BBQ theme. I just really want it go back towards more bacon – especially if you’re going to have the sponsor you have. There were some new restaurants on the list and some different beers from last year. Everyone that was staffed or volunteering was having a great time and that helped with the vibe. The set up of this festival is always impressive. The location really helps with the atmosphere. You don’t have to track through dirt in an unkempt plot of rented out grounds. You have a cobble stone road, plenty of seating, room to walk, and a great scenery with the lake at Cranes Roost. And as with every year, we always are welcomed with a beautiful sunset to bid us goodbye.