06 Oct 2009 @ 11:22 AM 

This past weekend, as I vehemently elucidated this past week, gave us the combo World Beer Festival/Backyard Beer Festival in Durham, NC, complete with local Tweetcast. I won’t link in any of the audio from the weekend (mainly because I find it really strange to listen to myself talk – it’s like hearing myself on the answering machine, it’s all wrong), but you can go through the profanity-laden shorts over on my Posterous site.

I set out to write bit of a wrap-up of both events, but to be honest, the success and pure awesomeness of Fullsteam’s Backyard Beer Festival really blew me out of the water. Still, let’s start at the beginning.

World Beer Festival: Durham

It was fantastic to see the WBF back in its old digs at the Historic Durham Athletic Park. It’s just a nice space, and on the beautiful day that we had on Saturday it’s hard to not love walking around outside and drinking great beer.

The layout of this event was quite nice. All of the North Carolina beers (and others, more local like Georgia and South Carolina) were presented together, directly in the middle of the festival, and other breweries were fanned out around them. As usual, most of the imported beers were presented together as well as the obligatory macrobrews. It made navigation – even without a copy of the festival map in my hand (I gave it away to someone who didn’t get one) – very easy.

Every year that I go to this event, it always seems a little more crowded to me, but I’m not sure that reflects reality. It’s possible that I’m just getting more and more irritated with people being in between me and the beer. Why are all these people making me wait in line?!

The highlight of the festival for me happened to be the very first beer that I tried, which made the rest of the afternoon weirdly anti-climactic. Natty Greene’s from Greensboro brought a small keg of Flanders-style red ale that had been aging in oak barrels for 2 years. It was divine, and taking steps away from that afterwards was strange, especially as the general feel of the beer around the festival tended to focus almost exclusively toward the hoppy. Later, I got a chance to try their Cascade wet-hopped Southern Pale Ale again, and it was even more delicious than before. Awesome citrusy tang from the fresh Cascades, but quality-wise the sour red ale really stood out for me.

I was able to try a sample of Mother Earth’s soon-to-be-released IPA. It was big and hoppy, and quite nice if a little underbalanced (lots of hops!). I attempted their Wit soon afterwards, but it was totally overshadowed by the lingering hops of their IPA. I presume it is even awesomer than it seemed. They’re worth keeping an eye out for. Mother Earth has their grand opening set for October 24th.

I often approach beer festivals with goals in mind, as in “I’m going to try this particular type of beer today.” It won’t stop me from finding other styles that I enjoy, but I tend to focus on one and try to seek them out. This Saturday, that goal was Rye. Rye beers mystify me. For the most part, it seems almost like brewers are scared of rye. Maybe being able to say “Rye P-A” is just too good to pass up, but it seems to me that most of the time rye beers are so highly hopped that I can’t actually taste any rye. This stood true for every rye beer I tried at the festival. A short conversation I had with a friend of mine reveals how well this goes over.

Me: I’ve been trying rye beers today.

Him: Man, I can’t get behind it. It’s like you get a really good IPA going on and then there’s something really weird and wrong with it. Why would they ruin a good IPA like that?

Me: Or you could ask why they’re spending so much time covering up the flavor of rye with all those hops.

Him: Because it SUCKS.

I can’t say I agree.

I like the spiciness from rye, but it’s not often balanced well with the hop schedule which really just gives you a weird tasting IPA. This is a topic for a later column, but worth thinking about, anyway.

The one rye takeaway was from New Holland: Rye-Smoked Rye Doppelbock. It was not overly hopped. In fact, it was big and round and smoky and tasted almost exactly how bacon smells. I’m not sure if this is what they were shooting for, but they hit it, dead on. The first sip took me by complete surprise and then over the course of the sample I was continually more pleased with it. Is it a refreshing drinker? A pint to be had while shooting the shit with friends? Probably not. But with the right food it would be amazing.

Backyard Beer Festival

This was, to me, by far the highlight of the day. Why? Well certainly because I got to share my own beer with people. But what really made this whole experience stand out for me was the sheer enthusiasm of both the homebrewers and attendees. Sean and Chris took a good idea and executed it flawlessly. It’s especially impressive given that they did so in an incredibly short amount of time (3 weeks!) and inside a brewery that is under construction. These guys deserve every ounce of credit people can muster. It was a fantastic event.

Here’s a PDF of the brewers info sheet that was handed out to all the attendees as they came in. I hope Sean and Chris don’t mind that I scanned this in.

I can’t really take you through it from the point of view of an attendee, and maybe some of the people that attended will be willing to share some thoughts in discussion, but from a homebrewer’s perspective this was just damn cool.

A lot of people stopped to talk about the beer. They wanted to know about recipe formulation, what kind of hops I was using, what I was thinking (What were you thinking!?) when I came up with a recipe, and even about process. It was great to hear compliments about the beer and to be able to just shoot the shit about homebrew. It was wonderful to be able to taste a wide range of other people’s homebrew, as well. People really outdid themselves in this, especially in a short amount of time.

Unfortunately, it’s just now – days later – that I’m finally pairing up my memories of the beer that my wife and friends kept bringing over to me with pictures of people and the brewers info sheet to actually make a connection of exactly who made what I tried. I wish there had been more time to walk around and interact with other brewers. With any luck we’ll be able to connect at a later time.

A couple of homebrewers, I think, really need to be pointed out for their sheer ballsiness. These two guys, Austin Dowd and Brandy Callanan: they came in here with 5 months of brewing experience under their belts and poured two great beers. 5 months after I started brewing I was terrified to have my roommate try my beer much less a giant group of strangers. Those guys should get a medal for bravery.

I clearly need to stop this post, since we’re moving onto something like 35 pages now. I’d really love to hear from people who attended the event and other homebrewers, as well. Please, if you’re familiar with people who are there (or are one), send this around, shoot some feedback into discussion. I had a blast, I’m hoping everyone else did, too.

Finally, here are collected photos of both the World Beer Festival and the Backyard Beer Festival. These have been collected from various Facebook postings and other (even professional) outlets. Credit is given where it is due. I’ll be adding pictures to this gallery as I get more, so it’s probably worth checking back. I’ve tried to keep them in relative order of the day. Roughly.

For whatever reason I ended up in a LOT of pictures here (mind you – my wife and friends took some of these), and I apologize that you’re going to have to keep coming across my mug. It’s a good thing I’m so dashingly handsome.

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Categories: appreciation, beer festival, new beer, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 06 Oct 2009 @ 11 24 AM

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 17 Aug 2009 @ 9:16 AM 

The Greensboro Summertime Brews Festival in photos:

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Good times. I really appreciate indoor beer festivals, and for a couple of reasons:

First off, climate control is your friend. It’s nice to be able to drink beer and NOT be in the blazing heat. The World Beer Festivals in Durham and Raleigh are some of my favorite festivals ever, but when it’s hot you can get drained pretty damn quick. It’s fairly often that I come home from the WBF with a sunburn.

Second, indoor bathrooms always win over port-a-johns.

Last of all, the most magical thing about indoor beer festivals – no smoking. No offense to smokers, but I’m here to taste the beer. Smoking kills your palate. It also kills mine, so I’m happy to taste with as few cigarettes around as possible.

Quick note for people making beer festival programs: Maps and/or booth numbers are nice. Sometimes you’re sitting around going, “Okay, I can see from this list that My Favorite Brewery is here, but where the hell are they?” and they’re hiding behind some bunting or something – maps and numbers help plan what you’re looking for.

Also? Room for notes. Good heavens – room for notes. I might even suggest putting a notes column down the side of the alphabetical list of breweries so that you can look a brewery up and write a note about the beer right there. It makes it a lot easier for people to appreciate the beer now and later.

For whatever reason, I felt like there was a higher percentage of drink-to-get-drunk people at this festival than normal, but to be honest it’s been a while since I’ve been to a smaller festival. Maybe they were just more noticeable. I always consider it a bad sign when you’ve got someone staggering around with a beer-soaked shirt and you’re only an hour or so into a four-hour session.

That said, I really quite enjoyed this. I was pleased to see that a lot of breweries took the time to roll out a special cask or keg specifically for the festival, it was quite a treat. Of particular note were:

Natty Greene’s Southern Ale, wet-hopped with fresh Cascade hops (grown in Mebane, NC) – I understand that it may be making another appearance later in the fall.

Foothills had hourly rollouts of some of their brews aged in Pappy van Winkle barrels. I missed the first two, but the Sexual Chocolate was excellent.

Olde Hickory also had an English Barleywine aged in a bourbon barrel that was excellent – far smoother than without aging – that had just a ton of wonderful vanilla character.

(Next up, I’d like to see somebody age a beer in a barrel that wasn’t used for bourbon previously.)

All in all, the beer that I took away with me the most was Holy Mackerel’s Mack in Black – I had never tried it before and was really impressed. Also saw two local(ish) breweries that I had never heard of before (Boone Brewing Company from Boone, NC and RJ Rockers from Spartanburg, SC – “Beer is Art” is a nice tagline), and was surprised to NOT see most of the North Carolina breweries, especially those who were just an hour-or-so drive away.

It was the first time I’d gone to this festival, with luck, it won’t be the last.

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 15 Jul 2009 @ 4:41 PM 

Last night, I went to multi-brewery beer dinner. It’s the first time I’d gone to a beer dinner that wasn’t hosted at a brewery and also the first since I started writing here. Overall, I had a blast, but it got me to thinking: What exactly makes a successful beer dinner?
Beer Dinner Menu, Spice Street, July 14, 2009
Certainly, there are two easy starting points: Good food and good beer. Without those, you are doomed to fail, but if that’s the only thing you’ve got, I think you’re only coming out at mediocre. So I tried to come up with a little list of what I think makes (or would make) a beer dinner exceptional.

Have brewery reps present. Last night, we had brewmasters from two of the four breweries represented on site (Triangle and Lone Rider, and a rep from a 3rd (Natty Greene’s). They came around to each table as their beer was being served and talked a little bit about the style, how they thought it would pair with the course, a little about what was going on with them for business and everything. It was a wonderful touch, and the 4th brewery was noticeably absent when their beer was poured. If brewery reps aren’t available, at the very least, have a beer connoisseur or cicerone available to go around to each table to talk to people about what they’re drinking and eating.

Be thoughtful with your pairings. I really enjoyed the menu last night, but we had what I would consider beer pairings for wine people. I’m not trying to be disparaging, here, but it was organized in a very familiar way. Light beers went with seafood. Dark beers went with red meat and chocolate. It’s traditional, and really mimics the way most people pair wines with food. To be fair, if you’ve got a wine-friendly crowd that’s fairly unfamiliar with beer/food pairings, this is probably a great way to go. Myself, I like it when you actually work on the flavors available in the food and the beer together for an end result.

For instance, one of the pairings last night was Lone Rider’s Shotgun Betty Hefeweissen with a hop-marinated scallop and frisee salad. This is a traditional pairing. I’m not sure it really worked. Without doubt: the beer was excellent and the scallop was excellent, but the beer scrubbed the rather delicate flavor of the scallop off of your palate entirely. They were both great, but they weren’t great together. It might have been really interesting to see Lone Rider’s Deadeye Jack Porter paired in this instance; using the dark roasted flavors (and probably lower carbonation) to play against the light flavors and somewhat spicy flavors in the scallop to create a whole new sensation across the palate might have been really fantastic. Mind you – I haven’t tried it. It might suck. But I think getting that kind of non-traditional pairing right is a step toward creating a fantastic beer dinner.

At the same time, you can’t really beat chocolate stout and chocolate cake together, traditional or not. Damn that’s tasty.

Give people information. I think it’s important to remember that craft beer still has a really small market share and that to population at large, craft beer – much less beer/food pairing – is something entirely new. Giving people information – especially printed information – that they can refer to during the dinner and even take with them afterward, is tantamount in getting them to enjoy themselves and come back for more later. Tell them what they’re drinking, what to expect out of what they’re drinking, what to expect from the pairing, and where to find the beer later. (Presumably, they know where to find the food.) Education is key. There are three related reasons that so many smart people are into wine: 1) There is a lot to learn. 2) There are readily available resources to learn about wine. 3) Smart people like learning. Craft beer fits into the same mold. Exploit it.

What about you? Outside of “good beer” and “good food” what makes a good beer dinner into a great beer dinner for you?

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