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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 02 Oct 2009 @ 10:06 AM 

Today is the eve of a beer festival double-header. I’m sure everyone is just about tired by now of hearing me rail on about tomorrow’s World Beer Festival/Backyard Beer Festival marathon. I have a plan for tomorrow (and not just for a day-long tweetcast), and I thought it would be worth sharing.
Yep, it's a Beer Festival
I have a plan for myself, and my group of friends, to make it through the whole day on our feet. A lot of beer festival veterans will should know this information, but judging by the amount of vomit I’ve seen at beer fests, the ranks are many who need to follow this advice.

Beer Festival Survival Guide

Regardless of the fact that the beer festival session that you are attending is only (only!?) 4 hours long, a beer festival is an all-day event that must be planned accordingly. You may think that 2-ounces at a time over 4 hours isn’t very much beer, but you’re wrong. Very, very wrong. In fact, because samples are so small (and rarely only 2 ounces) it is much easier to over-imbibe very quickly and turn a wonderful experience into an uncomfortable one.

Start preparing the night before

Hydrate. Yeah, yeah. It’s a party weekend, you wanna hang out and have a good time – it’s gonna be a great weekend! Beer festival! Par-tay!

Sure! Agreed. Live it up. But live it up in moderation. If you start the day hungover, it’s going to go downhill from there. WAY downhill. Have a few beers, have a good time, and have lots of water. Over hydrate today, because tomorrow you’re going to under-hydrate.

Eat well beforehand

Afternoon session? Eat a big breakfast. And some lunch. Evening session? Eat a big breakfast. And some lunch. And a decent dinner. Just eat well.

Why? Because you’re going to be drinking a LOT. You don’t want to be drinking on an empty stomach. It will end poorly. And don’t just trust that you’re going to get food there. You might! But chances are you’re going to be well into sampling before you get around to eating and by then, it’s already too late.

Wear comfortable shoes

You’re going to be on your feet for a long time. Most beer festivals don’t have any place sit down and take a load off. Yet, I still see women in high heels at beer festivals. Blows my mind. Make sure you’re going to be comfortable, it will make a difference on your whole day.

Drink water through the entire festival

Most beer festivals have water stations around. They’re not just for rinsing out your glass. Drink a few ounces now and then. If you drink 2 ounces of water every 15 minutes you’ll drink half of the water you should be consuming for the day, anyway. It’s not a lot of water, and it will keep you fresh and ready for more beer.

There’s also the added benefit of cleansing your palate. I try to drink a little bit of water every time I have a particularly heavy or hoppy beer so I can keep my palate ready for more delicate flavors later.

Don’t be afraid to dump your beer

This is huge.

If you don’t like a beer, dump it, don’t chug it.

If you’re not finishing a beer, dump it, don’t just walk around with it.

There are dump buckets everywhere for a reason. If you dump, you will drink more beer that your enjoy, and you will be a hell of a lot less likely to be over-intoxicated.

Bring something to write with/on

Most festivals will have some sort of program available for your reference, make sure your bring a pen or something to write on it with. You might find a beer that you really like that you want to remember for later. You might find a guy or gal that you really like that you want to remember for later. You might just want to remember where you parked your car. No matter what, take notes. Believe it or not, this will enhance your enjoyment of the festival.

As I’ve mentioned (ad nauseum), this weekend in lieu or written notes, I’ll be tweetcasting my World Beer Festival/Backyard Beer Festival experiences. Join me! We can all share beer notes together!

TASTE your beer

This is the most important thing.

It’s not a drinking contest. They’re not going to run out, there will be plenty of time to get lots of samples.

The whole purpose behind this event is to taste your beer. So taste it. Talk it over with your friends. Write it down. What flavors did you get out of that one? Bananas? Plums? Chocolate? Pine trees? You can get all of those things and so many more flavors. The more you talk about it, the more you will develop a vocabulary for your beer, and the more you will enjoy it.

For the love of god, take the time to enjoy it.

Plan some time within or after the festival to sober up

If you didn’t bring a Designated Driver, you are a total asshat if you leave a beer festival and go straight to your car and drive away. In fact, if you do this you are so much of an asshat you should be banned from going to future beer festivals.

Go get a pizza somewhere, or have one person stop drinking an hour or so before the end of the festival, or call a taxi, or something.

Beer Fest Veterans!

Did I miss anything? Any quick and handy tips about keeping your glassware handy and/or clean? Share the knowledge!

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Categories: beer festival, RDU
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 02 Oct 2009 @ 10 06 AM

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Mark this down as an awesome idea.

October 3rd is the day of the World Beer Festival in Durham, NC. If you’re local to Durham and you’re not going, you’re silly. It is, for real and true, one of the best beer festivals that I have been to. Great variety, good representation from local breweries, great food, good live music, and the wonderful added bonus of a brilliant location. This year (as with many years before excepting last year) it is in the historic Durham Athletic Park, where the Durham Bulls used to play? Ever seen Bull Durham? Yeah. There. Awesome.

This year, there’s even more awesome. Fullsteam Brewery — heard of them? You may have, even though they’re not actually open yet. Sean and Chris have been making waves in craft beer (not like one of those pools, no) because they’re so damn chalk full of good ideas. If you haven’t heard of them, you will. I guarantee it. (In fact, you just have, haven’t you?)

Anyway!

The under-construction Fullsteam Brewery is right around the corner from the Durham Athletic Park. East about a block. Easy walking distance, and they’re capitalizing on that by holding – on the same day as the World Beer Festival, in between the afternoon and evening sessions – a Backyard Brewfest.

Homebrew only.

It could be awesome or it could be terrifying. It might be both, considering they don’t have bathrooms built into their space, yet. (Let’s hope someone borrows a port-a-john and brings it by!)

There are still spots available for homebrewers, and many free “tickets” still available for the event itself. RSVP here for either.

Is it a little tight on the timing? Sure is, but I’m brewing this weekend to have something ready in time. No problemo. I’ll see you there with a couple of kegs of homebrew. If you’re in Durham for the World Beer Fest – or even if you’re NOT going to the WBF but you’re still in the area? Come on by and say hi.

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Categories: beer festival, homebrew, RDU
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 17 Sep 2009 @ 02 10 PM

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