What an event. A tent in the SweetWater Brewery parking lot full of more than 80 casks. Now, lest you think they were a bunch of English ales served cool but not cold and under-carbonated but not flat, each one represented the vision and aspirations of a person or a business with few ties, if any, to a commercial brewery.
Leave it to SweetWater to dream up a beer festival, Brew Your Casks Off, where their friends—lots of retailers, some charities, a few homebrewers, several beer scribes, many beer publications (including yours truly)—knocked themselves out to each make a cask ale. Amateur hour!
Then SweetWater goes and sells tickets to the event.
The top four judged brews and the People’s Choice winner will be recreated and served at the upcoming SweetWater 420 Fest this April 17th and 18th in Candler Park!
Given that the beers were made by amateurs, the range in quality was surprisingly tame. I found few if any were awful, a bit more weren’t too interesting, but a very large majority were fun and enjoyable to drink.
I judged the “worst of show” and, while about half of the bad beers were not pleasant, the winner of the worst got the title not so much because the beer was bad, but because it had so much chili pepper in it you couldn’t drink it. It was smoking, for real.
As for my beer, Paradise Porter—well, it was interesting. True to plan, it did end up tasting just like a Christmas ginger snap cookie and, to be honest, the first few sips were a lot of fun. However, the fun faded faster than a teenager’s crush and then it just hung around in the mouth as the drinker hunted desperately for the splash bucket.
As a veteran festival producer, I enjoyed the crowd scene most of all. Everyone was talking about the casks, like this was the ultimate scavenger hunt. They were holding up their programs, going over the numbers, chasing down cool sounding beers and passing on recommendations. The customers were all over this concept, and with good reason. It was different. It was fun. And the beers were pretty cool.
I’ve already got some ideas on how to break into the winner’s circle next time.
2010 JUDGES PANEL AWARDS
1st: Fontaines | Hop n’ Spicy (#32)
2nd: Gibneys | ELT Ale (#49)
3rd: Taco Mac | PNS Reserve (#11)
4th: Locos | Moose Brew (#79)
PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD
Cypress Street | Knobzilla Vanilla Oatmeal Stout (#50)
Raging Burrito | Raging Xocolate (#37)
The Atlanta Humane Society was voted best charity and took home a check of $1,876 from Brew Your Cask Off.
It’s festival weekend in Columbia, South Carolina. Our third World Beer Festival concept. After 15 years in Durham, 5 years in Raleigh, we’re adding a third in a new state. Which means a lot of public relations time for me, leading me to this whole idea of becoming an “expert.” One reader simply asked if that’s the right term! I’m not sure what it is, but maybe that’s another thing to discover on this journey.
For example; here I am in a radio station with the local hip radio personality, the PR guy and six bottles of beer selected from the festival refrigerated trailer packed with beer. I have my nose in a glass of Sierra Nevada Torpedo and I can’t for the life of me figure out what I’m smelling.
I’ve toured the brewery several times, spending quite a bit of time with Ken and Sierra Grossman. Their beers have been a staple for nearly 30 years. I can go on about their history and the political issues that I’ve worked with Ken on, but grasping and describing the flavors?
Sure I’ve got the piney nose of the Cascade hops, or so I guess are the hops since I selected the beers for this event on the fly and I didn’t get to do any research. I also tried to explain why using whole hops is better than pellets. I talked about complexity, but couldn’t really point to anything that we were smelling or tasting. Another thing to learn.
I also included a Saranac Black & Tan, an odd beer style, but as I mentioned I was grabbing stuff from a dark truck. However, one of the jocks said he tasted amber lager! Amazing. Guess what? Turns out that’s exactly what the Matt family used to blend with their stout to make this blend.
Among the other beers was Abita Turbodog where I thought I was picking up some toasted nuts and a bit of caramel. But I couldn’t get any nose from the beer, even though the taste suggested there should be a lot. Actually, outside of the Torpedo I wasn’t smelling anything from any of the beers! I had the festival glasses and poured under 2 oz.
Something interesting however, the big hit among the 6 jocks I met with during the day was Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat. That light body with the citrusy, tangy, finish got everyone’s attention, especially when I mentioned I used it to make scrambled eggs.
I finished each interview with Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot 2009, thinking to end the brief tour with a bang. I was looking for some of those dried fruit that I associate with barley wines. However, I was immediately stopped by the exceedingly bright, sharp, hobby finish, and the delicacy of the beer, one of the biggest around, was a surprise.
Readers, I’m hitting the heart of this journey, and I’m seeing three elements. I can’t describe the sensory experience of a beer as well as I’d like to. I’d also like to give people the technology that pushes those sensory experiences. Finally, I’m seeing not just gaps, but outdated if not wrong information lurking in my memory.
This is going to be fun.