After the first day of the Big Beers Fest, I knew day two would be something special. So I scraped myself out of bed to catch an early bus to the conference. I had to get a tall coffee and some breakfast because I knew that starting at 10am, we would be drinking a good amount of beer.
|Sean Knoll led us through four stages of making sour beers|
The event that ended up being my favorite of the whole weekend was the 10am seminar “Brewing Outside the Box: Brewers Gone Wild” centering on the topic of sour beers. I felt bad that many people were turned down at the door because there wasn’t enough room. We heard from Sean Knoll of Artisinal Imports, Adam Avery of Avery Brewing, and Tomme Arthur of Lost Abbey Brewing. Sean Knoll brought us four very special beers. The first three were various stages of Lambic, the first beer being totally fresh and hoppy. I’ve never seen a lambic at this stage so it was really a treat to try this. The next beer was a 50/50 blend of that lambic with an 18-month aged version of it. This beer was beautifully sour, the hop presence was not evident to me, but it was still sweet due to the presence of the fresh beer. The third beer was a 100% aged version, which was very sour and uncarbonated but still really tasty. Finally we tried the Cuvee de Jacobins commercial version, which is the 100% aged beer but with some malt extract added for body and carbonation. The beer was fantastic and this portion of the workshop was one of the more memorable beer experiences I’ve ever had.
Adam Avery brought us some rare treats and told us about how the beers were made. Both beers were produced in a batch of less than 100 cases. First was the Sui Generis, a blended sour that was acidic but quite malty with some subtle oak (I can’t stand over-the-top oak flavors) and fruit flavors. Next was the Quinquepartina, which I’ve lost my notes on but remember that it was aged in some first run wine barrels and was my favorite out of the two. The wine flavor I remember being very subtle.
|Adam Avery, Tomme Arthur, and Sam Knolls|
Tomme Arthur brought in three beers which were all quite rare as well. Amazing Grace is their Abbey aged in red wine barrels, it was really balanced, tart, bret characteristics, wine, and oak and not acidic at all. This was one of my favorite beers of the whole day. We also had the Cuvee de Tomme which was sweet and tasted of raisins and wine. Finally we had the Veritos, which if I understood correctly is a high alcohol Mexican Lager at the base, but it’s sour, aged in oak, and has lemon zest and black tea added. It was astringent and very pungent from the black tea. The black tea provided many flavors that I couldn’t quite figure out, but I just remember this beer being strange in a delightful way. A highlight of his talk was when he discussed wood as a flavor and how this has only recently become acceptable as a flavor.
|Chris Bauweraerts of Brasserie d’ Achouff|
At this point I needed more food but after looking at the schedule I saw the next seminar was called “SlowBrew Tour of Belgium.” I’m very interested in Slow Foods and in local, fresh foods so I decided to stick around. The seminar was led by Chris Bauweraerts of Brasserie d’ Achouffe. After the first few minutes I had wished that I was eating food. I’m not sure how the title ended up with “SlowBrew Tour” in it; all we did was taste five different Belgian style beers, four of which were from Beglium and one from Ommegang. Most of these beers are ones you’ve heard of before and have possibly tried or decided the price was too high – such as Duvel. While it was great to try these beers, that’s all we did, and the speaker talked a little about each brewery and the tastes in the beer. There was no mention of anything pertaining to the concept of “slow foods.” The speaker also made it clear that he prefers beers that stick to tradition and to the perfection of recipes, commending Duvel for perfecting a recipe over 80 years, and he made a jab at brewers who “release a new beer every week.” I just don’t feel the same way as him; maybe I have A.D.D. taste buds or something, but I truly enjoy the experimental nature, success, and failure of many beers that I try.
|The beer tasting portion of the festival|
I skipped the 1:30pm seminars, even though I really wanted to go. I’m glad I skipped because I needed food and the Beer Fest portion was to start at 2:30. I think the people who had been at all sessions of the day were probably already a bit toasted by the opening of the beer fest. Or their taste buds were blown – I just happened to walk by the “Hops, hops, and more hops” session and I could smell the IPA’s from at least 100 feet away! Ha!
I’m not sure how to proceed from here, because once the festival started I tried to take notes, I tried to be careful, I tried to pace myself but it still didn’t take long until I was just sampling without notes, trying to enjoy each beer, and making fun conversation in between. I’ll tell you some of my highlights and lowlights at this point:
|Sam Calgione of Dogfish Head pouring me a My Antonia Pilsner|
|Crazy Mountain Brewery sticking their IPA through a hop-infused French Press|
– Boston Beer – I got to sample the Sam Adams Utopias and a 1995 Triple Bock. Both beers were super thick and boozy, but definitely tasty and fun.
– Redstone Meadery had a 50/50 blend of their Black Raspberry Mead and New Belgium’s La Folie. This was one of my favorites of the night. The sweet honey taste mellowed out the extreme sour wonderfully.
– Funkwerks – their beer stood out to me at GABF, and once again I thought they were a stand out. I hope we will soon see this new brewery at local Colorado Springs drinking establishments
– Beer Celebrities – I had beer poured to me by Sam Calagione, Tomme Arthur, and Greg Koch
– Altitude Brewery – Both the Cocoa Pumpkin beer and the Mammon stood out to me. The Mammon was a Black IPA fermented with California Ale and Belgian yeasts.
– Dogfish Head My Antonia “continually hopped Imperial pilsner” collaboration with Birra del Borgo in Italy
– Uinta Brewing from Salt Lake City made the Labyrinth Imperial Black Ale, which I thought was awesome.
– Friendliness – I met a lot of really interesting people at this festival. It seems like the way the room was organized, and the “resting” room outside, allowed for conversation in a way that doesn’t always work out at other festivals.
– Sierra Nevada Oak Aged Life and Limb – I had the original Life and Limb a year ago and I don’t know why they had to age it with such ridiculously strong oak flavors. The base Life and Limb was practically not even existent
– Kona’s Tahitian Vanilla coffee stout aged in bourbon barrels. All I could taste was the bourbon, with some all too subtle coffee stout coming through
– Bourbon Barrel Aged Beers in General – After tasting Kona’s bourbon barrel aged beer I tried a few others. I’ve noticed in the past, but even more so now, that a beer aged in bourbon barrels can be easily overpowered by the bourbon, and the wonderful beer that you wanted is now gone. I would like brewers to be more careful here.
The whole experience was pretty amazing. I’ve never been to a festival with so many extra components to it and I was very happy that those components were not sweeping generalized overviews, but rather they were in-depth looks into a brewery or category of beer. It was quite fun, will probably be a major highlight of my year, and competes with the Holiday Ale Fest in Portland, Oregon for my favorite festival.