Thursday, August 16, 2007

Mammoth Lakes Festival of Beers & Bluesapalooza

By Mike Sober
After having seen advertisements and listening to a few personal accounts of the annual Mammoth Lakes combination Brews and Blues event for a several years now, I finally decided to see for myself if all the glowing accolades were indeed correct. Friday night, August 3rd, the event officially opened at 5pm and the Rolling Boil Blues Band kicked off the show with their renditions of popular songs whose lyrics that are, shall we say, cleverly altered to cater to the beer drinking community.

We found ourselves a nice spot 60 feet in front of the stage, set down our low back chairs and went in search of our first festival brew. Mammoth Lake Brewing Company is the host of the event and had a beer booth set up just a few meters inside the entrance. Crews of energetic beer volunteers were rapidly filling plastic cups with their Hefeweizen, Amber and IPA. At only 3 bucks a cup the beer line was growing exponentially by the minute.

The setting for the festival is just about as beautiful as it could be. The raised stage set at the bottom of a natural incline surrounded by a forest of intermittent sized pines and fir trees that were spaced just far enough apart to house a maze of paths and beer booths that were being readied for Saturdays main brew event.

The Friday night blues also included the blues and gospel stylings of the Earl Thomas Acoustic Duo and the closer was none other than The Tommy Castro Band, who just blew the meadow away in their set. In a wise bit of time scheduling the show was over by 9:30 allowing ample opportunity to return to our campsite, study the next days brewers list and finish off a few bottles of Alaskan IPA that I managed to obtain for the occasion.

On Saturday the beer festival opened up its gates to the thirsty hordes at precisely noon.
The list of Brewers was impressively displayed on the back cover of the event program which was handed out as the beer enthusiasts entered the grounds.

Northern California breweries included: Anchor, Anderson Valley, Bear Republic, Black Diamond, Blue Frog, Butte Creek, EJ Phair, Hoppy, Hoptown, Lagunitas, Lost Coast, Marin, Mendocino, Moylan’s, North Coast, Rubicon, Sierra Nevada and Trumer Brauerei.

The Southern California and San Diego area’s were also highly represented by some notable brewers such as: Ballast Point, Coronado, Green Flash, Huntington Beach, Karl Strauss, La Jolla, Newport Beach, Pacific Beach, San Diego Brewing, Santa Cruz, and of course Stone Brewing. Carlsbad Pizza Port, Alpine Brewing and Ale Smith were notable by their last minute absences.
Great Basin from Sparks Nevada, Kern River Brewing and of course the sponsor of the event Mammoth brewing also had booths that were well worth visiting. Naturally I tried to start out my day on the lighter side of things but soon found that going light was going to be difficult. It seemed that almost every brewers booth contained at least one IPA and quite a few even offered a double IPA.

So, naturally, I started out with the single IPA’s and Coronado Brewing was the first booth I came to. Coronado’s Islander IPA was a fine way to start my afternoon. Soon thereafter I found that Kern River Brewing’s Just Outstanding IPA was indeed outstanding with it’s generous amounts of Simco and Amarillo hops. The EJ Phair Hop On Board was another great find that I had just recently discovered the weekend prior, but naturally had to sample again in the forest.
Green Flash Brewing, out of San Diego, had an outstanding brew called Hop Head Red that tasted as good as the name. Shall I go on?

Oh…Ok then….sure…uh ….next I made my way to the Ballast Point booth and discovered that they had their Dorado available. I really hated (wink wink) to make my fifth beer of the day a Double IPA but figured any beer that has topped Pliny The Elder in a Double IPA contest (Bistro in Hayward 2006) might be worth breaking the rules for. Indeed it was and that set my palate for a quick trip to the Lagunitas pouring station for some Hop Stoopid, which is definitely in the running for best new beer of 2007.

Along the way I stumbled across a few names that I couldn’t ignore and ended up sampling some IPA’s from Newport Beach, Pacific Beach, Huntington Beach and Great Basin. Obviously I was in heaven, and naturally some IPA’s were more to my liking than others but I didn’t have a single sample all day that I wanted to pour out or couldn’t enjoy.

All good things have to come to an end and our day in Beer Heaven wound down with sprints between the Moylan’s Hopsickle, Lagunitas Hop Stoopid and EJ Phair’s Hop on Board before the 5pm festival closing. I don’t think the fine people at the Kern River Brewing table will forget me anytime soon either as they were pouring to the very end.

Our evening was far from over at that point because one of my blues hero’s Charlie Musselwhite was just taking the stage and the Mammoth Brewing beer bar was just opening up.

In case you're wondering if I'd recommend the Mammoth Festival of Beers “Bluesapalooza”... Well, I’ve already made my plans to attend in 2008.