Tuesday, September 18, 2007

2007 California Brewers Festival

The 2007 California Brewers Festival, celebrating its 13th year, took place at Sacramento's picturesque Discovery Park, in a bit of a savanna-like setting of rolling green grass and mature oaks. My wife, Tracy, and I arrived at Discovery Park an hour before the gates opened, allowing us to talk with a few brewers, reps and volunteers, as well as take a few non-crazy pictures.

This years event feature more than 50 brewers, well sort of, and more than 150 beers poured from tap and bottle. I say 'sort of' because there were quite a few breweries that essentially donated a few cases of beer to be poured, brewers like: Modelo, Pacifico, Newcastle and more. As an aside, how wrong is it to pour Pacifico from bottles at a seemingly 'premier' beer fest? Sorry CBF organizers, that is just irresponsible when charging 25 bucks a head, plus one dollar a sample. Luckily, these less than premier beers were tucked away in the shadows.

In all the event was spectacular; the weather was near perfect, warm without a cloud in the sky and with a crowd that was well behaved, while still clearly having a good time. Then of course, there was the beer. With the west coast's biggest and most celebrated brewers making their way there and the smaller, harder to find brewers in between, revelers were sure to find something to satisfy their palate.

For major brands: Sam Adams was there with the Boston Lager and Oktoberfest (which, by the way, is my favorite US Oktoberfest year to year); Sierra Nevada had their Torpedo, Pale, IPA and Kolsch; Deschutes had the 19th Anniversary and Mirror Pond; Stone was there with Arrogant Bastard and Pale Ale; Lagunitas provided IPA and something else; New Belgium showed up with the Fat Tire and Skinny Dip. Heck, Avery was even in attendance, pouring several offerings from bottles, the IPA, Brown and Wit. These guys are always good to see at events like this, even if I didn't necessarily find my way to their beer, because their brands really do bring in the casual beer fan, in some way lending credibility to the event.

Of course, my heart was with the smaller guys and their wonderfully crafted beer. I can tell you right now, the hit of the event for me had to be the Sacramento Brewing Company's Peterson's Pride, an uber-hopped English IPA that was like, as Craft Beer Radio says, "Man Candy". With a massive aroma of flowers and spice, and a strength of flavor uncommon for the style, this beer just had it all. I suspect if Peter (left) were to present this to the average beer geek, we'd guess it was an American hopped beer - only because of the intensity of aroma and flavor. No, there were no grapefruit notes common in American hops, its just that powerful. SBC also did a good job on their Imperial Red; clearly, Peter Hoey is doing great things in Sacramento, which is great to see.

Runner-up for the best of show goes to Great Basin, who brought three fantastic beers: the Icky IPA, a Jalepeno Pale and the out-of-this-world-good Rauchbier. The Jalepeno beer was created with 30 pounds of fresh jalepeno, 20 pounds added to the boil and 10 pounds used to create a tea used in the fermentation. This resulted in a beer with a wonderful fresh jalepeno aroma and taste, but with no heat. Brilliant. Then there was the rauchbier, created using malts smoked by a local homebrewer with apple, mahagony and alder wood. This beer wasn't overpowering, like many smoked beers in the US, but wonderfully toasted sweet up front with a smoked malt finish that was better than you'd imagine it could be. Absolutely incredible.

There were other wonderful stops along the way.

Nick at Blue Frog (right) is always a great sight, because I absolutely adore his European inspired beers. He mentioned to me that his Maibock and Pilsner are brewed using a decoction mash, which blew me away. Folks, that is just a hell of a lot of work he's doing out of a sheer commitment to quality and tradition. The guy's a genius.

Kevin Cox (right) of of Sequoia brewing was on hand to field questions and soak in the event as well. Kevin has been, over the years, one of the most successful brewers at this event, and it is no secret why. His beers are always clean, without fault, and often with intense flavors and remarkable consistency. He was mentioning new bottled products to keep an eye out for and his hopes to continue expanding his operation. In fact, we have an extensive interview with Kevin that is currently being edited for the next episode of PBN Radio.

A new-to-me brewery was discovered as well, Brew Brothers of Reno's El Dorado casino. Now, if you're like me that last part scared you, but don't be fooled. This casino-based brewery has been around for more than a decade and the two beers they had to offer were of high quality. Greg (left), the head brewer, was there and his enthusiasm was contagious - I was embarrassed to admit I'd never been to his place, let alone heard of their existence. You see, I can be a bit slow sometimes.

There is plenty I am missing, but with time running shorter each day I figure its time to wrap up. In closing, let me just say this event was a great way to spend a beautiful Saturday afternoon. I had a great time with my friends, Mark, Joerge, Lothar, Jose, Todd, Mike, Jim and others, and was appreciative of the time spent with my lovely wife, Tracy. Clearly, life is good. Thanks everyone for helping make the day what it was, I look forward to the next beer fest in the not-to-distant future.

Great beer and wonderful people, how can you ask for more?

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