Monday, February 18, 2008

Beerapalooza: Winding Down

And they call it winding down
The six to ten crowd, smoky bars
Notes on napkins and business cards
Describe the days events and go on home
And it's likely they won't drown
The price goes up and one more round
They close up all the bars downtown
As the singer plays one last rip roaring song
- Clint Black, "Winding Down"
Words won't do the weekend justice, and I didn't take any pictures, so I don't suppose this will be the most in-depth reporting on the weekend that was.

I was fortunate to judge this year's barleywine festival at Toronado again, so I had to be there pretty 'early' in the day. Wanting to start the day off right, I got in extra early and had a great breakfast around the corner at Squat and Gobble. As is normal, as it got closer to 9:30 there were more and more judges hoping to also get a quick bite before settling in for a party. I sat with a couple guys who'd driven in from Reno, enjoyed my Juevos Rancheros and made my way to the Golden Peacock, where the judging would take place.

I was part of the first round of judging, which is just fine with me, so we gathered around tables, sitting in groups of three, and went through our flight of beers - which meant 8 barleywines to judge for must of us there. Every beer is judged twice in the first round, a double blind technique that gives the beer more of a chance of succeeding should one table not agree to it's worth or quality. Of the 8 beers per panel, we are requested to send only 3 of them on to the next round (our panel only sent on 2). The scores are tallied by the organizer, Russ Wigglesworth (who has been doing a bang-up job running this for years!) and in the second round the beers passed on are again judged twice. Eventually the master judges of the final round will be delivered a managable number of beers, the crowds will gather and winners will be announced... by number only, of course. It's a great system, and this is one of the many competitions in the country every year that really 'means' something. The caliber of judges is good, the caliber of beers exceptional - to be a winner, you've got to be damn good!

Of course the winners were:
  1. Old Gnarleywine 2006, Lagunitas Brewing
  2. Old Guardian 2006, Stone Brewing
  3. Abacus Blend, Firestone Walker Brewing
The results surprised some, but perhaps nobody as much as Dan Hanson of Lagunitas, who told me the following day he had no idea until early that morning! Apparently he doesn't usually send beers in for competition, but with a little friendly prodding by Dave at Toronado, he sent in a keg for good measure. Congratulations, by the way, to all the folks at Lagunitas.

The afterparty would start shortly after the judging was over, with food delivered and served to the judges, along with beers served up front - not all barleywine either. Before long it was time for many to move on to "phase two" of their day, with a trip to Anchor to celebrate the state's best homebrew clubs. The Anchor Party is a great and generous event for the homebrew community, with dinner served at the brewery, enjoyed alongside Anchor's proud beer lineup.

Of course, not everyone homebrews, so several folks (myself included) headed across the street to join the madness that is Toronado. Incredible! Several people likened the experience to a "human carwash", getting bumped and violated (incidental contact, I'm sure) along the way. Through the mess of humanity, the sticky sweet air and all the noise, it was actually quite relaxing to be there, sipping on big beers and knowing that when all is said and done, a friendly cab will take me to the hotel.

Toronado never really quieted down that day. As the first wave of flesh stumbled to their rides home, a new and fresh wave found their way - and their seats - just in time to keep the staff here hustling to keep up.

Reflecting on the day that was, I can't wait for next year. This isn't a sustainable form of drinking or partying, but every once in a while, it's just fun to be part of something like this! The whole time you're there, things move a bit faster - even after a few - as you're seeing people you know, folks you'd like to know, and always chatting it up with the guy/girl next to you just to see what they're enjoying.

Special Thanks

There's a few folks I just gotta say hello to, people I spent time with over the weekend that helped make it what it was. Yes, this looks like ass-kissing, perhaps moving into name-dropping, but it's my blog and I can kiss as much ass as I want to. Right? There's a lot more, but these guys all have blogs about beer!

- Chris, The Beer Retard! Dude... always a good time. Thanks for the beer!
- Chris and Merideth, The Beer Geeks (dot com!). You two are good people and I look forward to seeing you in a couple weeks.
- Jay Brooks. I still feel honored you know who I am... and you still say hello to me! Seriously, if there's a good guy award in the industry, he'd be a finalist. It's stunning to see how many people, from all over the country, genuinely like this guy.
- Steve Beaumont... You introduced me to some habit forming behaviors, and I think a follow-up trip to Bourbon and Branch is in order. You also proved that judging can take as long as it needs to. :D

Of course there's others, the weekend was full of friendly faces and good times. If you weren't able to make any Beerapalooza events, I'd recommend you plan for 2009. As Big Mike says, "it doesn't suck."