Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bistro's Double IPA Fest: Wow!

I was able to participate in this year's judging for the Bistro's 8th annual Double IPA Festival, thanks to a well connected friend. I've judged a lot of competitions, but nothing quite like this. To begin, the judging was done downstairs by only eight qualified judges. The Bistro is not in what anyone would consider a new building, so the downstairs area was more reminiscent of a cellar more than a finished basement. In fact, the old stairs were worn down and rounded, as you can see in the picture below.
The judging quarters had something to it that is hard to come by these days, comfortable in that there were few comforts. There were the judges, surrounded by beer gear from days past, papers, pens and plenty of samples of beer.
The job we had was pretty simple, identify the top three beers in order. But choosing which would ultimately be crowned champion (this was Double Dog, by Flying Dog, by the way) involved some lively conversation and a look at individual interpretations of the style - how much and what kind of malt profile should a beer have, and just how out of balance can it be while still keeping its overall drinkability? The conversations that happen around tables like these are my favorite aspect of judging, and not typically those found where the celebration is. It shouldn't be, either, if you want my take on it - after all, remembering what Don Younger says is a good starting point: "It's not about the beer, it's about the beer".
Speaking of life upstairs, we must remember that the Bistro's events simply kick ass. The crowd here isn't a raucous one, the revelers instead seeming content to engage in conversations with friends and strangers, all while sampling and enjoying the goodness in the glass. This was a great time spent with my wife and friends, it was also a good opportunity to see people I genuinely enjoy being around - brewers, writers and the super-enthusiasts who seem to be at every beer event.

If you're in Northern California, remember this event was the kick-off party to Beerapalooza, and event that will be capped Feb 16 and 17 with the Toronado Barley Wine Festival and Celebrator's 20th Anniversary Party. In days that separate these monumental occasions, check out Big Beer Month at 21st Amendment or Magnolia Brewing - in San Francisco. Speaking with Shawn from 21A it sounds as if there's more than a couple treats for those in the area. In fact, I just heard from Craig, an industry guy in the city, who said that their Watermelon Wheat Wine was worth finding if you can. Of course, his Hop Crisis was a pretty big hit at the Bistro yesterday, in case you're in need of something a bit more hopped.
Speaking of hits at the event. I did want to list a few 'surprises' for me, beers I found to be exceptional.
  • 21 Amendment Hop Crisis: Already mentioned, but what a great beer.
  • Schooner's: I don't remember the name of this beer, but it was absolutely exceptional. I've enjoyed Schooner's in the past, but this still managed to impress me.
  • Valley Brewing Uberhoppy: Very enjoyable, like many it was a beer you wish you'd had a pint of.
Yeah, there was more to write about and a lot more I remember, but perhaps another day. I just returned from an Indian baby shower, with more food than necessary. I'd like to post on the fabulous time at this event too - the bright colors, wonderful people and new-to-me cultural events that take place at a baby shower. Another day perhaps.