Saturday, August 23, 2008

California State Fair: The Beer Report

I've been to the California State Fair twice this year in a tradition Tracy and I have had going for eight years. We like the fair, mostly we like spending time in the livestock area and milling around the the farm stuff, but we also like the exhibits and even indulge in the fair food annually. Of course there's the beer too.

One of my first-ever beer festivals was at the California State Fair. Each year they'd award the craft brewers of the state and immediately following there would be a small, unadvertised beer event that was cheaper to enter than it was to buy a large Bud. It was good fun, but so under-achieving. Well, they're trying to fix that and this year they moved the beer fest out by the horse racing track, advertised it in one of our local papers and tried to make it a big thing. It sort of worked too.

The Brewfest was under a large tent and admission was an additional ten dollars (above the fair admission fee), which bought revelers ten three-ounce beers and an itty bitty souvenir glass. There wasn't much in the way of organization under the tent, just a bunch of tables around the outside and a few picnic tables in the middle. I wasn't a big fan of the ticket system they had for folks to get their beer, a bracelet with ten little squares that were to be ripped off by the pourers each time a beer was handed out. These little bracelets must have seemed like a good idea on paper, but in practice they were a nightmare that most stands had little patience for.

The beer at the fest, however, was top-notch. Green Flash was there with a couple taps and the rest of their lineup in bottles. Auburn Alehouse continued to impress the locals with Brian's new batch of IPA and a baleywine. Valley Brewing was even in attendance with a couple of bottled products, a sour stout and their grand cru. Obviously there were more brewers represented, but these are the few that come to mind. (Note: I'd be remiss not to mention FiftyFifty's beers - Todd Ashman's products are always a treat).

In all the event was good with a lot of room for improvement, and the improvements should begin long before the main event. Each year it seems the competition for the State Fair gets messier - the results take too long to get to the brewers and the political rift in the local beer judging scene is an embarrassment to the region. If this is to be a great event the judging and communication must improve, otherwise I'm just not sure why brewers would continue to send in their beers and pay the fees. Given that it is the State Fair I do hope the organizers figure this out sooner than later - I think this should be one of the best competitions in the country, it just isn't right now (not even the best in the region).


If you plan on making the fair in its last week, don't be too disappointed that you missed the event. This year, for the first time I remember, there are a number of better-beer options for those so inclined. Behind the California Dept of Forestry's forest fire area is the Craft Brew booth where you can buy glasses of Dogfish Head 90 Minute, Racer 5, Red Rocket, Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere, Anderson Valley and several other craft beers. The cost is a buck more than a glass (albeit a bigger glass) of Miller or Miller Lite served next door, but if you're at the Fair I assume you plan on some price gouging. There's also a nice English pub area where you can get Guinness, Boddingtons and other European imports - again, a buck more than Miller, but these seemed to have large glasses.

Other Attractions

I admit, I have been going to the fair for years primarily to see the livestock shows. Most of the judging for the livestock has wrapped up for the year, but that's always a good thing to see - especially for those who judge beer (I have a whole rant about this). In all it's a good event that my wife and I enjoy attending. Maybe next year you can plan a trip that coincides with the Brewfest.