Beer festival season is well under way once again; the pleasant surprises, the crowds around the booths of the brewery du jour, the too small tasting cups, the friendly banter with other fest goers and brewery reps, and then there’s the crowds.
The Craft Beer movement truly evokes both the words community and camaraderie; and beer festivals epitomize both words when left to the essence of what they are. When it’s a gathering of like-minded individuals ready to try something new, learn what their favorite breweries are cooking up, and shoot the shit about craft beer in general, it’s a wondrous shared experience. Unfortunately it’s also an excuse for some to drink to get drunk and troll for any of the opposite sex who are equally inebriated. Don’t get me wrong, if I was 25 years younger I’d probably be doing the same thing; in the words of George Bernard Shaw, Youth is Wasted on the Young. But I’m older now, and while I still get tipsy on occasion, I drink mainly for the quality, not the quantity, and I’m married.
The Denver Summer Brewfest recognizes this fact of nature and some of the other inevitable hassles of the typical fest. The fact that it’s a fund raiser may add into the equation, but the offering of two sessions for different mind sets is a welcome alternative. For a few dollars more and an hour earlier, the Brewfest offers a “VIP” session where you can taste artisanal cheeses in addition to sampling great beers from around the region and across the country. And you get to contribute to the Swallow Hill Music Association which celebrates and instructs on a wide range of musical heritages. Craft beer and philanthropy, always a good combo.
The term VIP Session may bring up the imagery of snooty cerebral types wearing tweed waiting for their cheese, was more akin to waiting to get into an AC/DC concert as we pulled up about ten minutes before the doors opened. With some brewers still wheeling in kegs before the event started, and the light throng that encircled the entrance, anticipation filled the air. The couple of beers we had at Strange Brewing, a few blocks away, tided us over as we waited among our beer loving brethren. After the obligatory carding to make sure all attending were of age, we were handed a very nice glass taster that seemed quite a bit larger than the usual plastic numbers given at other events.
Like kids in a candy store, we wandered among the breweries tasting old favorites and trying new brews. So intent were we that we nearly forgot about the cheese tasting itself, especially since they staged it well away from the main floor; out of sight, out of mind I guess. It wasn’t until shortly before the general session started that we remembered to seek it out and ended up waiting in a considerable line to try the various offerings, including some great goat cheeses.
But before that we had wandered amongst the booths saying “hi” to reps we had met at other events, talking to Tim and John from Strange, and meeting Boone from Bristol. It was because of our conversation with Boone that we eventually visited Bristol some months later as we passed through the Springs on our way home from one of our numerous road trips. Both the taste of the Yellow Kite Pils, and his description of how involved in the community they were intrigued us.
And speaking of Pils, 2010 seemed to me like the Summer of pilsners, nearly every brewery who had been known for every style except lagers were offering pilsners and lagers. Among these new offerings was Del Norte Brewing who specializes in Mexican style lagers. They were one of the surprises for us at the 2010 Rails and Ales, and we had run into them again at the Blues and Brews fest a few weeks before. Think of stronger, tastier versions of Modelo, Dos Equis, and Pacifico, and you’ll start to get an idea of their brews. But only just, you truly have to try their highly sessionable beers to appreciate them.
Among the other breweries we ran across were Upslope (okay, but nothing to write home about), Abita (who unfortunately only brought bottles), Alaskan (whom we discovered as we made our to the cheese tasting and had great beers), Vine Street Pub (look for a future post), Asher Brewing (organic beer, meh), and Tommyknocker (interesting DIPA).
The entire evening was punctuated by a very passable 80s cover band who added a fun soundtrack to the proceedings. Also of note was a vendor who makes custom cruiser bicycles whose clientele includes New Belgium; the craftmanship was incredible, and sorry I overlooked getting their name.
As we began finishing our rounds of the Brewers, the general session was starting to fill out the facility. Groups of young males and females gathering up to check each other out as well as the competition. Leaning against the railing of the upper level, we finished our last taster of the evening, knowing it was time to go and leave the evening to the mating ritual below.
This year’s festival promises to be another good sampling of both Colorado and national breweries, and fun music. Look for more information on the event, which is on July 22nd, on the festival site here.