Greetings from the morning treadmill, where I get to recover from the decadence that was this weekend’s “SAVOR – American Craft Beer & Food Experience” event. With 144 different brews from 72 craft breweries, the extravaganza put smiles on 2,000 very happy visitors to the spaciously inviting National Building Museum in downtown Washington, DC on June 3 & 4, 2011.
Each of the star-spangled craft brews – from pilsner to stout, singles to quads – were paired with a delectable selection of culinary creations to complement each work of liquid art. The food pairings on Friday night were succulent enough to almost steal the show (strangely, Saturday’s food wasn’t as well done and disappeared early), but undoubtedly the stars of the night shined brightly in their gently swirled tasting glasses.
Some guests performed some advance research, like Brian from Washington. In addition to a checklist of his previous favorites, he came prepared with a list of must try selections, especially a host of India Pale Ales. “I checked a few local blogs and went to a few of the brewer sites,” he said. Amanda from Ballston also visited some of the brewery web sites when she bought her ticket, “but it was a long time ago, and the actual beers weren’t known then, so it was like a surprise tonight.” My bet is that most guests were like Shawn from Bethesda, who was “just here for a great time!”
Fortunately, for the first time, this year’s 4th annual event added a second night to create even more first impressions. Unfortunately, the over 1,700 gallons of brews on display could only be sampled with an advance purchase ticket – offered months ago. No wonder the event sold out in less than a day! Before heading out the door, I signed up for the mailing list to be notified of advance sales for next year’s event. I’d suggest the same for you.
Some of my observations (with some actual quotes heard around the venue):
“This pilsner tastes nothing like Miller Lite, Toto.”
Spotlight: LTD 03, Full Sail Brewing Company, Hood River, OR
Craft pilsners have a challenging identity crisis as our mass consumer market is told by major breweries that light beers are “pilsner-style” beverages. Well, this lighter bodied but full-flavored pilsner just might be the best example to change that notion. One gentleman described it as “Stella on Steroids” but it conjured from my taste buds a memory of the justifiably renowned Samuel Adams Noble Pils – then keeps on delivering more and more flavor.
“Pass the barbecue, please. Today I’m eating with my lunch.”
Spotlight: Sweet Josie, LoneRider Brewing Company, Raleigh, NC
This little lady is a solid, easy-drinking brown ale – medium body and well-balanced maltiness with a clean finish. Unlike many other varieties that hit hard or deliver some stickiness in the finish, Sweet Josie is like a richer Newcastle Brown Ale. It’s a wonderful choice with food or when you can have only one, but you’ll be hankering for chances to have more.
“Is it supposed to taste like trees?”– “That’s called ‘resin-y.’”
Spotlight: Shorts Spruce Pilsner, Shorts Brewing Company, Bellaire, MI
At 7.5% ABV, this sharp flavor is like a tree in a bottle. I was told with age it mellows a bit. But it sure seemed more air freshener than thirst refresher to me.
“Stouts and Porters in the summer?”
Spotlight: Rise Up Stout, Evolution Craft Brewing Co., Delmar, DE
It’s amazing how diverse the assortment of stouts and porters can be! The 40+ dark varieties here range from light hints of coffee and/or cocoa to an explosion of coffee in the Rise Up Stout. While last week’s 90+ temperatures in DC wouldn’t generally inspire me to reach first for one of these full-bodied beauties, the typical pairings of Coffee Rubbed Pork Loin with White Bean Cassoulet or Double Chocolate Bread Pudding helped me rouse up the “somewhere in the world, it’s cold right now” rationalization.
“C’mon, is the original still a Craft Beer?”
Spotlight: Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Boston Brewing Company, Boston, MA
The granddaddy of the modern craft beer movement was a surprise SAVOR selection from one of the event’s major sponsors. “It’s craft beer, just one everyone’s had hundreds of times,” explained Bryan from Arlington. Lots of questions, and shrugs, were prevalent as elbows bumped ribcages clamoring for the accompanying lobster rolls – sans beverage.
“Hoppy Birthday, Astoria!”
Spotlight: 1811 Lager, Fort George Brewery, Astoria, OR
“Tripels, Quads, and Doubles – This sure beats figure skating!”
Spotlight: The Sixth Glass, Boulevard Brewing Company, Kansas City, MO
A true craft beer event needs a real icon to represent how far the American craft brewing community has come in recent decades. Some votes would go to the Green Peppercorn Tripel, a 9.2% ABV abbey tripel ale from Baltimore’s Brewers Art. However, Boulevard’s complex quadrupel ale seems a candidate for belle of this ball, according to some of the guests with the most discriminating palates. My conversations with a few brewery representatives included a few nods to this beauty as their pick. With 10.5% ABV, this libation may not be for everyone, but it sure was the one for me to cap off a flavorful sensation of an evening!
“Craft Beer is the new Cupcake!”
Spotlight: Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Founders Brewing Company, Grand Rapids, MI
As mentioned, for the first time, this year’s SAVOR event included a second night, with admission capped each evening to prevent overcrowding. As SAVOR Event Director Nancy Johnson explains, “I liken SAVOR to the cool, tiny jazz club in NYC that stays small even though it continues to gain in popularity.” Nonetheless, the rapid sell-out clearly illustrates the growing public demand, and broader recognition, of the joys of skilled craft beer pairing – whether it’s by a celebrated brewmaster, or in your own dining room.
For now, the ascent of craft brewing may continue to increase the profile and availability of fine beers, similar to how the Starbucks revolution raised the bar for coffee in every neighborhood of the country. However, if these 72 breweries, and the others of almost 150 breweries that applied to SAVOR, have anything to say about it, the craft beer movement will include many players. I say “Cheers” to that!