Jim Koch, the founder and brewer of the Boston Beer Co., led a room full of beer aficionados through describing the flavor notes in a batch of Sam Adams Triple Bock from 1994.
“It’s a beer that’s almost old enough to drink itself,” Koch quipped as he likened the taste of the sugary, complex beer to a port.
Koch regaled the audience with tales of his rare beers, including how the Triple Bock (which evolved into Sam Adams Utopia) became the first beer to break 14 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) due to an epiphany he had in a Home Depot. Basically, he thought, if the companies responsible for bourbon barrels were releasing the used barrels to garden stores for use as planters, why could his brewery not purchase them and use them for aging beer?
Previously, many brewers thought combining techniques for beer and liquor would prove to be illegal in the United States. But a quick trip to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in D.C. paved the way for that to happen, and a brewing revolution began.
Koch and other big guns in the Brewers Association returned to D.C. on May 9-10, 2014, for SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience at the National Building Museum, where the event successfully dazzled a sold-out crowd with 76 breweries and accompanying tastes of fine foods after a reportedly lackluster year away from D.C. in 2013. I attended the first night on May 9 as one of 2,000 guests—and everyone, from the presenters to the tasters, was pleased to see the event return from New York City, as the excitement was palpable on the floor and in the salons (such as the one hosted by Koch; it and others to be available for streaming at http://www.craftbeer.com).
The middle of the floor was dominated by the ring of the Supporters Table, featuring breweries like Boston Beer and its Sam Adams Kosmic Mother Funk sour and Rebel IPA. Being a regular visitor to Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Milton, Del., I was excited to hit the other side of the table and receive a Raw Creation herb beer, made in collaboration with Gouter of D.C., a producer of “raw, organic tonics and cleanses,” directly from craftbeer rockstar Sam Calagione himself. The limited edition 9.1-ABV Raw Creation was refreshing with a pleasant crispness imparted by the flavor of cucumbers.
Raw Creation was accompanied by my favorite food pairing of the night, a heaping spoon of saffron and coconut crab with shaved cucumber and harissa. (I won’t pretend to know what harissa is, but that was some damn tasty crab.)
After comparing notes with Fritz Hahn, beer sage of The Washington Post, I found myself sampling the Dead Rise from Flying Dog Brewery. Flying Dog engineered Dead Rise, a 5.6-ABV herb beer debuting at SAVOR, with Old Bay seasoning as the perfect summer complement to a bushel of steamed blue crabs, and as Chesapeake Bay boys, Hahn and I were absolutely unable to resist it. Seriously, Flying Dog hit all the right notes with this beer, which manages to be extremely drinkable and not too spicy although the flavor of the Old Bay spice is very much present and even dominant in the taste of the beer.
With the changing of the seasons and the long, long-awaited arrival of spring to the D.C. area, I’ve had a better-than-average interest in spring and summer beers lately, and I was pleased to make the discovery of the Summer Swelter, a 4.7-ABV wheat beer from Baxter Brewing Co. of Lewiston, Maine. Another unfiltered beer, the Summer Swelter hit all of the right spots with hops, citrus and lemongrass along with generally being yummy.
For local beer drinkers like myself, a big part of the appeal of SAVOR is that it brings into town so many breweries generally not available in the D.C. market. My lovely drinking companion was excited to check out Revival Brewing Co., another brewery whose beers are not available in D.C., and it did not disappoint. Out of Providence, R.I., Revival Brewing offered is Double Black IPA and its Zeppelin hefeweizen, an infinitely quaffable 5.5-ABV wheat beer. I could drink the Zeppelin all day under any given sunny sky, and I considered it a superior entry in the German-styled beers at the show, as well as a welcome relief from some of the more complex beers although it carried wonderfully subtle notes of clove and banana. Sometimes you need a classic, and the Zeppelin satisfied.
I also have to give a shout out to a smartphone application—Pombe from Pombe LLC, which has offices in Novi, Mich., and Dulles, Va. This beer-focused application made its debut as well for SAVOR this year, and it was proved to be the ultimate guide to the festival with a handy map, a list of breweries and notes on the individual beers offered. I quickly made a wishlist and checked my beers into Untappd by linking the two applications together. (Pombe also will interface with Twitter and Facebook if you choose.) Pombe was very easy to use, and I’m definitely going to check it out for future beer events, as its developers promise to make it the go-to application for beer festivals, beer dinners and tap takeovers everywhere.
Bottom line: a welcome and magnificent return to the city where it belongs for SAVOR, which rightly retains its reputation as one of the top events in the country for the food and beverage industries.