Upcoming Holiday Festivals

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I love this time of year. Lightweight summer beers are off the shelves. Pumpkin beers are nearly tapped out. There is a solid showing of Oktoberfest brews and Harvest ales. And the winter warmers are starting to show up. These minty, spiced, or barrel-aged wonders will sit you on your backside if you are not careful.

Seattle and Portland each have a great winter beer festival. Since no one ever makes the three-hour drive, one hour flight, or four-hour train ride to visit breweries in the other city, they just hold them both on the same weekend.

angelTo be fair, Portland has the best deal going. Its Holiday Ale Festival starts on Wednesday, Dec. 4 and runs through Sunday, Dec. 8. For one price ($35 in advance) you get admission to all five days (11am – 10pm) of the festival, and 14 tokens to start you off. You can buy more tokens, but unless you are attending the festival on multiple days, 14 4oz tastes of these monster brews is plenty. Or you can use multiple tokens for a larger fill.

They host it in a covered, heated tent with plenty of tables for standing and making notes. About the only bad thing about this festival is that brewers and brewery staff are not permitted to pour, so if you are the kind of festival-goer who likes to get a lot of detail on how the beer is made or ask questions about the brewery itself – not going to happen here. The volunteers know their beer though, and are very friendly. Sometimes you can catch a brewer lurking nearby. They will point him or her out to you.

The Seattle Winter Beer Fest is Friday, Dec. 6 – 5:00-9:00pm, and two four-hour sessions on Saturday, Dec. 7. Like last year the festival is now held out at Magnusson Park in Northeast Seattle. Admission is $25. Check their website for more information, or to purchase tickets. Sadly, there is not much posted there as I write this.

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Want an American Beer? Good Luck

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Finding a great American beer is not that hard to do if you are a craft beer lover. However for main-streamers, it is getting much, much harder. I am going to kick-start a firestorm of debate on this but when a foreign company buys the brewery, it is not American anymore. It is a foreign beer, brewed in America (at least for the time being). We all answer to the bean counters. Your local guy sold out and is sitting under a beach umbrella somewhere.

Two former local pillars of the Seattle brewing industry are now owned by a Russian company, Oasis Beverages, who completed the purchase of Pabst Brewing, one of America’s oldest breweries. Pabst also owned rights to both Rainier and Olympia beers. Given the Putinization of Russia, and their retreat to the Cold War Days of the 50’s and 60’s, I thought it was only fair to help them redesign the logos in a totally “truth in advertising” motivated move.

new cans pbr

Hey, wait a minute – this actually makes sense. What were the big beers during the Cold War Days around here – Oly and Rainier. I get it now. Putin is a genius.

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Beer Ratings – Good or Bad?

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Craft beer enthusiasts love to debate the variable merits of the different beer they drink. But a funny things happens to them once they register an opinion on one kind of beer or another. They change their minds.

The last thing I do on this blog is rate a beer. I will drink one. I will tell you if I like it or not. I will try it again later on and report what I experienced. Why not? There are lots of folk out there in the craft beer world who make a living rating beers, either as an individual or as part of an aggregate of many people who use a service they built to apply their own opinions and then generate a “consensus.” The individuals want you to think they are educated and experienced beyond your feeble potential, and you MUST read their review before even considering swallowing another drop of beer. The ratings services and magazines  – well they are in it for the advertising bucks.

reviews

The theory is people new to the craft beer movement will gravitate to their site to seek out the better beers, rather than trying something they may not like. Maybe this works for things like movies, books or household appliances. I don’t think it works for beer all that well.

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GABF 2014 in Retrospect

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The Great American Beer Festival may be over, but the memories are still fresh. It is time to look back and think about what was good and what could have gone better.

One thing that was good was that 234 different breweries won medals. Some won more than one. In fact, Barley Brown’s Brewing in Baker City, Oregon, took home four medals;

  • Gold       Hand Truck Pale Ale
  • Gold       Fresh Hop Pallet Jack IPA
  • Silver      Disorder
  • Bronze   Turmoil

barley brown pubWhere is Baker City, OR? Think eastern Oregon, almost Idaho, out on Hwy 84. Big beers can come from small towns. What I like about the festival is that it gives you a chance to try beers from literally every state in the country. You can discover for yourself why there is all this noise about how good Dogfish Head is, or Sam Adams, or New Glarus, or Belles. You can try out beers from smaller breweries like Devil’s Backbone, Marble, and Chuckanut and discover for yourself why they win so many awards. Five years ago Texas was not even on the craft beer map. Now they have some very formidable craft beers in several cities. There are great beers being brewed in Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan, Vermont. The old guard in Washington and Oregon are still growing and making better beer than ever before but now they have a lot of company at the top of the heap.

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Washington Brewers Hit Gold

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Washington brewers demonstrated that sometimes quality trumps quantity, bringing home six Gold medals, three Silver and one Bronze from the 89 beer categories at this weekend’s Great American Beer Festival.

Chuckanut

Winning Gold medals were:

  • Chuckanut Brewing, Bellingham, for their Dunkel Lager
  • Propolis Brewing, Port Townsend, for their Beltane (Brett)
  • Pyramid Ales, Seattle, for their Apricot Ale
  • Airways Brewing, Kent, for their Pre-Flight Pilsner
  • White Bluffs Brewing, Richland, for their Red Alt
  • Gordon Biersch, Seattle, Golden Export (Helles) brewed by Kevin Christopher Davey

Winning Silver medals were:

  • Silver City Brewery in Silverdale for their Old Scrooge
  • Fremont Brewing in Seattle for their Summer Ale, and for the Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Star

Winning a Bronze medal was:

  • Sound Brewery from Poulsbo for their Dubbel Entendre

Victoria Victorious – GCBF ’14 Best Ever

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tastercupThere is a wonderful beer festival every year in Victoria, BC, billed as the Great Canadian Beer Festival, even though most of the craft beers there are from British Columbia. Neither of Canada’s larger cities, Toronto or Montreal, has risen to challenge this claim.

For people from the island, this is just a continuation of their immersion in the craft beer revolution. Victoria is loaded with quality craft breweries. A good many folk ferry in from Vancouver and its surrounding cities, too, where many mighty fine beers can be found.

Those of us in the lower 48, in particular, Seattle, take the two-hour, forty-five minute ride up on the Victoria Clipper, with hopes of seeing the occasional pod of orcas en route. If you have never been to Victoria – good – stay away – this is my own personal slice of Heaven and the fewer people who know about it the better. Just kidding. NOT!

Every year on the first weekend in September, for the past 23 years John Rowling and his dedicated crew put on this beer lovers extravaganza. There were 82 breweries pouring a record number 253 beers for the 8,000 people who attended the two-day festival.

There were no “dumpers” this year (beers that were maybe a little too creative for their own good) as Canadian brewers are getting the hang of both what their fans like and what keeps interest in the craft growing. Brewers from the USA did not have booths this year. Instead, the Brewers Association sponsored a tent with 27 beers., including beers from Michigan, and Virginia.

The Brewers

In addition to the great beers is the wonderful scenery. Creative costumes and just plain nice people make going to this festival a highlight for any dedicated Beercationer.

Creative Costumes

Beer lovers of all ages

The beers at the festival were deee-licious. Some of the more awesome ones were:

- 33 Acres of Sunshine – French style wheat ale. Lightly hopped with Styrian Golding and flavoured with orange peel, coriander seed and anise seed, brings out a fruity, spicy character.

- Hound of Barkerville – Rich and smooth, with European malts lending a sweetness and aroma reminiscent of wildflower honey.

- Rhine Stone Cowboy – Delicate, well matured Kölsch style ale.

- Bomber ESB – Light molasses and grain on the nose with a pinch of dry hopping. Hints of dried fruit with toffee & wafer on the finish.

- Glutenberg Red –The use of roasted chestnuts endows this beer with toasted nuts and caramel hints, and gives it a unique aromatic personality.

beerstyle2- Back Hand of God Stout (Organic) - This award-winning dry stout is extraordinarily smooth and mildly hopped with a distinct coffee/chocolate presence.

- Insurrection Pale Ale (Organic) - Dry hopped with plenty of farm-grown Cascade hops.

- Gael’s Blood Organic Potato Ale - This Irish “immigrant” ale is exceptionally smooth with an earthy malt flavour and body. Plenty of malt, mouthfeel and hoppy bitterness

- White Bark Witbier – Brewed with the addition of freshly ground coriander, curacao and orange peel. Hops are outshone by the wonderful floral aromas.

beerstyles- Sap Sucker Maple Porter – Made with seven malts including chocolate, black, caramel and crystal. Maple syrup is added post fermentation adding a slight maple smoothness to the finish.

- Brett IPA – At the heart of this distinctive West Coast IPA stands juxtaposition of ripe tropical fruit esters and mild Brett funk. Moderately bitter and gracefully balanced.

- Bean Me Up Espresso Milk Stout – The perfect marriage of espresso coffee and a delicate stout featuring a smooth creamy sweetness from lactose.

- Strawberry Wit – Fresh strawberries are puréed with honey and blended into a Belgian style wheat beer for a refreshing experience.

- Weathervane Vanilla Stout – Real vanilla extract from the highest quality Madagascar vanilla pods, blended seamlessly with the roast and chocolate flavours of the legendary Keeper’s stout.

There were dozens more good brews to try – beers you will only find in Canada – some only at the beer festival (and ciders from Cider Riot). Be sure to watch for this next year in mid-July when tickets go on sale. It sells out within the first couple days.

Artesians Invade Tumwater

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eab99620b30857088230812c4cce5846This little festival kind of snuck up on me but I am pretty glad it did. I missed the Olympia Brewfest and the Everett Brewfest after I dropped a massive headboard on my toes, so catching sight of the Tumwater Artesian Brewfest was quite a nice surprise.

Twenty-four breweries brought approximately 80 beers to the festival. Several wineries, cider makers and a soon to be opened distillery also had booths.This is the second year for this festival, put on as a fundraiser by the Tumwater Visitors & Convention Bureau . Last year it was an Oktoberfest celebration, but organizers decided to rebrand it and offer it as a late summer venue, held at the driving range of the Tumwater Golf & Country Club.

It gives new life to the concept in the brewing world of a three-tiered system, but with brewers, volunteers/organizers, and craft beer lovers as the pillars of strength here.

tumolycan“It’s the Water” was the familiar reprise as Oly made its way back to the taps, along with many new breweries springing up in the South Sound. Olympia Beer was famed for its purported use of artesian drinking water. A new brewery, Three Magnets Brewing is selling beer in kegs around Thurston County and will open a tasting room/pub in a few weeks in Lacey. Also, Top Rung, another new brewery in Lacey was on hand to showcase their fine beers – really like that Raspberry Wheat Ale.

The festival was fantastic. Lots of great beer and great fun, with giant Jenga blocks, giant beer pong, mug holding competitions, hole-in-one competitions. The volunteers were enthusiastic and very helpful. And live music.

Some brewers made the trip and talked up their creations to the appreciative crowd. Others – who are not to be named – sent a couple kegs and relied on volunteers to pour it for them. That was a bit disappointing, since Washington beer festivals are among the best because of the interaction you can have with the brewer/brewery staff.

The Brewers and Volunteers

The Craft Beer Lovers

tumfan11The Beer Stein Holding Competition was very entertaining as contestants strained against gravity to hold a full stein parallel to the ground.

Oh, and I must do a shout out to the food vendors. Yay! Excellent food to help absorb the liquid refreshments.

I’ll mark this one down for a must-see event in 2015. Great job.

Hit Rock Bottom in Bellevue

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Rock Bottom BellevueBiting at the lure of winning $5, $15 or $300 in Rock Bottom rewards, I ventured out to the busy metropolis of Bellevue, WA to see what I’d won. To  my delight, they are brewing at full production and offered up a sampler of six exceptional brews made on-site by Brewmaster Sara Luchi.

When I worked in Bellevue, I was a regular at the then, exciting, new Rock Bottom Brewery near Bellevue Square. But that was a few years back, now, and other than the occasional release party, my beer travels have taken me to many other places instead. I enjoyed many of the beers created by former brewmaster Brian Young.

RBB beers

Sara took the reins nearly two years ago. I am pleased to report that she is making some equally delightful brews, which this day included a Kölsch, a Wit, an IPA, a summer honey, a red and the current dark beer, a CDA. All were good, and spot on for style. The IPA was on the moderately hopped edge but still with that Northwest bite.

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GABF – SOLD OUT – ALL SESSIONS

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Capture4Once again the Great American Beer Festival sold all 70,000 tickets to the three-day event in a matter of minutes during yesterday’s Members Only sales and today’s General Public sale. Many of the tickets were snatched up by opportunists who are now trying to resell the tickets at 45-110% more than the original price. Once again, many hard-working, craft beer loving people who wanted to go to the festival will not be going because of this.

There are some solutions to this situation. First and foremost is becoming an American Homebrewers Association member and buying the tickets during the Members Only sale.

However the culpability in the quest for fair play now falls to the consumer. Do not be intimidated by the ticket sharks. Do not pay more than face value. This is called aiding and abetting the bad guys. Wait them out. You do not need the ticket until the day of the event anyway. The scalpers can’t sit on thousands of unsold tickets. At some point they will drop the prices. If you don’t score the tickets, there are more than a gillion beer-related things to do in Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins during that week.

Hoppy Trails Beer News will be there, reporting live and direct from the convention center floor. Come back and visit here often for stories about local brewers as they prepare for this prestigious event.

Upcoming “Don’t Miss” Beer Festivals

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September 2014

October 2014

Bremerton Summer Brewfest 2014

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Q.  What do you get when you gather up 30 breweries, more than 100 very different beers and put them in the downtown area of the home to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in 100 degree heat? Besides cooked festival goers.

The Bremerton Summer Brewfest

To say the West Sound brewers are creative would rank as one of the world’s greatest understatements. It should be no surprise, since they are the ones largely responsible for the success of the Strange Brewfest in January each year.

It’s an easy 60 minute ferry ride from Seattle to Bremerton, made especially enjoyable by the great weather all day long. The festival was just a few blocks from the ferry terminal, the beautiful harbor and nearby shipyards.

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What’s New and Newsy?

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thCADRNE1QYup. A store right here on this web site. Pretty cool huh? Click on the banner at the top of the page, or right here, and start shopping. Shirts, books, movies, homebrewing supplies, festival gear, with more to come all the time.

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