World Beer Festival – Raleigh 2013

This won’t be an organized collection of thoughts.

I went to the World Beer Festival put on by All About Beer magazine in Raleigh, NC a couple of weeks ago.  It took a lot to get me to go – it was a very expensive trip, and the drive (one-way) was twice as long as the festival itself.

I’ll say it was an experience. It wasn’t awesome, but it wasn’t terrible either.  Overall, however, I was disappointed that I didn’t get to carry out my mission at a festival of craft beer: talking to brewers and brewery representatives.  I spoke to just a few.  The big guys weren’t really there – New Belgium was so damn busy they were just slinging beer and moving the line.  Same for Mother Earth Brewing, Oskar Blues, and Sierra Nevada.  When I finally discovered that Dogfish Head was there (booth 42), the fest was nearly over and they were out of beer.  One person was at the table packing it up and didn’t seem like a conversationalist.

Pabst Blue Ribbon had a huge booth to sling PBR and sell anything from hats to PBR pajamas.  No kidding.2013-04-13 12.56.14

Most of the booths were staffed with volunteers.  While I don’t mind volunteers (it’s time-consuming and thankless work), it would have been nice to have knowledgeable folks at each booth (preferably from the brewery) to talk to about their beer.

I will say that Sierra Nevada was an exception – they had someone (a fantastic-looking woman) out front to plug their new North Carolina location and how they’re doing it all green and sustainable and tending to the needs of outdoorsy people.  Apparently you’ll be able to visit the new location via kayak.

I got to taste a lot of local-ish beers since they had a North Carolina brewer’s tent.  I knew I’d find a lot there I hadn’t had before since most of them don’t distribute in Georgia.  One memorable brewery was Raleigh Brewing, a downtown production brewery that has an on-site homebrew store.  Their head brewer, John Federal, gave a talk about starting a brewery:2013-04-13 15.19.51_halfsize

I approached him after the talk and told him I loved his House of Clay Rye IPA (one of his own creations).  We spoke briefly about starting a brewpub – something my drinking club is mulling over – and he wished me the best of luck.  It was by far the best interaction with a brewery that I had at the entire festival.  I went back to Raleigh Brewing’s booth and bought that same red shirt you see Mr. Federal wearing above.

I remember it being crowded:

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That part I didn’t enjoy.  It was so loud and full of people seemingly on a mission to drink as much beer as they can, even if it was two ounces at a time.  I found very few people interested in the breweries, quality, ingredients, or the brewers themselves.  In short, it was more of a drunk-fest than a quality beer event.

In retrospect, I can’t say I blame anyone for my displeasure except myself. These festivals serve only a couple of intentional purposes, and neither of them have anything to do with Ben on Beer getting one-on-one with breweries:

  1. Breweries want to get out to the market and get their beer in as many hands as they can.
  2. All About Beer magazine wants to generate more interest in craft beer and gain an increase in readership.

This is capitalism, and I am not against it.  I think it would be wonderful for a brewery to come away from the festival with 300 more customers who know the beer is good, and will remember that when they see it in the store.

The challenge is getting that crowd to remember anything after the event.

I guess a decent thing to do would be to list my thoughts here so maybe someone reading will have some direct language to consider:

It was a drunk-fest.  I said it before, and there’s really nothing I can do about it.

The talks were awesome, but if I wanted to attend all of them there would be no time before or after to visit the booths.  I guess I wanted more time, or maybe a separate day for beer nerd talk.

The restroom situation couldn’t have been handled any better.  Hats off to that one.

I can’t carry everything.  No backpacks allowed, but where do I put all my stuff when I have to pee?  I went alone this year.  I collected as many artifacts from the brewers as I could, and ended up loading myself down almost to the point that I couldn’t move about.

Well, that’s it for now.  Maybe if things come back to me I’ll update this post.  I most likely won’t go again unless I move much closer to the Raleigh/Durham area.

Ben on Beer Episode 11 – Hard Cider

In this first episode of 2013, we talk about hard cider and get distracted a lot.  It is a good “first show back,” and we drink Biere de Mars from New Belgium Brewing.  The cider talk stems Continue reading

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Ben on Beer Episode 10 – Cocoa Mole and Beta Blockers

In this episode, Ben seems to have shown up having sampled some already, and we talk about random things as we discover and rediscover New Belgium’s Cocoa Mole, a chili beer.  Join us as the show continues to rattle on unscripted and unstructured.  It’s more fun this way!

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Hoppy IPA Day!

I must admit I’d never heard of IPA Day until this year, but in my defense it’s not a national pastime yet.  Today is the 2nd Annual IPA Day according to the official site of the celebration, so get to your local craft beer retailer and pick some up!

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New Belgium Blue Paddle

Randy Mosher, in his book Tasting Beer, says to have patience when pouring to get good foam. His method described in the text usually goes past anyone’s level of patience while waiting for a beer (depending heavily upon the quality of the beer and the head retention). Given that, I present you with an astonishingly boring video of my pouring New Belgium’s Blue Paddle, a Pilsener I have evidently been unaware of until I found it in a sampler. I poured it according to Mr. Mosher’s directions in the book. No one typically wants to wait this long for a beer at home:

Blue Paddle is a decent Pilsener, but I’m comparing it to my memory of Pilsner Urquell and the likes of Stella Artois (a Belgian Pale Lager). There’s a bitterness that I’m looking for in this one but only finding smoothness and the slightest citrus note. It could be that my palate is wrecked tonight, making this little chat of ours moot. It is very drinkable though – 4.8% ABV and 33 IBU with that hint of citrus, perhaps lent by the Saaz, Liberty, and Target hops. From the bottle:

Blue Paddle Pilsener Lager crafted with malt-only brewing and noble hops, explores the boundaries where American Lagers seldom journey. Reflective of Europe’s finest Pilseners, BLUE PADDLE delivers a refreshing bitterness, vibrant finish, and a subtle but intricate depth of flavor.

If that’s all really there, my palate is certainly not detecting it tonight. It has a light sort of taste that now makes more sense after I’ve let it warm up a bit. Even then it still doesn’t have that smell of vomit that other beers of the same color possess. It’s clean all-around and, served cold, goes down the gullet with much haste.

Pick some up when you get the chance and try it – even if you have to buy the whole sampler. New Belgium is proud of what they make and rightly so; top quality beer is all I have ever had from Fort Collins (and soon Asheville, NC!).

Cheers!

New Belgium Somersault

It’s no secret that I’m a die-hard New Belgium fan, and I have been since long before they were known coast-to-coast. I had a difficult time at first with Fat Tire in the beginning as I had not yet honed my tastes for good beer. I finally got off the corn/rice mix years ago and have been enjoying all the new beers New Belgium has to offer ever since.

A number of weeks ago I picked up a sampler with Somersault, the Summer Seasonal. Also in the pack was Ranger (IPA), Blue Paddle (Pilsener), and Dig (Pale Ale). I still have yet to try the Blue Paddle but I fear my temptation will win sometime this week. Anyway, Somersault, from the bottle:

SOMERSAULT Ale is a fun roll around on the tongue and a perfect, summer lounge-around ale that is easy to drink. Color is blonde with a suggestion of amber. SOMERSAULT tumbles out with citrus aroma from Centennial hops, a tuck of soft apricot fruitiness, completed by a smooth, upright finish with oats that were pitched in a long, slow mash. SOMERSAULT’s all around!

When I popped the cap this evening, strong hops hit me in the nose. It’s a dark golden color (that suggestion of amber they speak of) and a light carbonation, much to the same degree as Fat Tire and Ranger IPA. It’s a 5.2% ABV beer, which is the lowest of the seasonal brews. This is in part due to the lightness of a summer ale and is something I appreciate – no one needs more alcohol (a diuretic as you may well know) on a hot summer day. The finish is fruity, and I’m not entirely sure that it’s from the apricots. It’s got that type of fruitiness you find in Shock Top and Blue Moon, but not as strong and with no coriander. I’m sure that described is succinctly.

Somersault is that lounge-chair kind of beer and very easy to drink. I’m having a hard time writing because I can’t put it down. After the first, I noticed that my glass must have been very clean and it showed the quality of head on this ale. Look at that lacing!If you see it in the store or within a sampler, pick one up and enjoy! I guarantee you’ll like it as much as I do. If you don’t, I’ll buy your surplus of it.

Cheers!

New Belgium Dig

I fished around the house for something to drink tonight while I was writing and reading, but I didn’t want an Imperial ale or anything thick. I was also limited by what I currently had in the tiny beer fridge (the fridge is tiny, not the beer) so there wasn’t much to choose from. I’ve slowly been dipping in to the beers I have yet to review because I simply can’t resist. So far I have tried to stay away from a beer until I have the opportunity to review it as I taste it for the first time. I’ve been taking notes and pictures to post reviews later of beers I don’t take the time to write about yet. Dig is different because it drove me to write this tonight. I simply clicked “New Post” and started typing as I sipped. Here it is, disorganized and sincere, complete with a picture from my iPhone at the kitchen table:

Hoppy on the nose, awesome head retention. First sip: I am genuinely smiling. I’m a huge Ranger fan, but I can’t drink it every day for the sake of my palate. This has that clean hoppiness (hoppyness?) that I love about the Ranger IPA, but such a subtle finish that makes it damn refreshing (and palatable every day). If I swirl a bit I can taste a strong floral hop flavor, and not much malt. Something is toasted. Dig is related to Fat Tire in the mash tun.

Keep in mind that I don’t read any reviews or much description about a beer before I review it.

Such a perfect pale ale! At my table tonight I wish I had an overly warm spring day to complement this experience. It is such a joy to drink this beer. I think it would be a great idea to review this again on-camera. I can talk about this for twenty minutes. And no, New Belgium has not offered me anything for this glowing review. Not that I’d refuse a free glass, hat, shirt, or a parking space at the Asheville facility.

Clear skies, bright sun, light breeze. The time of year where the sun is warm but the air is still cool. The part of spring that’s perfect because the gnats have yet to make their appearance. Sitting on the deck out back, watching the kids play in the sprinklers. Hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill. Friends and neighbors over, and all is well. This is the beer for that day. And that evening. At 5.6 ABV Dig is appropriate for multiple servings at social occasions.

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Dig is a seasonal spring ale, and soon it will be gone. Somersault is out by now, which tells me that I should have tried Dig before today. I was reluctant to get a 12-pack and waited until I found it in a sampler with Fat Tire, Ranger, and 1554. Let me tell you – it’s worth the 12-pack.

I don’t even know what to close with. It’s bedtime and I want another one. I want spring to stay. I want everything to remain bright and new, and everyone joyful and just out of the winter’s dim mood. I can dig that.

 

Review: New Belgium Shift

I tweeted the other day about comparing canned to bottled beer, assuming that I would be able to get the Shift Pale Lager from New Belgium in both packages.

According to this article, though, Shift is only packaged in a 16-oz can. New Belgium is putting Fat Tire and Ranger IPA in cans (12 and 16 oz) as well as the 12oz bottle, so I’ll definitely get to do a blind bottle-to-can comparison.

In the mean time, here are my thoughts on Shift:

The initial nose-in-glass gives a likening of Ranger IPA – the finishing hops are very present to begin with (Shift and Ranger IPA have Cascade hops in common). Head retention is awesome – like that ocean fizz that hangs around for days. That could be the last bit of conditioning in the can showing off, though. Great stuff.

This brew is somehow especially appropriate for the end of a long day. It’s not too filling or overpowering in mouthfeel, yet at 5.0% ABV it is difficult to say it’s not a perfect beer for a Tuesday sunset. And one 16-oz can is enough, especially if it’s before dinner. It has a palate friendly bitterness at 29 IBU, so it won’t ruin supper – you could even start eating before you finish it. I did.

There are so many pale brews out there that one could partake in the early evening – it’s difficult to say which one I’d pick over the other. Being me, I’d choose the one I’d never had before. If the choices were smaller, Shift would definitely be at the top of my considerations.

Again – I don’t quantify my beers, so you’re not going to get a number score. New Belgium continues to impress me with their products and their love of the craft and the culture. They’re serious about what they do and it shows. I recommend Shift to anyone who likes a crisp, cold, palatable beer after work. It’s way more rewarding than anything from the big three.

Cheers!

New Belgium possibly coming to Asheville NC

New Belgium Brewing Company has announced that they are looking for a location to place a second brewing facility on the East Coast. Rumor has it (so far) that the choices are now between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Asheville, North Carolina. At this time of writing I believe I have read another rumor that a site deemed a great possibility for a brewery is under contract in Asheville, but mum’s the word.

I’ve never been to Asheville, North Carolina or to Philadelphia. I have, however been to Fort Collins, Colorado, the birthplace of New Belgium Brewing. I’ve researched Asheville in the past as a potential place to live and I liked what I saw during my review. A small town in the mountainous region of North Carolina is much more like Fort Collins than Philadelphia is. Asheville has about 83,000 people and at least seven breweries show up on a Google Maps search. That tells me that in addition to being a college town, beer has a great presence and probably drives a lot of the culture there.

I like the state of North Carolina and their support for beer culture. Their laws seem to make it pretty easy to found a brewery and begin distributing. There are more breweries in Asheville than there are in the state of Georgia. My state could learn a thing or two from North Carolina. Anyway, New Belgium and I have a good history together since I discovered Fat Tire in Colorado. The relationship was even further solidified when, after I moved to Georgia, they began distributing here just a few years ago. That being said, any facility they build on the east side of the country should be as close to me as possible. Asheville is so much closer than Philly is – I may could even help build it for a day if they have some sort of community effort!

So there it is: no good reason for New Belgium to choose Asheville other than my own selfishness. Philadelphia just doesn’t fit for the company culture. I’d like to make it a point to visit the new place either way; it will just be easier to visit more often than if it were in Pennsylvania. Congrats to New Belgium, though – it’s exciting to think my favorite brewery is enjoying this much success!

I’ll be sure to update this post as I hear things, whether they’re confirmed or not. I’m on my way to NC next month and quite possibly could make it to the Asheville area. Until I hear something, though…

Cheers!

 

Update: New Belgium made an official announcement on April 5, 2012 regarding the new East coast facility, and it will be in Asheville! It’s seven hours from my house in Georgia and will be an awesome road trip in the coming years. Ground breaking is expected to be sometime in early 2013, with production beginning in 2015. This says a lot for Asheville’s economy and beer culture, and I would only be more excited about it if they were coming to my hometown. I’m glad New Belgium took my advice – I heard that Philly brushed them off.