Wednesday, June 29, 2011

FoodTrek: Beer Appreciation, Come Rain or Come Shine!

Tom Hanks said there's no crying in baseball. Take that analogy and throw it on a beer festival in Washington -- there's no skipping out on Brewers Festival when there's rain. It's called, put on your Big Boy/Girl Pants, throw on a pair of Wellies, and get your hiney over to St. Edwards Park, as that beer ain't gonna drink itself.

Washington Brewers Festival, complete with liquid sunshine! - Photo by Wasabi Prime

The recent celebration of Father's Day means one thing: BEER. No, not just what dear ol' Dad likes to get crunked on, but the celebration of regional craft beers during an annual three day festival out in St. Edwards State Park, put on by the good folks at the Washington Beer Commission. Despite the adage that if you're a true local, at least in the Western Washington area, you don't use an umbrella, but the skies dumped enough H20 to make people cast aside that waterlogged machismo and pull out a few umbrellas. It was also a great way to see who totally klepto-ed umbrellas from malls or hotels. And bubbles. No, not the ones in the beer glasses -- because this is a family-friendly event, there was a toy vendor selling these bubble wands and guns, and because of the rain-soaked grass, the soap bubbles were collecting on the grass en masse, making for a very surreal place to be. Dudes dressed like beer bottles, umbrellas everywhere and a lawn of bubbles -- it was an episode of The Prisoner waiting to happen.

I've posted about this festival pretty regularly -- it's one of my favorite seasonal activities and of all the WA Beer events, the Washington Brewers Festival is probably the easiest to buy tickets the day-of, since it's a three day event, you can bring your own picnic setup as space isn't an issue, and when the weather isn't so freaky-cold, it's usually a pretty amazing day to spend with a group of friends outside, just eating and drinking the day away. I have to say, despite the fact that it was so cold we could see our breath and my fingers turned purple at one point, this did not dampen the spirits of any beer festival-goers. The startup on Saturday, the day I went, was a little slow, but that just meant you made a run for the favorite beers you knew would either have big lines or just run out early. In general, I recommend this of all beer festivals -- set your alarm, spare those extra sleep-in hours on a weekend, because they're well spent on getting a first shot at good beers. The Black Raven (Redmond) line was, of course, crazy-long, and a few other breweries like Wingman Brothers (Tacoma) and Elliot Bay (Burien) had their own periodic moments of long wait times, but this didn't necessarily mean that these were the only good beers. I was at the festival with a big group of friends, including the fabulous folks at the travel blog, Travellious (they also have a writeup and way better photos of the festival here), and we were saying that one long line just means you head to another booth and try something else. There is no wrong beer to try. The multiple choice portion of this exam reveals that all answers are correct ones. And oh yeah... there is no spoon. (hello, Matrix anyone?)

Bubbles and Beer Dudes for a day at the park - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Instead of listing all the same-old favorites I always list, I did find some additional beers to add to the hit list -- namely Skookum Brewery, out in Arlington. They ran out of their Murder of Crows Bourbon Stout, which I'm sure was a little jab at Black Raven (all in good fun, I'm sure), so I instead went for their awesomely named Effenheffen Hefeweizen, and I also tried their Hooskai Stout, a smoky barrel aged stout with rich molasses notes. Despite the utter lack of sun, the Effenheffen was not only fun to say, but even more enjoyable to drink. Marvelously citrus, unfiltered sunshine in a glass. Another newbie on the Wasabi Favorite list is the Old School House Brewery from Winthrop -- I really liked their Hooligan Stout. I'm sure after having too much of this stout, it will likely turn one towards hooligan-like behavior, but at least it's a delicious transformation. I love an experimental, flavor-packed beer like anyone else, but sometimes a good classic is all you need. I'm more of a dark beer fan, and while the summertime leads me more towards IPAs or Belgian style beers, this crummy weather made me crave winter beers like stouts, and the Hooligan really hit the spot. Full-bodied flavor, nicely balanced without too much of that coffee/cocoa bitterness, but not too strong with rounded vanilla notes; just a really well-made classic. But, so-called girly beer drinker that I am, I still used my last beer token at Northern Lights Brewing Company (Spokane) to do their half/half combo of a Chocolate Dunkel and Blue Berry Ale -- a "Black and Blue" -- their beer cocktail special of the day.

So... what do you think this festival is about...? - Photo by Wasabi Prime

It wasn't until after the festival I realized, Wasabi, you're such a jerk. No, really, I kind of am. I'm talking about all these incredible beer festivals showing off local craft beers, and Big Freakin' Duh -- not everyone who reads this blog lives in Washington. It's like saying, See this amazing, fantastic adventure? Yeah, you can't have it -- talk to the hand, sucka! We are extremely fortunate in that we can go to the actual breweries, if they're close enough, and just buy a growler to take home, or sit in their tasting room and guzzle their beer from the taps, so I thought, Stop the Madness! I went to a grocery store in the hopes that maybe other stores in places other than Washington State will have something from some of these breweries.

After you drink beer... you buy some more! - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Me, Sunday morning on Father's Day-proper, at a grocery store all a-bustle with shoppers buying last minute things like steak and bacon for celebratory dinners for Dad. I go to the chilled beer section and take a look, which I realized I hadn't done in a long time. Because Mr. Wasabi brews his own beer and has other friends that do the same, we often just drink homebrew beers, which are marvelous, but it of course reduces my need to buy beer from the store. I was pleasantly surprised to see how many good local beers are available in bottles at a grocery store. Now, this is the big caveat - while I was in a national chain grocery store, I'm still in Washington, and they likely stock more local items, so what I could easily find at the local store, you may have to search out at a specialty wine/beer shop or just hit the local Whole Foods (because it totally gets real in their parking lot, yo).

The microbreweries I was able to find nestled amongst the macrobreweries included: Iron Horse Brewery (Ellensburg, WA), Diamond Knot (Mukilteo, WA), Elysian Brewery (Seattle, WA), Lazy Boy Brewing (Everett, WA), Rogue (Newport, OR), Deschutes Brewery (Bend, OR), and Pyramid Brewery (Seattle, WA). This is just what I grabbed a few 40-ouncers of, there were a few more local breweries, but I was fearing looking like a raving drunk at 11am, filling a basket full of nothing but Forties. I won't get into the nitty gritty of beer styles, as this will be subject to whatever's available, but these are some breweries that are big enough to bottle their beer and get it distributed, so I'd just make note of their brewery names and just see what you can find in your neck of the woods. Some of these beers, like Deschutes' Hop in the Dark, one of the trendy new "Cascadian Dark Ales" (sort of like a smoky IPA), was at the beer festival, and if you can get a hold of it from a local beer/wine shop, it's definitely an interesting find. But likely, the most widely distributed styles of beer from Washington will be IPA, given our Hop Harvest HQ status, and that's always a fine choice. You'll find that the IPA's of Washington are much more punch-in-the-face with hop flavor than IPAs from other regions of the country, so don't always assume beer styles will be consistent from region to region. So, hopefully this lessens my "I'm a Beer Jerk" status and happy shopping!

Bookmark and Share

No comments:

Post a Comment

Commentary encouraged. Fresh baked cookies, super-encouraged. (hit the 'post comment' button twice, sometimes it's buggy)