Wednesday, June 20, 2012

FoodTrek: A Brewski or Twoski at Brewers Fest 2012

It's genius that the Washington Beer Commission schedules their annual Brewers Festival over Father's Day weekend -- if my dad were visiting, I know he'd be in Beer Heaven! Sadly, the pesky Pacific Ocean keeps this reunion between Wasabi Dad and Pacific Northwest Beers from happening, so I must imbibe beers for the both of us. It's a tough job, but some Wasabi's gotta do it.

The annual Cheers to Washington Beers - it's Brewers Fest! - Photo by Wasabi Prime
The Mister and I have been going to Brewers Fest for I want to say the last four or five years. Even before I had the blog, we were happy beer-drinking attendees, making the trek to St. Edwards Park, a picturesque venue in Kenmore with an actual monastery in the background. From what I heard was new event organizers, Brewers Fest got all Jeffersons and was movin'-on-up, taking the festival to Redmond's Marymoor Park, a much larger venue with much better traffic flow when it comes to parking. It was a natural progression, finding a new and larger space for what's become a pretty significant event -- St. Edwards wasn't the original location for Brewers Fest, it was originally held in a small field in Fall City, near where the first Herbfarm restaurant was located. But Northwest Beer is getting all grown's-up, and apparently it needed a bigger place to hold its annual kegger party for Dad.

The usual views of Brewers Fest - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Despite the new venue, it still had all the comforts of a typical Brewers Festival -- you can still bring your own food and lawn chairs into the park (subject to bag checks), even though they have food vendors there. No coolers, I think that ban has always been in effect. The attendance was in record numbers, but also a bit of a traffic jam to get in, as they let people buy a ticket to use on Saturday or Sunday, and without knowing who was coming which day, it was causing constant line buildups at the entrance. Not sure what the logic was behind the Saturday or Sunday option, but to avoid this, go right when the festival opens at 11, just to avoid the queue log jam.  If you're drinking beer before noon, at least it's with purpose. There were many a wearer of Utili-Kilts were in attendance, but it's the full-tartan dress kilts that gets more kudos. We had a friend who showed off his Scottish pride with his family tartan and yes, even a sporran, which is a handy keeper of beer tokens. It all looks good when you are bedecked with pretzel necklaces. I saw some folks who even strung wedges of pepperoni sticks on their edible necklaces. Protein as jewelry -- excellent. Yes, the first crazy long line was at Black Raven Brewing, which always baffles me, as the brewery is right in Redmond -- even closer to the new venue now; just head over, you can get full glasses of their marvelous beer there! But I know they had some special kegs, like a Splinters Bourbon Barrel Aged Scotch Ale, and an unusual summer number, a Pina Colada IPA.

Hanging Ten and getting our drank on - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I realize it's an event meant to feature local breweries, but you still get some outside brewers like Kona Brewing, out of Hawaii -- I can't complain, as the dudes were more than happy to throw up a "shaka" handsign and keep spirits up on a very gray day. Breweries that I had for the first time included Sound Brewery, out of Poulsbo. I had their Sommerweizen, an unfiltered wheat ale that was very much like a Belgian wit -- very tart and citrusy, but on a gray day that turned ridiculously humid towards mid afternoon, I needed something refreshing to cut the muggy air. The weather played its own part in beer choices -- I was going from Belgian and pale ales in the muggy afternoon, towards the darker beers when things got positively anti-summer and gusting winds towards the later half of the day. To fight the chill, I was tempted by cherry porters, which some beer purists may call "chick beers," I had one from Airways Brewing (Kent) and it wasn't too strong -- there was one brewery that had strong notes of vanilla in their cherry porter, which really overpowered everything. I think of all the heavier dark beers, I liked Skookum's (Arlington) Murder of Crows, a funny little name choice inspired by, you know, that other raven-themed brewery, where they do a bourbon barrel-aged stout. You get that oaky, heavy flavor infusing a dark beer that compliments its coffee/vanilla notes, and you don't even have to wait in a crazy long line to get a tasty, interesting beer.

Table decor and brewery schwag - Photos by Wasabi Prime
That's another thing to keep in mind when heading to a beer festival -- don't just jump into the longest lines with the attitude of wanting the best of the best. Popular doesn't always mean best, and for a festival like this one, you're not going to get a bad beer. I was with nitpicky company -- the Mister has a beer judge qualification under his belt, but all the things he picks out aren't things the average beer-enjoyer will notice or be bothered with. You go with an open mind and a thirst for sampling something new. If I'm going to try a new beer, I want to try one that's Washington-made and isn't super close to where I live, since a lot of these breweries aren't large enough to bottle their beer to be sold in stores. 

Beer's hot sisters, Cider and Mead - Photos by Wasabi Prime 
And it's not just about the beer! They've always had a table for ciders and meads, granted it's a smaller space and the interest in mead and cider has spawned their own festivals (check NW Cider event page), but several great ones like Finn River and Alpenfire were in attendance, as well as Sky River Mead. I've had all these before, and despite the two-token cost for a taste, they're worth it. And if you're going for pure alcohol percentage, meads and ciders tend to be fairly high-octane, like a dangerously good-looking dame in a detective novel. They'll look real pretty, be a real sweetie, then knock the mickey out of you.

Eye candy for beer enthusiasts - Photos by Wasabi Prime
With a larger venue, I felt like a lot of the brewers upped their game in getting their tables decked out in displays. Brewers had jars of dry hops and the dry ingredients that are used to make their beers, set up on their tables. A fair number of the attendees of the Brewers Fest are homebrewers themselves, so having the brewers pouring tastes is the perfect opportunity to talk shop. There were also some unique Beer Nerd gear being sold -- the incredible etched glass growlers from 7 Seas Brewing (Gig Harbor) were getting lots of oohs and ahhs for good reason, they were exquisite. The Mister was very tempted, I was Mean Wasabi Wife and said no (we have so much beer stuff!!!), but one of his friends got one, so he can visit it and get all "my precioussss" over it when he visits his friend. I especially liked the Growler on Board holders, which the best way I can describe them is, beer car seats. They're lightweight foam holders that can carry four glass growlers, giving them a steady base so they're not rolling around. This seems like a goofy thing, but if you regularly visit breweries, you hate to buy new growlers for every place; it makes better sense to carry your supply with you in a safe, stable holder. Breweries will clean out the growler or you just trade it, without buying a new one. Kind of like keeping cloth grocery bags in the car with you all the time, except in this case, it's beer holders.

Chocolate Beer? Yes, please - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The non-beer vendors were more interesting this year. Aside from the fact that I could go a lifetime with never seeing another bubble-blowing gun again (I know, it's a family event - blargh), I liked the beer-infused chocolate truffles from ChocMo. They were selling boxes of their specialty chocolates that had flavors incorporating beers from Deschutes and Schooner Exact. They're in Poulsbo and along with chocolates, it's a bar and cafe, but the beer-spiked sweets are definitely their specialty. I couldn't get the secret method, but they were saying they infuse the truffles with the beer flavor without having to concentrate and cook it down. Beer-chocolate wizardry at work? Clearly -- so give them a try if you see their goods on the shelf or are going through town.

Lumpia, beer's new BFF - Photos by Wasabi Prime
So, all this beer-drinking, what about the food? The larger venue meant more food vendors, and there were the requisite food-on-sticks stands with skewered berries covered in chocolate and giant ears of corn, but they upped their food vendor game by having Lumpia World and Skillet serving up tasty nomz. They also had a Korean barbecue stand which I wished I'd tried -- it looked like big plates of kalbi-style ribs and a seasoned rice. If I had another stomach, I'd have jumped on that as well. The crowd was growing and I wanted something simple and easy to eat, so I went with the crunchy, savory deliciousness of fried lumpia, from the appropriately named Lumpia World. Their truck usually makes stops in Renton, so I was really glad to see it at this event, plus really glad to see how long their line was. Not that I like to wait, but it was gaining popularity with curious diners who wanted something that sounded different, but had all the familiar tastes they enjoy. Lumpia are like mini eggrolls from the Phillippines. Popular at big family gatherings, since they cook so fast in a fryer, they're perfect finger food and ridiculously good with beer. You could get sweet or savory versions, and along with that, they had noodle dish, pancit, and some chicken bento-style lunches, but they had me at lumpia. 

Our beer tokens and rapidly declining livers kept us from staying into the early evening hours. I always come early just to take photos before the crowds are too overwhelming. We bid our beer friends adieu and headed home for an at-home dinner of spicy pork tacos. Because, really, tacos and beer, what could be better?

A happy and sleepy Saturday of food and beer - Photos by Wasabi Prime

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