Posted by: Scott | February 16, 2010

Strong Beer Fest | Part 1

Beer festivals seem illogical. We humans design festivals to celebrate a thing — often a person or event unrelated to the act of drinking — and then we display our affection for said thing by getting hammered. But now we’re organizing festivals for beer. Did we exhaust all other things worth celebrating? And have we, as a result, begun using celebration itself as an excuse to celebrate? Has our world become so unremarkable?

Nope. Beer is remarkable. It’s a complex, versatile, nourishing beverage. And it deserves a party. In this case, the party is the 10th Annual Arizona Strong Beer Festival, an event that showcases beers with serious ABV firepower. So, after paying my admission and receiving my wristband ($35 for 15 samples and a commemorative tasting cup), I entered and started sampling beers from around the world.

My commemorative cup filled with delicious saison.

A lot happened during the ensuing hours, so I plan to split this article into three parts, following the familiar Good, Bad, Ugly formula established by people who like cliches and spaghetti westerns (like me, apparently!). Today’s portion, the Good, is somewhat self-explanatory; tomorrow’s Bad will describe aspects of the festival that disappointed me; and Thursday’s Ugly will recount certain odd events of the day that resembled plot points from The Hangover.

The Good

1. BEER BEER BEER

At the park, tents had sprouted up like bushes in neat rows, the denizens of which chirped eagerly to distribute their alcoholic creations. By day’s end, the soil had been speckled with imperial stouts, double IPAs, barleywines, and many other uncommonly strong beers. I doubt they helped the grass grow.

Each tent housed several beers.

A few of my favorites included The Bruery’s Trade Winds, a Belgian-style tripel with Southeast Asian spices; O’Dell’s Bourbon Barrel Stout, a malt monster with hints of bourbon and vanilla; and Firestone Walker’s outstanding Abacus barleywine. To be honest, I can’t remember every beer I tried, because my friend Ryan and I cracked the 15-sample system by trying different ones and sharing each. I do, however, remember that several surprise favorites came from

2. Local breweries

Local breweries brought their big guns to this festival (unlike some others, whom I shall chew out tomorrow). Four Peaks, Papago, Sun Up, Sleepy Dog — solid breweries with outstanding beers. I loved Four Peaks’ Double Knot, a citrusy double IPA that I hope to find in bottles soon, and my heart broke when I drank the last drop of Papago’s Coconut Joe, a sweet stout with over-the-top coffee and chocolate flavors.

Arizona isn’t best-known for its beer, but these breweries — the vertebrae in the state’s beer backbone — obviously respect their responsibility to Arizona drinkers. I encourage everyone to sample these beers in their natural habitats. And, at those brewpubs, you’ll undoubtedly meet a few

3. Beer People

As usual, good people ensured a good festival. Otherwise it would be a bunch of beer sitting in cups, waiting to be drunk but going flat instead. That bums me out. Hard.

Thankfully, the park was filled with people. But not just any people — beer people. They wore pretzel necklaces and brandished temporary tattoos. They talked and laughed and drank. Then they drank and laughed and laughed and slept. But before the sleeping, there was beer comradery, a phenomenon unique to beer nerds. In other fields, experts often feel the need to compete with other experts. Wine connoisseurs even practice spitting. But with beer, even the snobs usually just want to enjoy the beverage — and the company of those who share a passion for it. And yes, this was true before everyone got drunk.

Beer folk, hard at work.

Perhaps the best example was Left Hand’s booth, where I spoke to (and received beer from) Valerie Smith of World Class Beverages and Crescent Crown Distributing. She was not only extremely knowledgeable, but also treated visitors like long-time friends, explaining in detail the brews at her booth — most notably 400 Pound Monkey, an English-style IPA — and recommending numerous beers from other booths. I definitely walked away with Left Hand on the brain.

In summary, the good parts of this festival nearly blew my mind. But some other parts blew chunks, which is why this article still has two more chapters.

Tomorrow: The Bad.

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Responses

  1. was Prescott Brewing Company there? Man, i could seriouly maim someone for a growler or two of their amber.

    • Yes, they were! But I don’t think they brought their amber. I think they had an interesting one called Achocolypse. And everyone had a limited supply of beer, so you might have actually needed to maim someone to convince them to fill your growler 😀

  2. Wait… they only let you have 15 samples? That’s BS! Every other festival I’ve heard of lets you drink as much as (or more than) you can stand. Granted, it looks like your sample sizes might be a bit larger, but still. That totally kills the spirit of the event.

    • That was my first thought too. From what I’ve heard, last year’s revelry got a bit out of hand (not sure what that entails), and the state liquor board threatened to shut the festival down or fine the Craft Brewers Guild or something if a sample limit wasn’t imposed. Ah, Arizona. The people who run the festival apparently felt the same way we do about it. (Again, from what I heard.) But as I said, my friend and I were able to get about 30 each by sampling different beers and sharing — and some of the booths looked the other way in divvying out a mouthful or two without charging a ticket.

  3. i think limits are ok considering i blacked out at the last one i was at. which was my second ever and my first since learning to like beer. kinda bummed that sacramento’s beer week is next week, cuz i am broke as sin.

    • That sucks. I can relate. Not with this festival of course, but usually. Although I almost didn’t get to go to this one!


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