Dining Out: The 11th Annual West Coast Brew Fest

Beer events tend to bring out the Homer Simpson in me, as well as my inner beer geek.  This tension was obvious in the crowd at the West Coast Brew Fest in Miller Park last weekend. While waiting in line I heard conversations varying from bellows of “Hops, I LOVE Hops!  HOPS, HOPS!” to detailed flavor analyses of beers of the kind you might hear at a wine tasting.

While there was a serious party atmosphere at the WCBF, it fell far short of drunken debauchery. There was the obligatory, live blues-rock (which was actually significantly better than I expected) and plenty of skimpy clothing, but most people were there for the beer. Not quantity, but quality. This was a large crowd that was serious about beer. This made both my inner beer geek and beer-struck Homer Simpson happy.  The Beer Tribe had gathered and despite varying philosophies of consumption (is examined beer really better?) they were getting along fine.

With the vast array of beer available, there was no way I was going to be able to taste it all, even with the help of my beer-loving wife. We decided to find beers that we hadn’t had before. To my great surprise there were many. If you had asked me a few years ago if I would’ve found a beer festival exciting, I would’ve mumbled something about the usual suspects and how the money might be better spent at the store. Waiting in line for a small taste of beer that you know (and maybe love) seems like waiting in line for a kiddy pool. There’s really no point unless it’s really hot and you don’t have other options.  

This festival renewed my faith in brewers and beer drinkers alike. Established breweries were pouring beers that I hadn’t seen for sale, some of which were labeled experimental. Small upstart breweries I’d never heard of were pouring beer that ranged from good and conventional to interesting and different to just plain weird (bacon as a beer ingredient?). All in all, the West Coast Beer Fest was a success in bringing interesting (and good) beer to the thirsty masses.

Some highlights:

Buckbean Brewing Co.  Reno, NV (since 2008)
Black Noddy – Bavarian Schwarzbier

Dominant flavors of coffee and molasses, with some toasted malt. Hops appropriately in the background. Good beer, maybe a little roasty for style purists, but if it tastes good I’ll drink it.

Lockdown Brewing Co. Folsom, CA
Emma’s Blonde Ale

I’ve been meaning to check out this new, local brewery for some time now, so it was nice to seem them at the festival.  Unfortunately they were down to one beer when I got to them. The Emma’s Blond Ale is clean and malty tasting. Very faint presence of hops. Not a style I love, but a good example of a drinkable ale for hot weather.  

Dust Bowl Brewing Co Turlock, CA (since 2009)

Hops of Wrath IPA and Old Wire Pale Ale
This new, relatively small brewery reports being maxed out in capacity (I was told an 8 barrel system, but the website says 10) and not currently available in the Sacramento region, but has plans to expand into this market soon.

Hops of Wrath IPA and Old Wire Pale Ale are hoppy, but the pale ale seems more so, most likely due to the stronger malt presence of the IPA. Both are solid beers, but fit into that easy pale ale niche that breweries often seem to break into the market with. I look forward to tasting more distinctive products in the future.

Uncommon Brewers, Santa Cruz, CA

Extreme! That is the only word for the beers from this new upstart brewery. The Siamese Twin with its combination of kaffir lime and lemongrass was very tasty, but a little heavy on the palate (perhaps due to the serving conditions). The suggested pairing with curry seems like a sure win. I found the Bacon and Buckwheat beer to be undrinkable, since salty meat is not a flavor I find pleasant in beer. The Rubios Red with mushrooms and maple syrup as ingredients tasted like liquid maple candy. There was a slight earthiness that may have come from the mushrooms. I found the beers offered by Uncommon Brewers to be a bit extreme for my taste, but I wonder how they would fare with extended aging.

Alaskan Brewing Co, Juneau AK (since 1986)

Alaskan White – Belgian-style wheat beer
I couldn’t totally leave out the big (well, relatively) guys. The Alaskan White has a very obvious nose of coriander, with a faint sweetness. A hazy, pale amber in color, a bit darker than imported versions, but lighter than many domestic examples. Balanced, and smooth. We were split on this one. I found it good, but not remarkable, while my wife thought it was good and definitely better than the other American versions of this style.

Grand Teton Brewing Co. Victor, ID (since 1988)

Black Cauldron Imperial Stout 8% alc./vol.
Coffee, dried fruit and alcohol. Relatively smooth interpretation of the style. More drinkable than the average imperial stout, probably due to the moderate alcohol level. Well-balanced.

Lost Continent Double IPA 8% alc/vol
Whoa! Hops and then more hops. This beer hides its strength well, under a mountain of resiny hop flavor and aroma. The hop character of this beer is complex, not a single-note hoppiness that is often found in beers of this type.

11th Annual West Coast Brew Fest
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Miller Park, Sacramento

By Ed Edsten

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