Sunday, October 16, 2011

What does an Oenophile do at a beer fest? If you don't know...

Yesterday Hubby and I went to the 2011 Decatur Craft Beer Festival. Yep, craft beer, as in the only presence of the big advertisers was the Budweiser breathalyzer tent. Maybe they were trying to hint that their crappy beer wouldn't get you as drunk as the good stuff. I wasn't originally going to go after a miserable, freeze my butt off experience two years ago, but I figured hey, my beer palate has expanded, so why not? I wasn't disappointed.

I'll go ahead and get the complaining out of the way. No, it wasn't the drunk people that bothered me, but more the lack of water toward the end of the day (thank you to the volunteer who took pity on me and gave me his) and the cigar smoke. Seriously, Beer Fest, you had to have a cigar-seller there? I'm allergic to tobacco smoke, so I ended up with an instant headache and some other issues once the cigar smokers reached a critical enough mass it was hard to get away from them.

Okay, complaints over. I'm not a hop girl, although I do appreciate hop guys. Here's a picture of me with a couple of hop wranglers – check out the hoppy embroidery on the shirts. They were good sports. So was the Decatur policewoman who took the picture.

We mostly hung out with friends Dan Browning and his wife, famous violinist Kirsten Browning (who needs a web site to tout her wonderfulness). This was probably good for me, as they and Hubby encouraged me to try things I otherwise wouldn't.

My beer tastes run towards the malty rather than hoppy. Consequently, I'm more into Belgian-style than American style. Sometimes these parameters make things easy. India Pale Ale (IPA)? No, thank you. Dubbel, Trippel, or Quadruppel? Yes, please! Milk stout, uh… The ones I tried tended to be too bitter for me but would have been lovely with some ice cream. I suspect that other oenophiles who prefer wine over beer would also go for malty, which tends to be smoother. Think about hops as being like tannins: you want enough for structure, but too much, and the bitterness is overwhelming.

Note-taking on my cell phone got a little tricky as the festival went on, so I'll hit the highlights. Here are my awards for the day:

Best Hot Day Sipper: Highland Clawhammer Octoberfest. It was smooth, only hoppy on finish, and with sweet malt mid palate. After the random guys in lederhosen appeared, it seemed even more perfect. Oh, they weren't even the weirdest. One couple came dressed as good zombie angel ballerina, and bad zombie angel ballerina. They were both guys. I wonder if they thought the Little Five Points parade was going to leave from the Beer Fest? Although I was tempted, I did not ask them if they had new sympathy for the women in their lives after they went to the port-o-potties. Leotards can be a pain to get on and off in a confined space.

Biggest Surprise: Oskar Blues' Old Chub Scotch Ale. I thought I was going to hate it. The spot-on description on their web site says, "A head-turning treat for malt heads and folks who think they don’t dig dark beer." No, it wasn't a Belgian, but I could definitely drink it again with its malty, coffee, chocolate notes.

Hardest to tweet about after a few: North Coast Brewing's Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale. Yes, I liked it. Here is my note: "North Coast Brother Thrlonious lives up to Belgian abbey ale promise." I was doing well with my touch-screen, but having to spell Thelonious would probably be a good sobriety test. I also really liked their PranQster Belgian Style Golden Ale.

Weirdest Beer: New Belgium's lineup (the three I tried). Hubby thought I would like the Super Cru. I had mixed feelings. It had some very sour notes I didn't appreciate on their own but would have probably gone well with food. However, I did like New Belgium's dubbel-style Abbey Ale, which had a dominant first flavor of banana (weird, but good) and Trippel. Yes, it boggles me that a brewery named New Belgium only has a few beers I like.

Strange Potentially Religious Coincidence: I tried the He'Brew Genesis 15:15, a Barleywine, and the Lost Abbey 10 Commandments beer back-to-back. With the Genesis 15:15's 13.4% A.B.V., and the 10 Commandments' 9%, it's no wonder I was on the verge of a religious experience. No, I don't think there were any messages from the divine in there, but I found two beers I'd drink again.

Consistently Good Award: Unibroue I've loved Unibroue since I stumbled (not literally) upon them at a beer festival in San Francisco last year. I realize it wasn't very adventurous, but I cozied up to the table and enjoyed their Fin du Monde, Maudite, and Trois Pistoles. Since their A.B.V. (percentage of alcohol) across the three beers are 8-9%, that pretty much finished me for the day. I'm glad I saved them for last. This is a girly thing to say, but they also have the prettiest labels. This one's for the Trois Pistoles:

Beer geeks know that I.B.U. stands for International Bitterness Units. The threshold for being able to distinguish it is 90. From the web sites I could pull up, the I.B.U. of the beers I liked were 25 and below. Fellow oenophiles who dislike bitterness and like geekery may find this a good place to start. I dare you to ask the bartender what the I.B.U. of the beer he/she is pouring you is. The only one I know up to the task would be The Marlay House's Andrew, who educated me on I.B.U.'s and gave me the 90 I.B.U. taste threshold tidbit. That factoid won my team some beer at a trivia night.

So, is there a place for an oenophile at a beer fest? Definitely! It's a great place to hang with friends and try beers you'd never order. I found some that I want to try again, with food and without. You can take the oenophile away from the pairing...

By the way, I'm drinking Viognier today.

1 comment:

Dan said...

Miles (bartender at the Brick Store Pub, and then later at Leon's) was the first guy from whom I learned about IBUs. I do think the emphasis on super-hoppy IPAs and the like is overdone - who really wants to drink Pine-Sol, after all?

It was refreshingly wonderful to have your oenophilic palate with us - gave a great perspective on our malty indulgences.

I would add that I thoroughly enjoyed the Cigar City offerings (although apparently you still can't get most of them in Atlanta) and, surprisingly enough, many of the selections from Southern Tier (which, despite its name, is a New York brewery). I would be hard pressed to name individual selections, but I will say that there's certainly nothing wrong with a little Brother Theolonius!