What a weekend! The World Beer Festival Raleigh is history. Now that it's over, it seems a bit surreal. It all went too fast. Frank, Jerry and I arrived in Raleigh late afternoon on Friday. After checking in at the hotel, we headed over to The Raleigh Times Bar and made that home for the evening. We enjoyed an eclectic assortment of beer and bar food. A couple of beers stood out this evening. Pierre Celis Grotten Brown Ale was one such treat. This Belgian Strong Dark Ale was a one time bottling by Brouwerij St. Bernardus. I also had the opportunity to enjoy an Achel Extra, which was one of the Trappist beers I didn't find for my recent series on Trappist beers. Frank is a fan of Chimay beers and asked our waitress about their availibility and we were told Chimay is too "mainstream" for them to carry. Interesting comment, though I assume she meant in relation to the other Belgian beers they serve. We enjoyed the beers and food very much, and engaged in a lot of people watching.
Saturday it was time for the trip's main event. The weather forecast mentioned the possibility of storms, but the weather couldn't have been more delightful. We strolled over to the festival grounds about an hour before the gates opened. Already the line stretched around the corner. By the time the gates opened at noon, the line had gone around the block and had doubled over itself. We worried that where the lines paralleled near the gate there might be some blending. However, from what we saw folks were very orderly and stayed in the queue. The festival organizers are to be commended for the smooth and quick entry process. Indeed, the whole festival was extremely well-run and very organized. Details such as plentiful, clean porta-johns and free bottled water were most appreciated. There was a nice variety of food vendors present as well.
After gaining entry we were greeted by somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 brewers offering samples of their wares. Initially I had thought of keeping a running tally of the beers I tried. However, given the crowds, the limited time, and the sheer numbers of beers, I dropped the idea and simply enjoyed the offerings. There were quite a few brewers in attendance whose beers I had never tried, and I mostly stuck with those new beers. Although on occasion I did also opt for a sample from a familiar "friend". The crowd was thick, and for the most part, orderly. As the day wore on there was more bumping and jostling but the orderliness seen during the entry process persisted all day. The beer service was quick and well-done. Most booths were manned by volunteers though a few had representatives from the breweries.
A few memorable beers that stood out even without notes were Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron, a big brown ale aged on Paraguayan Palo Santo wood; Holy Mackerel Mack in Black, an Imperial Black Ale fermented with pomegranate juice; Outer Banks Compass Rose, a spiced Belgian Ale; and Harpoon 100 Barrel Series #22, a Scottish Ale. I also had my first taste of Black Rasberry Nectar from Redstone Meadery. I wasn't sure what to think at first, but after a sip or two, I can see enjoying it on a hot summer day while relaxing on the porch. While we were shopping for t-shirts in the All About Beer Magazine tent, someone came by and filled our glasses with Samuel Adams Irish Red. This 2007 Beer Lover’s Choice winner is the latest addition to Boston Brewing's long list of products. When I went by the Boston Brewing booth later there was none left so it was apparently quite popular. Of course there were many, many more fine offerings, and looking back through the festival guide now, I see a few beers I missed completely.
In the afternoon, I ran into fellow FABTS member Robert, who was attending with his friend Hank. Robert and Hank had plans to attend both the afternoon and evening sessions. Good show guys, but one session was plenty for me! There was also good music at the festival. We enjoyed the rock of the Brooks Wood Band during a break for lunch, and later some reggae from Jah Creation.
I should mention some food-related items as well. Cabot Cheese of Vermont had a selection of very tasty cheeses. I was especially fond of their horseradish cheddar, though all the cheeses were enjoyable. Also Blue's BBQ was offering two excellent sauces. The Carolina Pepper Sauce was labeled Hot, but was more flavor than heat. The Habanero Reserve Sauce offered more fire but was also very flavorful. During the festival, we learned that our friend Jerry has an almost insatiable appetite for roasted peanuts. He knew which booths were offering peanuts and returned to them often.
We ended the festival day by sitting in on the "Pairing Beer and Chocolate" presentation put on by Julie Johnson Bradford, Editor of All About Beer Magazine. The highlight of that session was the selection of Oskar Blues Ten Fidy in one of the pairings. This elusive Imperial Stout has been impossible to find around here, and was not offered at the festival. This was a special treat and I was thankful we made the last-minute decision to sit in on this presentation. It appeared most of my fellow attendees were thrilled with this surprise as well.
After a refreshing rest back at the hotel, we headed over to Woodys City Market for a quick dinner. They have 22 taps and a modest bottle selection. All three of us opted for Philly Cheesesteaks. I enjoyed my sub with Victory Prima Pils, a nice, crisp lager that I'd not had in quite a while. Our draft beers were served in plastic cups. When we inquired about glasses we were told "We aren't serving in glasses tonight." It was too odd of a statement to pursue further. We ended the evening watching the Celtics-Hawks game back at the hotel, during which we were appreciative of Jerry's penchant for gathering peanuts.
We had planned on shopping for beer to bring home at a local store. Colleen had given me a shopping list of beers she wanted me to pick up. Unfortunately we were unaware of the puritanical law in North Carolina that prohibits the sale of alcohol before noon on Sunday. That we were unable to bring back some beers we can't get locally was a disappointment, but a valuable lesson for next time. So after a quick breakfast at iHop we headed home early Sunday morning as we were all anxious to get back to our families.
I think I can speak for my travel companions when I say we all had an excellent time. We tried lots of new beers as well as enjoyed the companionship of good friends. I collected quite a bit of swag as well. There will be no shortage of beer coasters around here for some time. The festival coincided with Frank's birthday and I think it was a fitting celebration. We owe our wives, and kids, a debt of gratitude for allowing us to be away from home for the weekend. I'm looking forward to possibly attending the next WBF in Durham this October.
A few photos from the weekend can be found here.