Despite a forecast for rain, when I opened the curtains Saturday morning, the sky was clear. It looked liked perfect weather for the World Beer Festival. Indeed, as it turned out weather for the day alternated between clear and partly cloudy.
The first order of business for the day was to eat a big breakfast, so we headed for the hotel breakfast buffet. I enjoy having breakfast in the hotel as it starts to build the excitement for the day to see familiar faces who are also preparing for the Festival. I exchanged greetings with All About Beer editor Julie Johnson, and Pints for Prostate's Rick Lyke. I also ran into Joel Armato from "Planet New Holland". It's often hard to talk to the busy folks working during the event, so it was good to see them in the morning. There were a number of other brewery folks coming and going.
We had tickets for the afternoon session so we headed out to get in line about an hour before the noon opening time. There was already quite a line, and it grew rapidly. That's nothing to be overly concerned about. While we waited, volunteers came around passing out the Festival Beer Guide, so we could peruse that while we waited. I've said it in the past, and it's worth repeating, the All About Beer team has the entry process down to a science. ID's are checked in advance, so once the gates open, it's a smooth process to have your ticket scanned and grab a tasting glass on the way in.
Once you are in, it's just a matter of enjoying the beer. Over 100 breweries were attending. With most breweries offering multiple beers, there were easily over 300 hundred different beers available. I tried to mark off each beer as I sampled, along with any notes. I sure won't list every beer I tried, but I'll mention a few beers that I marked off with an extra "check" in my program. I mostly stuck with beers that were new to me, or unavailable locally.
As mentioned in the previous post, I did get to sample a few beers from Aviator Brewing during my weekend in Raleigh. One of those beers was HogWild IPA. It was being served poured thru a canister of fresh hops. This treatment gives the beer a fresh "green" aspect that I happen to enjoy. (It also creates a glass full of foam, so patience is required to let it settle before drinking.) Another beer that I've heard about but never have had the chance to try previously is the Banana Bread Beer from Charles Wells Brewery in the U.K. I'm not a big fan of fruit beers, but there are a few that I can enjoy. The sweet malt base is mated with sweet banana. It tastes like, well, banana bread. While I only had a small sample of Banana Bread Beer, it was enjoyable. Not too sweet, and the banana was not overpowering.
I sampled two different Saisons at the Festival. The first was New Holland Golden Cap Saison. I found this one to be well-balanced with a mild hop bitterness. There's the expected funkiness and fruit and spice flavors, but it's one I think most people could enjoy. I also sampled the Capital City Organic Saison. The Capital City offering had a little more "funk" to it with stronger flavor profile. Fruit and yeast dominate and it finishes with a dry bitterness. Another nice offering from a (relatively) local brewer. I also grabbed a sample of Garde Dog from Flying Dog while I was enjoying the musty beers.
From French Broad Brewing in Ashville, NC the Wee Heavy-er Scotch Style Ale was another standout. Sweet malts, and a bit of smokiness, made this one a pleasure to drink. I enjoy the stronger caramelized malt flavors of the style and also tried the Dram Tree Scottish Ale from Front Street Brewing in Wilmington, NC. Keeping with the malt trend, I headed over to the Lagunitas Booth for some of their Undercover Shutdown Ale, an American Strong Ale. That was indeed very tasty and I hope we see it distributed locally.
Toward the end of the Session, I found myself seeking out the lagers. Mama's Little Yella Pils from Oskar Blues was an enjoyable offering. I've not seen this locally so was happy to see it offered at the Fest. This will be a good Summer-time beer in convenient cans. I also noted that the Dry Hopped Kellerbier from Liberty Steakhouse in High Point, NC was quite refreshing with a crisp dry finish.
One of the nice things about these events is I can try beers that I would not be otherwise inclined to buy. So I wondered over to the Pabst booth. Pabst Blue Ribbon is enjoying a resurgence in popularity and I wanted to see what all the interest was about. I've not had a PBR in probably more than 25 years. I drank the entire sample, and contemplated the question of it's new found popularity. However, the answer still eludes me.
Of course, there's more to the World Beer Fest than beer. I took a break mid-session to wander through the vendor booths outside the beer tents. At some point it's good to get out of the crowd for a bit. I find the food offerings here to be quite varied and, from what I've sampled, tasty. I opted for a Lamb Pita sandwhich for lunch. I sat down under a tent and listened to the live music. My only wish was that I could have enjoyed a glass of beer with the food. I heard a few other folks make this remark as well. However, one can certainly understand the issues that could possibly arise if full beers were being sold at the festival, in addition to the abundant samples. So I enjoyed the bit of beer I had in my tasting glass. During my "break" I also had an interesting conversation with a gentleman from Australia who was enjoying the festival. We talked beer, wine, tourism, and even politics, before I headed back to enjoy more beer sampling.
When the session closed, I capped off my afternoon over at Woody's at City Market. I enjoyed a full 16 ounce cup of Bear Republic Racer 5. After all those 2 ounce samples I craved a whole beer. I listened to some live music and watched a group of folks playing cornhole, before heading back to the hotel to prepare for dinner.
I've said it before, and nothing's changed, I think Raleigh is my favorite of the WBF venues. I know folks who attend just the Durham event in the Fall, but Moore Park is a wonderful setting for the Festival and the layout of the beer tents and related activities seems to work here and come together for a class event. It's a great way to kick off the season and the All About Beer folks, and hundreds of volunteers, do a superb job of putting together a fine festival. It's easy to see that these folks love doing what they do. I ran in to festival producer Daniel Bradford at the end of the session, and he was still smiling. And deservedly so after a job well-done.
I was too busy enjoying the beer to take many pictures, but I've uploaded a few here.
Next up, dinner and (more) beer...