As a blogger and very fortunate member of the ShareSLO2013 “street team” I was lucky enough to garner an invite to attend San Luis Obispo’s American Craft Beer Week. Normally it is a week-long national celebration of craft beer, the definition of which is small, independently-owned commercial breweries, some you may have heard of like Sierra Nevada or Lagunitas, others you may have not like Lost Abbey and The Bruery. The San Luis Obispo event however kicked off on May 11th for 9 glorious beer-filled days and I was going to do my very best to go to as many events as possible! After all how could I report back if I didn’t dive head first into the brew? For you my friends I have made this sacrifice. I will say there was a lot of beer and a lot of tasting/drinking so to discuss every beer I ingested would put the encyclopedia Brittanica to shame. Though it’s still going to be a long post (the event was a week long after all), I’m focusing mainly on the beers I really liked. So grab a brewski and sit down for a good long read!
The event was put on by Central Coast Distributing an amazing group of people who include some of the most knowledgeable and well trained beer drinkers around. Where as a trained wine expert is known as a Sommelier, a trained beer expert is called a Cicerone, and I made sure to learn as much as I could from the Cicerones at each event.
I started my beer adventure at the Frog and Peach Pub who was hosting the 2nd annual IPA Fest. Historically even though I drink beer, I have not been much of an enthusiast, so I felt this was a great opportunity to learn a lot more and really embrace the experience. My first beer the New Belgium Rampant IIPA was bitter…and I mean bitter – not quite my style but for those who love a bitter, hoppy, bone dry beer, this one is for you. This also taught me that bitter beers may not be what I should be ordering, so after tasting Doug’s Hangar 24 Columbus IPA I decided to try the Dogfish Head 120 minute IPA. This one I REALLY liked, and after reading the description understood why. It is an Imperial IPA with 18% alcohol! Brewed at 45-degree Plato and boiled for a full 2 hours then hopped and aged for 1 month in the fermenter and another month on whole-leaf hops, this beer will put you on your butt! In fact so much so it was the only beer on the list served as a 1/2 pint pour. I found this tasted best at room temperature.
The next event was the Strong Beer Fest held at Creekside Brewing Company. This is where I started getting my real education, because prior to this I had NO idea I liked big, strong, black, mealy, intensely potent with high 8.5% ABV and above beers! I mean this was the LAST type of beer I would have thought I’d be into, but holy cow! I LOVED IT! The 2 I liked best at this tasting started with the Alaskan TroppleBock, their take on an Imperial Dopplebock but a bigger, more complex version that was very flavorful and tasted like ROLOS (milk chocolate covered caramels). It had a nice viscosity and mouth feel and 10.5% ABV. According to the tasting notes a huge toasted malt profile melds with subtle fig, dark fruit, milk chocolate and vanilla notes. It is moderately carbonated and has a slightly dry finish. The second was the New Belgium Cascara Quad, fruity with wisps of coconut and 10% ABV. The description provided was a dark strong and surprisingly delicate ale, made with dates and coffee cherries. It’s brewed with ethereal malt bill and spiced with fruit of the coffee bean. On the palate clove, fig and molasses.
Spikes American Pub hosted the Sierra Nevada Tap Takeover and Cheese Pairing. They offered 4 beers and 6 cheeses from 6 different groups to pair with each beer. Doug being more experienced with beer and me still at the beginning of my education, helped me pick my pairings. Kellerweis with Port Salut, the Belgian Style Blond IPA with goat cheese, the Knotty Wood with Gjeistost, and lastly Floral IPA with initially a Havarti with caraway seeds but since that didn’t arrive in time they paired it with a Cambozola. Although when the cheese arrived I think there was some confusion (not surprising since the place was jam packed) because some of the cheeses that were listed were not actually on the plate. None-the-less the pairing was fun and the beers were tasty. But my favorite beer of the night ended up being Doug’s Ovila Barrel Aged Abbey Quad, a Belgian style Quad with 10.1% ABV. Needless to say that beer wasn’t Doug’s for long! Aged in oak barrels used in making Brandy, this ale is dark, and according to the description complex; with notes of dark fruits, caramelized sugar, toffee, raisins and black pepper against sweet vanilla flavor from the oak and a round, satiny finish from the hints of brandy that absorbed into the wood. This was probably one of my top 2 favorite beers of the week. On a side note if you are ever in SLO stop by Spikes for Buffalo chicken wings – they are the best in town.
The Lost Abbey tasting took place at The Boardroom in Pismo Beach and they offered 6 beers served in flights of 3 each. The first 3 offerings were the ones I liked most out of the tasting, Deliverance, Mayan Apocalypse, and Carnevale, the 2nd flight was Serpent’s Stout, Framboise De Amorosa and Devotion. Out of all of them Deliverance was my hands-down favorite. A blend of 2 beers, The Serpent’s Stout aged in Bourbon barrels and The Angels Share aged in Brandy barrels – is an epic war between Heaven and Hell and Delicious versus Decadent. I was an innocent victim in a vicious battle that ultimately culminated in me falling in love with this brew. It’s a boozy combination of figs and rum mixed with a dark chocolate flare made this the other of my top 2 of the week.
Lagunitas took over Mother’s Tavern or MoTav as it is lovingly called by the locals. Although I tasted several other people’s beers through out the night my favorite beer was the Triple Barrel Aged Olde Gnarly Wine, a barley wine ale with 10.6% ABV. This is a limited vintage beer and has been released annually since 1996. The 2010 version that was served at the Lagunitas tap takeover is aged in Bourbon, Brandy, and Rye barrels then blended back together and aged for 2 years. This beer was BIG, with definite bourbon and brandy notes. Pairing light carbonation, and a full, thick, boozy body it brings with it bergamot, sticky caramel, vanilla, and butter toffee on the palate. There are not enough adjectives to describe this beer. Definitely not for the faint of heart, everyone who tasted it was surprised at all it had to offer.
Rooster Creek in the Village of Arroyo Grande is owned by the same people who own MoTav and they hosted the Deschutes Brewery Tap Takeover. The 2011 Abyss Imperial Stout is a vintage beer that spends 2 years in the cellar and has an 11% ABV. 33% of the beer is aged in French oak and oak bourbon barrels. It is rich and dark with coffee, molasses and chocolate flavors. It’s a solid stout that will age in the bottle, so get one now to try and another one to age and see how it changes from year to year. The other one I really liked is more commercially available found in grocery stores and the like. The Black Butte Porter is their flagship brand and with a 5.2% ABV it was actually the lowest alcohol beer I drank the whole week. It is a dark beer that has a roasted malt and mocha palate and is a bit lighter in mouth feel than the stouts.
The most interesting event that was put on was the 2nd Annual Sour Fest held at Eureka Burger. It was really rather bizarre, tasting these sour beers. The best generalized tactile description I can give Sour beer is that it’s beer with the pucker tartness of pickle juice. That should give you an idea of the faces that were made during this tasting. I know there are people out there who love and swear by Sour beer but I think this is a style that you either really like, or you don’t. Sour beer is really an all-around experience, and trying to describe it in a blog is simply not going to come close, so if you have an opportunity to try sour beer, you should definitely at the very least give it a shot. We did the flight of 4 beers and tasted some others, but the only one I could actually say I liked was the Bear Republic Cuvee de Bubba, although to be perfectly honest I don’t know that I’d be able to drink more than 1. It is a custom blend beer and then refermented in wine barrels allowing for a smokey tobacco and sour cherry tartness on the palate.
After leaving Eureka Burger we went up to Santa Margarita to the Dunbar Brewing Company and tried Green Flash Brewery. I had the Candela Rye Barley Wine and Doug had the 1st Anniversary Strong Ale. I ended up switching with him because I liked his better, but to be frank, I think my palate was shot from the Sour beers so I don’t know that I gave it a fair shake and will definitely have to try the Candela Rye Barley Wine again. At 8.9% ABV the 1st Anniversary American Strong Ale is an American Barley Wine that is chewy, mildly hoppy, with fragrant malt and caramelized dark fruits.
The last brewery to show off their wares was the Dogfish Head Tap Takeover of The Libertine Pub in Morro Bay. Initially it was going to be a 20-tap takeover but at the last minute they added 2 more. Since I tasted every single one of them, I feel the only way to do justice to the experience and the uniqueness of the beer while giving you, my dear reader, a blog break is to write a completely different blog post for it altogether. So make sure to check out the “Trolling for Dogfish Head” post.
Throughout the entire week, HotShots Pismo Beach hosted the West Coast Beer Tour which included a 26 Tap Takeover of beers from Alaska to San Diego. I don’t have much to say about this event since I really didn’t order anything in particular and just kind of tasted what my friends had gotten. But the menu looked interesting and maybe I’ll check it out more thoroughly next year.
The next big event we will be attending is the California Festival of Beers being held at the world famous Madonna Inn, so if you’re local, or just trying to live like a local for the long weekend, come out and join us!
There are good ships and there are wood ships, the ships that sail the sea.
But the best ships are friendships, and may they always be.
-An old Irish toast brought to us all by our dear friend and #ShareSLO street team member Anouk Novy