Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Savor? I sure did.

The Brewers Association held their inaugural beer and food event, Savor, in D.C. a couple weeks back. Note that I said -- rather they said -- beer and food event. Also, let me say that this was an incredible event. Having gone to a number of beer festivals only to have an army of slack-jawed volunteers indifferently pouring beers, the fact that I got to spend the entire evening with the brewers and staff of such breweries as Boston Beer Company (I told Jim Koch he was the Kingfish of craft beer. I was also drunk.), Brooklyn Brewery, Foothills, Abita and New Belgium, was an absolute delight. I left the event elated. Mind you, the beer helped, but the experience put me over the edge.

That being said, I want to point out a few flaws that will hopefully be addressed before next year. Like I said, Savor was a beer and food event. Because of the equal billing, I expected the food to play as big a role as the beer, both in terms of quality and quantity. It didn't. Not even close. The appetizer-size portions of mediocre food (catered by the sumptuously named Federal City Caterers) didn't hold a candle to the beer brought in by the 48 breweries. After a while, I stopped bothering with the samples. A good move for my palate. A terrible move for my sobriety. I didn't eat much beforehand -- something I do before every beer/wine festival. It's a must. A cardinal rule. If you don't, you end up down the rabbit hole before the event is over.

I was down the rabbit hole.

My buddy also noticed the only places to dump unfinished samples were the garbage cans scattered around the hall. In wine tasting, it's common to have a small bucket or pitcher next to the sample for easy disposal and would have been nice at Savor.

The other real flaw was the classes. The first night I went, there were two classes available on a first-come-first-serve basis. If you didn't get in and get a seat, you were out of luck. And because there were far fewer seats than beer lovers, the classes filled fast. We planned to check out the first class -- or salon -- hosted by Garrett Oliver, author and brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, so we stationed ourselves by the door leading into the classroom. As we waited for the seating to begin, we hung out and tried a couple beers -- Foothills -- but unbeknownst to us a sea of humanity snuck in behind us and filled the room. The best I got was a shot of Garrett discussing the beer and food I wouldn't be enjoying (until later, see the photo above). The second class filled just as quickly. We weren't as eager to hear Dave Lieberman discuss beer and dips. No offense to the Food Network Star, but we just were more interested in drinking craft beer than hearing a discourse on dips.
OK, enough with the complaining.

Again, these are minor critiques of an otherwise outstanding event. I cannot wait until Savor 2 roles around. Next time though, I'll tuck into a sandwich beforehand.

Now, the beer. Man, nary a weak one in the bunch. Were some better than others? Absolutely. Were there surprises? Many. But beer is a subjective thing, especially when you're dealing with an event that drew some of the best brewers from across the United States. So for what it's worth, here were some of my favorites:

Foothills Brewing (Winston-Salem, N.C.)
Blackfoot River Brewing Company (Helena, Mt.)
Heiner Brau Microbrewery (Covington, La.)
Pelican Pub & Brewery (Pacific City, Ore.)
Rogue Ales (Newport, Ore.)
Williamsburg Alewerks (Williamsburg, Va.)
New Belgium Brewing Company (Ft. Collins, Colo.)

There were many other great breweries, of course, but having had their beers several other times (Troegs, Abita, Harpoon, Dogfish Head) I steered my attention more toward the folks I hadn't seen before or the breweries who brought something I hadn't tried before. (OK, I've had Foothills before, but it was good to try them next to all the big guys in the craft beer market. Their beers -- Hoppyum IPA and Sexual Chocolate -- stood up, an assessment made by my buddy who never had their beer before.)

I can't say it enough, though: not a bad beer -- or brewer -- in the room. Because I'm so used to the doll-eyed volunteers common at beer festivals, to actually be able to talk to the person who brewed the beer and hear the enthusiasm for their craft was awesome.

Should the Brewers Association decide to hold a Savor 2, go. Well, unless you hate beer. And if you hate beer, why have you read this far down?


No comments: