Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Good Day for a Beer, or 50 of Them

Manitou Springs, Colorado

My brother and I had the chance to check out the 7 th Annual Craft Lager Festival this year. Twenty two craft brewers participated in this year's festival. The festival is notable because their decidedly sustainable stance. They herald themselves the only wind powered beer festival in the world. Their goal is to raise awareness on sustainability and serve some damn good beer. The proceeds from the event are donated to various organizations promoting parks and open space. Naturally, the festival was held outdoors.

Manitou Springs is nestled up against Pikes Peak and is a typical Victorian Era tourist town. I didn't meet any towns people while I was there, but I would imagine that the town is used to having a bunch of yahoos wandering their streets, and a festival like this becomes more bearable as the participants are fenced in. This years festival was held in Memorial Park.

The festival seemed well planned and executed with an adequate number of clean portable toilets with hand sanitizer (I was there on Saturday, no word on the maintenance of the toilets by Sunday afternoon). This is key (in my opinion) for an outdoor festival, especially one serving unlimited amounts of beer. Having said this, there were a few issues that could have been improved. First, the layout of the breweries were all on one side of the park (with the exception of two), and 6 breweries were tucked into the back corner. This was great as this is where my brother and I started the festival, but as the crowds grew, the lines became intertwined and confused. Luckily, the people were very nice, it wasn't too hot, and no one seemed to get hot under the collar. It was sometimes impossible to tell if you were cutting in line or not. The other major problem was that almost no breweries had a dump bucket (for unused beer) or water to rinse the glasses. Water was provided centrally located in the festival grounds, but had run out at the time I discovered it. Luckily, I had forethought and brought my Camelback. This served as a rinse for our glasses as well as our palette (and was one of the smartest things I have ever done).

Entertainment was provided by a couple of bluegrass bands, one which played a bluegrass version of Prince's "When Doves Cry". It is hard to imagine that that song can sound creepier than the original.

My brother and I tasted almost all of the beers from all of the breweries. We were actually quite methodical about it. Upon entering the festival and noting that all of the breweries were on the same side and the closest breweries were already gaining a line, we headed for the back corner (where there were 6 breweries in close proximity). We also chose to get different samples from each brewer and traded tastes. Most brewers had around 2 or 3 selections, so we could double our tasting for each line we stood in. Lastly, the brewers close to the entrance we hit at the end as we were leaving the festival. By then most of the attendees were in the festival, and had stopped first at the closest. The lines were shorter at these.

The Beers

We had sampled at least 1 beer from every brewer, with the exception of Trinity Brewing out of Colorado Springs. Trinity is a place that my brother and I frequent when we get together for a beer in Colorado Springs, so we felt that we had an idea what they were serving. After trying about 80% of the beers we sat down and made notes on our favorites and what we didn't like and where we still needed to go, and what we wanted another taste of.

Here are our thoughts. Since neither of us are really good at describing our tasting experience, and we didn't care about style, we merely judged whether we liked it or not.

Our Best of Show: Oktoberfest, Left Hand Brewery, Longmont, Colorado

Close 2nds: Helles Good Beer (Helles/Export), Pug Ryan Steakhouse Brewery, Dillon, CO and 719 Light Lager (Helles/Export), Rock Bottom Brewery, Colorado Springs, CO (won first place two years ago)

Most Pleasant Surprises:

Me: Michelob's Grand, described as their original 1890 recipe for Michelob. It was malty and sweet, cloudy and unfiltered. Michelob brought all experimental beers to the festival, and was a contender (at least for me) for best brewery.

My brother: Lemongrass Lager, Rocky Mountain Brewing Company, Colorado Springs, CO.

Biggest Disappointment: Warning Sign Imperial Eis Bock, brewed specially for the festival every year and collaborated on by all of the brewers.

Understandably, this beer is intended to be a special beer that you don't get to run into every day. Our problem with this beer is that we had no idea what an Eis bock is supposed to taste like (let alone an Imperial Style Eis bock), and such a strong and complex beer did not go down well on such a hot day. My brother and I looked at each other after we tasted and had the same reaction....."Ew!"(as in yuck). The beer is listed as 10-14% ABV, and intended to break the German Purity Law. An Eis (Ice) Bock is a dark beer that is lagered below freezing so that the water in the beer turns to ice and is removed, leaving the alcohol behind.

Most Unusual Name: Silver Mullet (Malt Liquor), Rock Bottom Brewery, it also tasted as a Malt Liquor should....yuck, but totally true to style.

Best Brewery: Left Hand Brewery, in addition to our favorite beer of the festival, their other two selections (Pole Star Pilsner, and Haystack Wheat) got our thumbs up.

2nd Best Brewery: Carver Brewing Company, Durango, Colorado. Carver's three selections (La Plata Pilsner, X-Rock Bock, and Cervesa Real (Vienna Style Lager) all got thumbs up from the both of us.

Honorable Mentions: All of New Belgium Brewery's offerings (1554, Skinny Dip, and Blue Paddle). I felt that they couldn't win as their offerings are well known to us, and we both love 1554. Rock Bottom's Goat Toppler Maibock (light colored bock) which won BOS from the festival in 2008, and Shmaltz Brewing Company's Coney Island Lager and Coney Island Albino Python.

I have spent most of my energy learning about and making ales, and consider myself more of a novice on lager knowledge. This festival was especially useful for me to understand what I like in lagers. It was no secret to me that I preferred the Vienna/Marzen/Oktoberfest styles above all else, but I learned that I like Helles (Municher) as well. In all, I prefer beers made in the traditional styles of German Lagers over their Mexican and American interpretations. So, I like the maltier and hoppier varieties with good mouthfeel, but prefer the German exacting sense of balance in my beers. This fits with what I like in ales as well.

All in all the festival was fun, and I think the organizers did a great job. It also provided me with a warm up to the GABF next month. I will try to make this festival a yearly thing.

If you made it up to the festival and can add your favorites, your thoughts?

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