Happiness is a Real Ale Fest

DuClaw Real Ale Fest logo
the Olivers team
The Olivers Team

Yesterday’s beer fest at DuClaw Bel Air was exactly the kind of tasting festival I most enjoy.  First, the weather was lovely, or what passes for lovely in this part of the world in early September, which is to say, humid but not too hot.  There were threats of thunderstorms and severe weather alerts – somewhere else.  Second, the tickets were limited; only 700 tickets were available (andI hope they sold out).  You could pay a little extra to be there an hour or so earlier, which was wise if there was a beer you especially wanted to try.  Third, there was a nice number of breweries – 21 – but a limited amount of beer – 2 11-galllon firkins per brewery, each draped in their own sweating firkin-sized ice pack (I saw a DuClaw team member handing out fresh ice blankets about halfway through).  That meant there was a wide variety of brews to taste but not so much you had blotto buffoons spoiling everyone else’s party.  Fourth, there was good noshing food – three whole, succulent roast pigs in addition to Hawaiian-themed meatballs, dips and salads – and a very satisfactory cover band, Acoustically Sound, providing ambience.Those aren’t the only reasons I enjoyed myself, of course, in addition to the beer.  The fest was very well organized, the tasting flyer/map exactly what the mission-oriented among us needed, and the DuClaw staff very pleasant considering they were on the crest of opening the doors when I met them.  There weren’t overwhelming numbers of people so a girl could strike up a conversation with the beer pourer, who was sometimes the brewer, without holding up the line.  There was room to step aside and keep chatting, and with only two firkins on each table, you could actually reach out and shake someone’s hand.  Even room to balance the golden notebook as I scribbled hop combos and ABV’s.

The DuClaw Firkins
The DuClaw Firkins

There as a nice bit of event spice in a wee competition between the four brewers of DuClaw.  Each brought a firkin of their own brewing, and the first keg to kick was the winner. I hear Old Man Wagner’s Thunder Stick kicked first (that’s Jim Wagner, DuClaw’s head brewer), which tasted like breakfast to me, thick and rich and malty-sweet.  Brandon Millhouse’s Blonde Gin & Tonic made me reconsider making a spruce beer – his had clear, clean juniper with the brightness of honey.  Kurt Krol’s Angry Bis-hop was a bit thin-bodied for the hop strength; there was none of the complexity that hops can bring that I love so much.  Bo Lenck’s Purple Reignwas his bid to convince Old Man Wagner to make a raspberry beer.  It was a combo of Bare Ass Blonde with raspberry puree.  It smelled off to me, and had a kind of syrupy finish; better luck next time, dude.

Flying Dog takes it seriously
Now this man is serious about his beer

I promised myself I’d review the beers (I did not get to them all) in order of geography: Baltimore beers, first, then Maryland/Virginia/Delaware/DC, then visitors from out of the region.  Yeah, not so much.  Here’s who was there:

Stone's Lee Marren at RAF 2012
Stone’s Lee Marren at RAF 2012

Baltimore: Baltimore Beer Works (aka The Raven); Brewers’ Art; Oliver’sRed Brick; Union CraftHeavy Seas; Stillwater

VA/MD/DE/DC:  DuClaw; Brewer’s Alley; Flying Dog; Franklin’s; Evolution; Pub Dog; Old Dominion; Fordham

Welcome outlanders: Harpoon; Tröegs; Stone; Stoudts; New Belgium; Yards

Beers I loved: Oliver’s  Dry Hopped Blonde Ale was the only one that got stars in my notebook, though Stone brought their Levitation Ale, which I love.  I’d spend a long evening with entertaining friends (all my friends are entertaining) over a pitcher of either of these.Levitation Ale sign

Most Coffee Flavor in Beer:  DuClaw’s X-1 came close, but the Yards’ General Washington’s Tavern Porter was a wake-up-and-drink-the-coffee beer; most clearly coffee beer I think I’ve ever had.

Best Use of Fruit in Beer: This one gets several happy entries in the golden notebook.  Duckpin’s Pale Ale has clear grapefruit from nose to finish.  It’s really hoppy, which I don’t generally enjoy, but I love me that citrus note.  Pub Dog’s Sour Cherry Cordial Wild Cherry Porter with cocao nibs and vanilla was a 5.8% porter with a just lovely nose.  I liked it a whole lot.

I noticed that cherry was the only obvious fruit in beer; no blueberry offerings, though I did get into a conversation about a watermelon beer (I’m game to try it).

The Sourest Beer: goes to New Belgium’s NBB Love.  I know Belgian beers are all the rage, and I can love me some Belgian funk (especially saisons), but this beer had serious pucker power.  Wow.

The Raven's new logo
The Raven’s new logo

There were several seasonal (pumpkin) ales: Fordham brought one, and Heavy Seas.  Given that everyone’s website is full of their autumn ales right now, I thought that showed restraint.There were beers I didn’t get to taste, not being interested in actively hurting myself; as it was I was directing pourers to give me a taster portion, not fill up the little plastic glass we got upon entry.  My notes get more and more scrawly as I read through them.  I made it to 22 beers out of 44; in this case halfway was just fine.

The Raven's re-draw

In an only slightly related theme, I’m a long-time Hunter Thompson fan, ergo a fan of Ralph Steadman’s art.  Flying Dog labels always catch my eye because of that.   The Raven beer has re-drawn their logo lately.  They were very proud of their new banner with the shiny off-the-presses new art.  I think the illustration of Edgar A. Poe, local Baltimore character, above left, is pretty much fun, and of course the glass of beer in his hand changes to reflect the beer in the bottle.  I think he’s even going to be on their bottle caps, which will be pretty cute.  However, they’ve re-drawn their raven in the same vein.  It’s no longer sinister and cool.  Now it’s just a cartoon, a little goofy.  I like the Poe drawing, dislike the new Raven.  They were the only table with merch, and plenty of it was selling, so I may be in the minority here – or maybe I’m just too much a corvid fan.  Who cares what most of the labels actually look like as long as the beer’s good?    (For one answer to that, see sommelier Melissa Cole’s Aug. 21 blog post “An Open Letter to All Breweries About Branding”, http://letmetellyouaboutbeer.com/.)

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