Widmer Brothers Brewery (Portland, OR) and DRAFT magazine have pooled their talents to create a series of beer-art-live-music one-off events around the country called Explore Your Craft. This year DC actually made the list, along with San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Portland, and Minneapolis. Long View Gallery in the Shaw district provided the venue, Ridgewells Catering’s chef Steve Carter did wonders. Lindsay Burton of adventuresinbeerland.net scored a couple of tickets from a DCBeer twitter deal and was nice enough to invite me along. Lobster beignets and Marionberry Hibiscus Gose? I said yes, thank you. The guest list was tightly controlled, and they checked your name at the door; gate crashing would’ve been really tricky anyway.
I confess I am positively predisposed toward any beer tasting event that has tulip-shaped souvenir tasting glasses and a booklet for notes.
When I think of drink-and-art events, I think of wine tastings with little cubes of cheese and crackers. Well, this was a beer tasting with a lot more to offer, though there were also bits of (artisanal) cheese carefully selected by Whole Foods. There were four stations with two to four beers each, matched with tiny hors d’oeuvres. The food was a success, because a) it really was delicious and b) it really was bite-sized, so when that dark-haired cutie asks you a question just when you pop the rock fish ceviche taco in your mouth, it only takes a sec to swallow and holler your answer back. Holler indeed – the music by Justin Trawick was really good, but I could hardly hear anyone anywhere in the gallery. Festive, but I really must brush up on my sign language.
If the Widmer Brothers were a less capable craft brewery, or this would’ve been a lot less fun. The high quality of the beer and food definitely enlivened things. There was at least one beer at every station that I was intrigued by, and quite a few I liked a lot (see my notes below). I was surprised to see silver champagne buckets used as beer dump buckets; it hadn’t occurred to me to need one, since they were pouring respectably modest tasting portions. It was a work night, after all.
In addition to the paintings on the gallery’s long walls (there wasn’t much room for sculpture with all the people who attended), chalk artist Patrick Owens sat in one brightly lit corner creating an exceptional autumn deer’s head made of a hop cone for a head and twisted barley for antlers. While I stood and watched, the barley developed depth and volume and looked like it would begin rustling in the breeze any minute. It was absolutely captivating. It was also for sale – in a silent auction for charity going on as he drew (I gave it my best shot, but I was outbid fairly quickly). I would love to know how much it finally went for. The bid was up to $225 last time I checked, and that was still fairly early. Contemplate spending big money for highly ephemeral chalk art…
In the opposite corner was a group mural, one of those where the figures are pre-drawn and they leave a table of tempera paints and brushes for the crowd. I spent some time there and chatted up a member of BURP, one of our local home brew clubs. With Owens’ chalk drawing fresh in my mind, I attempted light and shadow on a line drawing that I thought was supposed to be a hop cone, using thinned-out red tempera and a totally inadequate brush. It was very pleasing to do while surrounded by so much creativity.
It’s easy to think of a beer tasting as a working class anti-wine-snob event, but banish all thoughts of blue collars from your mind. The people I saw were late-twenties and early-thirties DC professionals. They dressed to look very good (maybe jackets but no ties, though many came straight from work; the women positively glowed). They were well educated. Any one of them had probably had Coors or Bud or Pabst but they’d also had craft beers and could tell the difference. I only heard one woman speak the mantra of the uninitiated, and say she didn’t really like beer (I was fairly sure I could introduce her to one or two.) No one had their nose in the air, but the crowd was bright and alive and smart, and had gone to some effort to get there. I think beer tastings with good food and art are a great combination, but don’t confuse them with kickin’ back in your cowboy boots drinking beer off the back of the pickup. It wasn’t that kind of event.
What did we taste? I’m the woman who doesn’t like IPAs, right? I really have to revise that. Widmer’s Pitch Black IPA was wonderful, citrusy – not too bitter and not too trendy (black IPA, I mean, really, in sert eyeroll here). It went well with the rock fish ceviche tacos, which were just wonderful. The fingerling potato hash with smoked bacon was toe-curlingly yummy, if a bit awkward to eat out of a small paper cup, paired with their Brrrbon ’12 (bourbon barrels were definitely involved). Somebody should put a license on the hazelnut gateau with frozen praline parfait, that stuff’s dangerous. The Nelson Imperial IPA was thin, so I swapped it out for the OKTO Festival Ale (this is when I discovered the dump buckets). Sweet pea fritters with apple/mint chutney suited it nicely. Raspberry Russian Imperial Stout with sticky toffee pudding – I had to walk away from that table fast, or I would’ve set up shop there for the night and they’d have had to roll me out after the raffle prizes were called.
So if you live in San Francisco or Boston, the next two cities set to host one of these Explore Your Craft events, do your best to get tickets now. There aren’t many and they sell out fast, and if this one is any indication, whoever’s organizing has great taste in beer and food. Explore Your Craft. They have a contest link, try your luck. Do it.