The following post is a collaboration between DCBeer.com Staff Writers Jake Berg and Nick Rakowski.
SAVOR has come and gone, so we thought we'd share some final thoughts on it. What worked, what didn't, and what it means to be a "beer town."
Nick: The first thing I think of when looking back at SAVOR was the clear, concerted effort to make the event distinct from what it was when it was held in DC. This isn't to say that the fundamentals (great beers, generally decent food with a few transcendent pairings, a convivial atmosphere that the brewers really play into) weren't present, but the 'feel' was different. The tables were white and glossy, the lighting was low and blue and purple, and the crowd was decidedly more stylish. The event went far "trendier" than it did in the past. From the lighting to the platters, there was a clear desire to make this a very "New York" event… or at least someone's definition of a "New York" event. The seclusion of the supporting breweries in a separate room was odd to say the least. The flow in the main room was great – not too crowded. The supporters room felt cut off and strangely placed. It was an event within an event, though it was certainly engaging in and of itself.
Jake: The rooms were stark white and music was pumped in, but there was also a loudness, a dull roar, that I thought was pretty cool. I also found it strange that the main entrance didn't funnel people through the supporting breweries, and in DC it's easy to find the tables based on numbers thanks to the columns in the National Building Musuem. That was harder to do here.
What separates SAVOR from most other festivals is the opportunity to talk with brewers. We pretty much got the recipe for Crooked Stave's HopSavant "IPA" from talking to the people pouring at their table, assuming we could acquire their yeast and a foeder, of course. I also had fantastic coversations with the people from Bronx Brewery, Bayou Teche, and Brandon, aka Embrace the Funk, at the Yazoo table. And of course Garrett Oliver was there and we all had a firm-but-polite conversation that didn't change anyone's minds, but much respect to him for engaging us not only online, but also in person.
Nick: Somehow, though, the event felt more like an event for brewers to showcase beers more than it did an event for brewer's and beer geeks to celebrate beer together. This was R.L. Stine's Stay Out of the Basement, instead of Choose Your Own Adventure. Personally, I prefer the unswankified version as it feels more like what I want beer to be, but I acknowledge that's just my opinion and likely a strong dose of my DC bias. The beers, as one would expect, brought both the funk and the noise as much as they always did. Some breweries brought some not-so-exciting, but still delicious beers (e.g., Allagash White, Harpoon IPA), but the majority still adhered to the SAVOR standard of bringing out the big guns.
Here are a few comments on some of the beers and pairings, with no particular order or logic:
Prettiest – Bull and Bush Turnip the Beets – It takes onions to put beets in a beer… and I also generally don't love Tripels. Still, this was a great beer and likely the prettiest I saw all day.
Best sour – Bell's Raspberry Wild One – This beer shows the power of blending. The tartness was present, but restrained. The funkiness was light and didn't dominate the fruit. The fruit tasted like fruit, not like jam. This was the best sour of SAVOR2013. There is no debate. Come at me, bro.
Notable 'Wilds' – Crooked Stave HopSavant OR Boulevard Saison Brett or Oakshire Frederic C Noir… regardless, this was the SAVOR of the saison (Yazoo's Brett Saison was also great)
Crooked Stave HopSavant – Pairing was meh, but the beer itself? The freshness of the hops with the earthy brett backbone totally made me forgot the lack of malt body that the beer had… and that's a compliment, not a criticism
Ballast Point Habanero Sculpin – I loved the heat on this. I know a bunch of people didn't like it, but I was fascinated by the interplay between the heat and the hops.
Firestone Walker Parabola – Lives up to its billing as one of the premier imperial stouts in the US. Lardo didn't do much for it, though.
Left Hand Good Juju – This was the most gingery beer I've ever had. And it was wonderfully refreshing after hitting the back row of the venue, which included Lost Abbey, The Bruery, and Firestone Walker
Yazoo – I think their decision to bring TWO wild ales, especially considering they aren't a heavily wild-focused brewery like Crooked Stave or the Bruery, was ballsy and it paid off. Their brett saison was earthy, but still bitter and bright enough to be balanced. Their collaboration with Embrace the Funk was equally impressive and I like it because I'm a blogger so deal with it .
A note on sours, generally: The sours at SAVOR this year were, for the most part, completely mouth-puckering. Bruery Sans Pagaie? Avery Odio Equum? I apologize for the cheap slant rhyme, but those were overpowered sours. I like a good, aggressive sour as much as the next guy, but these went so far as to obscure the underlying flavors.
Jake: Like Dennis Green once said, "they are who we thought they were!," and the same was true of the beers at SAVOR. The heavy hitters, the highly-sought-after beers, were for the most part, excellent.
I have no idea how The Bruery's Bois was so smooth, coming in at 15% ABV. (Note from Nick: Somehow I think Bois contributed to how I felt the morning after SAVOR. Just a guess.)
Both Crooked Stave beer's were top notch, even if, as you said, there was no malt flavor from their IPA.
Lost Abbey's Deliverance ran a little hot, but given that it's a blend of two barrel-aged beers, I think that's allowable, and still very well done. Their brett pale ale, Saints Devotion, was tremendous. A funky, hop-kissed biscuit.
You mentioned Yazoo's bold move in bringing two funky beers, and Bell's skill at blending their raspberry beer. I'm going to blend (synergy) these two thoughts to talk about the job that Yazoo and Embrace the Funk did on their dark sour.
It is a blend of 2 barrel aged beers. Last summer we took SUE (which is a Cherrywood Smoked Porter) fermented it with Brettanomyces Lambicus and Cherries in a Consecration barrel Vinnie gave us. When we were happy with the character of the beer the barrel was emptied and we fermented Dos Perros (which is a Mexican/Vienna lager style) fermented it with the same Brett, added some more cherries and put it into the same barrel. These 2 beers were blended at around 30% ETF SUE and 70% ETF Dos Perros.
That's strong work right there.
Fun fact about that beer and turnip beer: it's racked on paper-thin slices of beets. Get on that, homebrewers!
Some of that highly-sought-after beer was a little too highly sought after. The 3 Floyds table was barren by 9pm, less than halfway into Saturday's session, thanks to some jerk or jerks who stole their beer off the loading dock. The same thing happened to Upland, who lost a case of cherry lambic. For shame.
That's the 3 Floyd's table at 9pm, cuz someone jacked their beer off the loading dock. Same thing happened to Upland. pic.twitter.com/v8qLet4XAe
— Jacob Berg (@jacobsberg) June 16, 2013
Nick: The combination of sour/funky beers and goat cheese by multiple breweries was a really big hit, as was the chicken liver and chocolate pairing for Brooklyn Black Ops. With the exception of goat cheese dishes and wild beers, the sweet pairings tended to outdo the savory (Bell's Black Note and that brownie? Yeah, that.).
Jake: We're in complete agreement here. The sours, especially Crooked Stave's Surette saison, with the goat cheesecake and caramel corn, was a revelation, as was Brooklyn's Black Ops imperial stout with chicken liver mousse on chocolate wafers. Denver Brewing Company's rauchbeer with eggplant caponata on an olive oil financier was also excellent (smoke on smoke!), and a reminder that many rauchbeers go great with grilled food. Also, it's grilling season now; you know what to do!
Nick, you mentioned The Bruery's San Pagaie above. That may have been the most sour beer I've ever had. NONE MORE SOUR. It didn't just pair well with the tart apple and brie puff pastry, it needed the mouth-coating fat from the cheese to prepare my tastebuds for the next sip of that beer.
Humboldt Fog, an aforementioned goat cheese, made an always welcome appearance at the Upland salon, paired with their Sour Reserve, an American take on a gueze.
THE BEER TOWN
Jake: When we wrote that we didn't think New York City was much of a beer town, we expected some pushback. We didn't expect to have a conversation with Garrett Oliver on this site, or to have higher ups at the Brewers Association discussing the article. In hindsight, one thing we should have done a better job with was defining our terms. Garrett seems to base a beer culture in large part on what's available, and I think that the majority of responses to that definition have been negative. Nick, you took a crack at it in the comments, writing:
When we talk about beer culture, we're talking about more than the number of quality beer bars in a particular area of the city – we're talking about beer being a defining component of the city itself, not historically, but in the current moment.
At the least, I think it's a good starting point. Or, if you prefer, an ending point, since nobody's taken us up by refuting our arguments, and because there isn't a definition of beer culture or what makes a beer town, which is just as well, since now we can return to promoting DC-area breweries and beer events.
Opinions aside, I think the questions we raised in the article highlighted that "beer towns" matter to those in the craft beer community at large. Craft beer drinkers in every city want their town to be known as a "beer town" and a "beer destination," which undoubtedly speaks to the effort and passion present in the craft beer community at large. The overall trend of craft beer consciousness, not to mention consumption, is clearly on the rise – I'll drink to that at any time, in any place, with anyone. Even Garrett Oliver. (Jokes!)
This post is a component of DCBeer.com's limited SAVOR2013 series.