by Warren “BeerSensei” Monteiro
I love SAVOR. Turning 11 years young this June, it lit up the Washington DC beer and food scene like never before. The crowd has become younger and more laid back. Plenty of ladies there, and not just significant others, but little coveys gaily tasting away. Definitely a beer drinking crowd, no malingerers. I stuck to my mantra of sip, roll brew over palate, take a crunchy or creamy chew, run another sip over everything, and SAVOR the flavors.
The tastes are up to the minute. Amazingly, a third of the beers – 60! – were either sours or barrel aged, again outnumbered the IPA’s for the second year in a row. Of course, we’ve hit that place where everybody has to have one sour on their list. Like NEIPAs, our next swerving of style. But this proportion defied augury. And they all made for damned good food pairings.
A center island and two burgeoning hobbit hutch satellites served as centerpiece, ringed by brewers’ booths. They also wrapped around the balcony. The magic number was 90 brewers and 180+ brews, each paired to a tiny taste. Wherever you turn, there’s beer and food. This year selections leaned strongly towards meat and game rather than last year’s crudo. There seems to be an emerging pairing consciousness, coming together in the wake of all the books, articles, and most important, active tastings like this one. I talked to many a brewer experimenting match ups at his/her local craft bar.
Executive Chef Adam Dulye’s crew were especially accommodating to some more unusual brewer requests. Here are some nearer the exotic edge: Good Life Sweet A! Australian pale (tuna poke/seaweed/scallion); Mishap! Fire Hole Chili Porter (beef berbere/Ethiopian injera); Port City Ideaal Belgian tripel (yellow curry/shrimp/carrot); Parkway Barley Wine (caramelized white chocolate eclair). Short’s Anniversary American wheat wine paired up with a duck meatball a l’orange, which was also great with Sierra Nevada 2018 Hoptimum too, a totally different style.
Some less traveled styles had their day. Band of Bohemia Bay Rum Cocoa chocolate beer (tapioca/brulee pineapple & banana); Boston Beer Barrel Aged Double Aged Doppelbock (meguez sausage/caramelized onions/beans); Cape May Flanders Red (duck rillettes/pickled cherry/brioche); Deschutes Geuzestyle blend (pheasant croquettes/pear & currant compote); Fair Wind Maibock (fresh snow peas/stracciatella/black olive). Not to forget Flying FishBlueberry Braggot and baklava with dried fruits.
Here are my ultra picks. Best beer name: Saltwater Brewery’s Maris The Lost Sea Otter British barley wine. Biggest daunting “in your face” beers: Deschutes Tequila Abyss and barrel aged Trip in the Woods (Sierra Nevada Bigfoot with Raspberries). Most unusual beer: Dogfish Head Mixed Media, a self-described “vino-esque ale”. Most entrancing pairing: Roadhouse Brewing Co. Sirens’ Seduction, fermented with Belgian, then distillers’, then champagne yeast, which sent exotic esters rolling over and through a scallop, rice chip, plum and Thai basil confection.
My absolute favorite leaped out from Tomme Arthur and The Lost Abbey. (Strains of Marlena’s “Falling in love again… I can’t help it” sneak in here). Per the program, Bat Out of Hell wood-aged strong ale’s “deep roast notes and smooth finish are intensified by the decadent beef and sauce” of Chef’s hearty beef bourguignon.
SAVOR’s 2018 collaborative beer capped the event. Crux Fermentation Project and Port City Brewing Company teased my palate with a foundation of Port City Wit hopbacked through macerated Pinot Noir and Viognier grapes into red wine barrels, then innoculated with Crux’s house strain of Brettanomyces. It’s called Brett de Vinum and is everything the name implies.
It was an evening of fantastic beer sparked off by sharp, inventive pairings. Don’t anybody dare ask for a dump bucket. And, true to the lottery design of the event, the tastes of maybe two thirds of the breweries were a mystery to me. Tonight I had a game try at tastes of breweries I sadly will probably never visit. Wish I could list everybody involved; all I can say is thanks for a job well done. And,of course, a world of thanks to Nancy Johnson and her team. Also kudos to the incredibly friendly and helpful staff for sustaining the magic from start to finish.
One gentle suggestion: please plug the abv’s into the program. The session can get intense in a real hurry without this knowledge. Also, the charcuterie and cheese ran awfully thin on the balcony pairing-wise. We should never be allowed to forget that this about food and beer, not just a great beer festival. That Choptank Oyster needs the experimental essence of a Track 7 Burnt Fog. Every time.
SAVOR spawned GABF’s Farm to Table, which metamorphosed into PAIRED®. Now PAIRED® is branching out, floating over to LA and arriving October 18 & 19 at Los Angeles Center Studios. Will I see you there?
Still curious? Don’t despair. The beer and food menu is still up there at www.savorcraftbeer.com