92 Breweries, 184 beers and bites. photos © Brewers Association
by Warren “BeerSensei” Monteiro
The Godfather of Beer and Food Pairing ruled again for the 12th time out. A serious sell-out crowd swamped DC’s National Building Museum for this year’s single night engagement. The weather was perfect, a good argument for having rolled the date back to May 17.
There were so many choices and literally so little time – only 3½ hours to take in 92 breweries pouring 2 beers apiece, each specifically paired within BA Executive Chef Adam Dulye & crew’s vast array of bites.
How to prepare? Go to the SAVOR website. The breweries and menus were all there for the planning. I pieced together a rough order of must-try beers with the most intriguing tidbit matchups. Then a second list of curiosities – unusual beer styles, off-the-wall pairings that just might work. Finally a short mop-up list for the end after the food runs out. I spent the first 10 minutes scratching it into my printed program and studying the map.
The booths were numbered rather than bannered, which made everything neater, more compact, and a tad confusing. You had to look closely and use that program. I began with this year’s Collaboration Beer, the fully rounded SAVOR Sin (7%). It was brewed, poured and detailed by the redoubtable Tomme Arthur of The Lost Abbey (San Marcos, CA), 100% foeder aged with blood oranges and guavas. It tasted just as he described it – astonishing. In truth, I did not taste one beer all night that was less than excellently brewed and poured. And a great number of unforgettables.
I had one right away. David Walker explained Firestone Walker (Paso Robles CA) XXII Anniversary Ale (12.7%). It’s a careful blend: 44% Stickee Monkee coastal quad, 22% Parabola RIS, 22% Bravo Imperial Brown, 7% Rum Barrel Helldorado Barley Wine and 5% Gin Barrel Helldorado. 100% pure delight. Find it. Buy it. SAVOR it slowly.
Next it was upstairs for Chesapeake Choptank Oysters (Cambridge, MD) served two ways: raw, or with a cold spicy broth, just enough to fill up one shell with one moist oyster. Both coasted down well with Blood Orange Gose (4.4%) from Atlas Brew Works (Washington, DC).
A vast variety of styles begged for attention. I was assured the incredibly peppery signature of Squatters (Salt Lake City UT) Hell’s Keep (7.75%), a Belgian/French-style ale that fired up the marinated mussels and saffron escabeche, came from the yeast alone. I lingered over West Sixth (Lexington, KY) Sixfold VI (6%) barrel-aged sour beer with blackberries, a natural with angel food cake and macerated berries. Cucumber gazpacho smiled alongside Crank Arm Brewing’s (Raleigh NC) Whitewall Wheat (4.4%).
One hour in and my bouche was very, very amused. As might be suspected, big hazy IPAs numbered 43 along with a few pale ales. But, hey, sours of many varieties numbered 40, and many of them barrel aged as well. A multitude of other styles leapt out: pilsners, zwickels, helles, smoked bocks, Belgian & French farmhouse, witbiers, quads, stouts, porters, and experiments with spices, coffee, and chocolate.
A striking presence was the prevalence of strong, well-aged ales this year. Could overproof beers be the next trend? Or was this just brewers showing off? Fully a quarter of the beers poured were 8% and up, the scariest being DC Brau’s Wake Up in the Future, a 15.5% imperial stout. Not to be outdone, Hardywood (Richmond, VA) Foolery (13%) proved stunning with duck prosciutto, potato and cherry. New Realm (Atlanta, GA) won my dessert slot with Oaxaca Choca Mexican Chocolate Stout (10.7%) next to rice pudding, horchata and churra. This little plate also beamed on Perennial (St. Louis, MO) Abraxas imperial stout (10%). Deep and dark strode Deschutes (Bend, OR) Black Mirror (13%), rolling over blood sausage, eggplant and golden raisins. Pork rib & honey glazed pecans highlighted one of America’s great barley wines: Bell’s (Comstock, MI) Third Coast (10.2%).
This kaleidoscope of styles, variations, and eccentricities spins into sharp relief the certainty that it’s a new craft brewing generation. These beers are tastier and more inventive than ever. Though I paused at the fact that the audience was 30’s, 40’s, 50’s. I wonder if we have to work harder on our under 30’s, and how to do it. There’s a torch to be passed and events like this are essential to the perception of beer as a partner to a great meal. Let’s not let this special evening go away! Everybody please note that PAIRED, the beer and food sister experience, will feature again at this year’s GABF on Thursday and Friday nights, Oct. 3–4.
All right, I couldn’t totally cover it. Only one night. Probably only tasted about a quarter of the beers. Went a little lighter on the food as well. I gratefully SAVORed a final Firestone Walker XII Anniversary, got back to the hotel safe & sound. Yep, let’s keep this show around.
Check www.SAVOR.com for those beers and menus. They’re still up there.