By Tony Forder
After weeks of prepping the tastebuds – and beerbuds – it was time. The Brewers Association's signature craft beer and food tasting event – SAVOR – and this year the 10th annual. It has been held every year in Washington D.C., save one attempt in New York City which, by all accounts, did not achieve the level of success attained in the Capital.
Craft brewers had already swamped D.C. in April, when 13,000 industry folks flooded the city. It was a little easier this time for the local watering holes to keep up with only 4,000 attending the 2-night event. There was plenty to do after hours and Flying Dog brewery laid on a bus for visitors to their brewery in Frederick, MD.
So, having used train time to map out a plan of attack from the 17-page downloaded menu, I felt somewhat confident of at least making a respectable dent. I have attended two SAVOR's previously – one in DC and the one in New York. Each time I have to admit I was overwhelmed.
For the 10th annual, in what they call their D.C. "home", the National Building Museum with its majestic bronze-lit columns, they added 10 more breweries for a total of 84, each offering two beers and two appetizers, expertly prepared by Chef Adam Dulye and his team of award-winning chefs. Said Dulye, "Each year we approach SAVOR as a completely new event. Guided by this year's beer styles and impressions from our tasters, the menu ended up resembling a compilation of complete dishes slimmed down to one bite." Here's a few examples: steamed bun/pork belly/pineapple basil salsa paired with Alesong's (OR) Shake Your Tree (wood-aged sour); oil-poached halibut/fennel/green olive/lemon paired with Peony Borage (herb & spice beer) from Band of Bohemia (IL); braised oxtail/roasted shallot/fried garlic/toasted sesame paired with Honey (robust) Porter from Cape May, (NJ); or for the sweet of tooth, malted chocolate mousse/coconut tuile paired with Dragon's Milk Reserve Triple Mash (wood-aged strong stout) from New Holland (MI).
Some of the breweries represented are perennials – board member breweries like Boston Beer, Sierra Nevada, Saranac, Dogfish Head and New Belgium, or supporting breweries, sponsors with a central tasting area. But there are always newcomers as well as a good representation from the DelMarVa region; except for the privileged, breweries are chosen by lottery.
This year, the salons (seminars) were dispensed with – too many tables to try! Instead, the venue's second floor balcony provided pairing for tables that were usually a free for all. Oysters (from Choptank) with a Berliner Weisse dressing from Dialogue Brewing, (NM); raw bar (hmm, fresh clams with Blue Jacket Slingshot Lager); cheese (blue goat cheese with Exquisitely Evil Double IPA from Wild Wolf (VA) and aged cheddars with Sixpoint's (NY) Resin (imperial IPA). Charcuterie and Chocolate tables completed the second floor loop, where organizer Nancy Johnson was graciously greeting guests.
Downstairs in the Supporters Circle, Nick Matt (FX Matt/Saranac) was pouring next to New Belgium's head brewer Peter Bouckaert, soon headed to pursue his own venture; Boston Beer President Jim Koch was holding court as usual; and BA President Bob Pease was regaling his Ultimate Frisbee glory days. One of the BA staff (should have noted the name) came by to tell us that they just heard late Friday that the website ratebeer.com had been bought by AB InBev. Turned out their marketing arm ZX Ventures had bought a minority share – last year, but someone had just ferreted it out.
The bites kept coming, but the beer was taking its toll. My carefully mapped out plan was in shreds. There were a couple of pairings that really stood out however: Brooklyn Brewery's Cloaking Device was an odyssey in itself – a strong Brett-fermented porter aged for nine months in French oak red wine barrels, then bottle refermented with Champagne yeast. The pairing? Exquisite – smoked short rib/apple butter. Also a shout-out to Saint James Brewery (NY) for their Plum Stout paired with seared scallop/celery root puree/brown butter; Prison City's Riot in '29 (American IPA) paired with snapper cerviche/corn/scapes/tomatillo; and Lost Abbey's My Black Parade (wood-aged strong beer) paired with pheasant/caramelized corn puree/pickled cherry.
Once again I was defeated by the sheer scale of SAVOR. I have just scratched the surface here. For a full list of all the goodies, go to www.savorcraftbeer.com. Although Friday night was not quite sold out, I envied those who had a ticket to come back Saturday. I finished up with Adroit Theory's (VA) All I See Is Carrion (Belgian quad), toasting the BA and the SAVOR team for 10 years of elevating craft beer and mostly locally produced food to a rarified level. It's definitely worth the $135 price of admission – hey, it's only once a year!
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