Wednesday, August 1, 2012

California Beer Fest 2012

Have I suddenly become old? Hardened by years of beer related activities? Am I now a jaded homebrew geek too caught up in his own pretension to have fun anymore? These are the questions that flooded my mind as I attended a recent beer festival.

This year I again played a minor role in supporting the California Beer Festival held at Aptos park on Saturday. In the midst of the spectacle (height of pandemonium?) I had a life altering revelation. Out of the blue it became crystal clear to me that I don't care too much for beer festivals anymore. God help me, I think I may have outgrown them.

When I first fell in love with beer festivals I was just beginning my homebrewing journey and like a heat seeking missile, I sought out anything beer. I remember fondly my first festival. It was at Booneville and as I think back about my experience, I recall that the beers were all exceptional, the crowds were small, enthusiastic and excited to try the new beers available for tasting. Occasionally, a groundswell of a cheers would rise up each time someone accidentally dropped and shattered their tasting glass. The contagious waves of shouts and groans quickly spread from the epicenter before reaching a crescendo and then just as fast die out. Everyone had a smile on their face, the weather was mild and beautiful and the day ended before you could say "a wee deek on boont harpin's" and we headed off to our campsites to continue the drinking, raising a toast with our newly befriended comrades.

That was a lot of festivals and many years ago now and it's sad to say that I've come to a point where I frankly just don't care anymore. Now the crowds seem huge and aggressive pushing forward in unending lines to sample the most generic of beers. My enthusiasm has been drained and it makes me see people as less friendly. Sad reproach passes over my face as I receive my taster glass that's now made of plastic. In the old days, before I lost my enthusiasm, the people that dressed in costumes to celebrate the day, amused and delighted me, now I look at the spectacle through critical eyes and try to staunch the flow of cynicism as I watch grown men dressed as giant hop flowers sweat through green face paint while caricatures of 'Duff' beer cans stagger sideways leering through their beer mug shaped sun glasses.

The festivals haven't changed but I have and as much as I want to believe my loss of interest is due to a sophistication that comes from exposure, the truth is that my tolerance for much of the experience has grown thin. It reminds me of the late 70's when I reveled in the solid walls of sound during the arena rock concerts I attended. Mile High stadium, surrounded by thirty thousand people, clambering toward the front of the stage for a view of Peter Frampton singing "Do you feel like we do?" (chances are I'm one of those screamers in the audience on the 'Comes Alive' album) or Steve Miller or Fleetwood Mac. I lost myself in the glory that was not only musical bliss but a group experience that included mind altering drugs. Then, as time went by and I grew older I found that the crowds became a detractor and that I could enjoy the music more through a good home music system. It wasn't about the group experience anymore but about the quality of the product. Does this make me old? Simply put, yes.

My discovery, my revelation was that now at this point in my life and with the experiences that I've had I prefer focusing on the end product, the beer. I'm discovering that a smaller venue where I can experience rare or unusual and unique or just plain well crafted beers shared with close personal friends is my preference.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not here to disrespect. Naturally, the beer festival still serves it's purpose and I'm all for continuing the practice.  It's a great place to gather as a community and be exposed to a wide variety of beers and enjoy some that may not be available locally. If it wasn't for the many festivals that I've attended in the past I would not have had the opportunity to meet some great people and to have access to dozens of beers in one convenient location. Another inherent value that kept me returning year after year is the chance to discover new breweries. During this last festival I came across a small start-up called Riley's Brewing located in Madera, California. The owner Dan Riley was on hand to talk about his line up of beers and it was great to be able to talk one on one with a brewery owner. Another benefit to attending beer festivals is the occasional special beer that shows up. Karl Strauss Brewing Company had some bottles of their Russian Imperial Stout that I've never seen in the stores here and it is an excellent beer. Finally, another rare opportunity was Lagunitas's 'Little Sumpin Wild' that was being served by Santa Cruz's own Red Restaurant and Bar. Very good beer. At the end of the day, these are excellent benefits for beer enthusiast like myself and they often only happen at beer festivals.

But for me, I'm moving on to the next venue. I'm not sure what that will look like but it probably has a pretty short line to the taps.


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