Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Subtle Joy of Less Crowded Festivals

After the commotion and chaos surrounding the Great American Beer Festival, "calm" and "quiet" become two very attractive qualities in beer festivals. The problem is, they're also two that can be hard to find.

That is why it is worth giving a shout-out to two recent festivals that showcased the best of beer in ways that allowed attendees to talk - I mean, really carry on conversations - with the people who made that beer. And it's worth asking people to support such efforts in the future, so that they can stand out in an increasingly crowded festival scene.

First was Chef & Brew, the Nov. 14 second annual celebration of food and beer pairing put on by the folks at Beercraving. I didn't attend the initial version, but people who did described as a well-intentioned but disastrously overcrowded effort that negated the chance to pair good beer and small courses in a thoughtful way.

This year, however, the number of people in the Exdo Center was perfectly acceptable, the flow of the lines - never longer than seven or eight people - was seamless and the essence of the event bubbled forth. Anyone who got to try offerings like Caution Brewing's duck and pork meatballs topped with hopped chili syrup and paired with an Oolong Berliner Weisse (pictured below) got a better appreciation of beer/food pairing.

Second was American Craft Beer Radio's Holiday Beer Bash, held two nights ago at Mile High Station. Roughly 30 breweries from throughout Colorado and other states pulled in, with about two-thirds offering holiday beers that gave the festival a unique flair and with almost all of them bringing something you can't always get.

The festival was spaced perfectly (see the open areas in the photo at the top of this blog), and I heard from a bunch of people how pleasant it was not to be playing pinball with everyone jutting a 3-oz. cup in for tasters. You could talk with Copper Kettle co-owner Kristen Kozik about how exactly they made the Pecan Smoked Brown Ale they were pouring. And you could find out why the guys from Grist Brewing decided to open in Highlands Ranch and how the community is reacting to offerings like its sweetly big-bodied Third Ring Belgian Strong Ale.

Such festivals may not offer up 49,000 tickets or generate the well-deserved buzz of events like the GABF. But they bring beer tasting down to a familiar one-on-one experience between you and the brewer, or you and the other beer lovers you may strike up conversations with in the room. And that, for my money, is a reason to ensure these efforts have the beer community's support. 

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