Monday, August 04, 2014

Five Things I Learned From Sesh Fest

Saturday's event, hosted at Sculpture Park by Imbibe Denver and Colorado Brewers Guild, was a time of experimentation, both for better and for worse. Here are a few lessons drunken in from it:

1) Sour + Session Beers = Powerfully Good
It could be said that the most talked-about beers at just about any festival are the sour experiments, but that was especially true this weekend - and specifically because everything had such a big taste and ran in at less than 5% ABV. Fate's tart but refreshing Uror Gose and Great Divide's eminently drinkable Berliner Weisse were just a couple of examples of what you could do with subtle tartness without tearing apart your taste buds or leaving you with a hangover from trying too much.

But the big winner of the sour experiments was ...

2) Trinity Brewing Scored Again
Hands down the best beer of the festival was the Colorado Springs brewery's Super Juice Solution, a sour session IPA that mingled the sharp orange/grapefruit tart flavors with an earthy hop in a way that married the seemingly disparate tastes very well. I enjoyed it so much I had to stop by Stapleton Taphouse the next day to get a full pour, and I'm still impressed at how the flavors blended so artfully and also were measured enough that they meshed together rather than seemed to compete for being the loudest taste in your mouth.

3) The "Session IPA" Remains a Work in Progress
Before the festival, Ska's Dave Thibodeau made the case that low-alcohol IPA was a legitimate style rather than just a watered-down version of America's most popular beer, and it was easy to find examples that both proved and disproved his theory. But for every "hopped lager" that seemed to offered only a hint of grass or citrus over a light biscuit body, there also were beers like Black Bottle's Doby Session IPA and Upslope's Session IPA, which offered big squirts of hop juice in a light body and made you think there is hope for this style yet.

4) The Uber-Tasty Low-Alcohol Malt Bomb is a Thing of the Past ...
... Or maybe all of the other high-alcohol specialty festivals have ruined all of our taste buds. But efforts to find the next Guinness in the crowd were not met with success. Red ales were dull, dry stouts were more dry than stout and when another member of the Fearless Tasting Crew suggested that a dark mild I was drinking would be much more appealing if I paired it with fried chicken, I really felt someone was stretching it. Aside from TRVE's American ESB, a dusty beer with a charming bitter backbite of hops, the beers most likely to pass for traditional English session beers didn't jump out.

5) Bring Enough Beer For Everyone.
This can not be emphasized enough. Crooked Stave ran out of beer in less than an hour. One entire side of the festival was tapped just over two hours into the four-hour event. With 40 minutes left, there were all of three breweries still serving beer (see picture below). When you're the Great American Beer Festival and 75 of your 700 breweries are out of beer by the end of one session, you'll be forgiven; when 90 percent of your breweries are tapped with an hour left, it leads to a heck of a lot of grumbling in the crowd.

In a rush to judgment - one that I've been called on - I assumed that this was the fault of the organizers, especially when a fellow beer writer told me a similar beer drought occurred at the Collaboration Fest also sponsored by CBG and Imbibe earlier this year. But one of the organizers scolded me and pointed the finger at brewers, saying very few brought enough beer. And one brewer that I ran into simply shrugged and said his whole side of the event got slammed with people in a hurry. So, without placing blame on anyone, I'd just ask that everyone involved learn something from this and fix the problem so that the murmurs that cascaded through the hard-core beer drinkers Saturday don't grow into cries that could endanger any future festivals - especially ones like these that showcase a creative side for breweries who otherwise might be content with pouring their standards and calling it a day.

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