We made it to opening night of the W.E.B. In retrospect I now see some things I could have done much better to improve the information I gained. Considering this was our first time attending an actual fest, our mistakes can be forgiven.
With that said I will now move into my recollections of our time their (at least as much as I have from left in my hangover). We (being my wife and I) started off our dinks of the evening at the B. Nektar Meadery (Ferndale, MI) stand. My personal history with these guys goes back to around the time of first time I entered a mead in a contest. I had sent them an email asking some questions and they sent back an email going into even more detailed explanations than I would have expected. Stuff like that sets them apart from others, aside from the fact that their meads are phenominal. I got a sample of their wildflower, and Jo got a sample of their Wildberry Pyment. Needless to say these meads were outstanding. When I read their description of the Wildflower mead I found that it was aged with American oak. This combo does quite well to enhance the sweetness of the honey.
After this it became a matter of wandering around and sampling different brews as the whim struck us. (This is also where learning stuff comes in) I should have gotten a fest map so I could make better notes as I sampled. I did find the presence of mind to grab brochures and such from the breweries as I could. This alone saves me from having almost no info from the trip. From here I will talk mainly about the beers that stood out above the others.
We did have a bit of focus in what we were sampling. The day consisted of basically three styles; IPA, Wheat, and Reds (leaning heavily toward Irish red). The IPAs were my fallback beers. If I was at a brewery that did not have a red sample or I had sampled their wheat outside of the fest (fests are a fantastic place to try beers you haven’t had before) I would go with the IPA. Mind you, IPA is a style that has become the flagship beer for quite a number of ale breweries. How they treat this style can say alot for how they will approach brewing other beers.
Sadly, of the IPAs I sampled, there was not a single standout. Its almost like IPA is becoming the fizzy pale lager of the ale community. They all seem to taste roughly the same. Don’t get me wrong, I love IPA, but it seems to have become the fallback beer. The style is a workhorse true. But to me its become like McDonalds. No matter where you are you can find the same thing.
This brings me to the reds. These also were a little disappointing to me. It seems that the brewing consensus has been to use excessive amounts of roasted malt in every iteration. The roasted flavor overpowered the malty sweetness that I enjoy in a red. Its like the ale community is fighting against the flavors present in the “evil” Killians Red. We seem to forget that the original Killian’s recipe was a true Irish Red ale recipe.
Okay, now I am gonna talk about some of the highlights, the more interesting brews I ran across. The first one comes from Thristy Dog Brewing out of Akron Ohio. We sampled their Raspberry Ale. They claim that the beer carries the flavor and aroma of freshly picked raspberries. I will go a step further and say that these berries are at the pick of ripeness. The fruit flavor in this beer is reminiscent of biting into the wild raspberries many of us used to find when we were kids; dark, rich fruit without being cloyingly sweet.
After running into Josh Davies (look look, I’m name dropping), I found it necessary to visit the Arcadia (Battle Creek, MI) booth (after working their for close to a year I pretty much had sampled all of their beers). Well, they had brought in a new rye for this year. The name of this one is Rapunzel, and its now more than just a story book. When Josh steps outside the bounds of the normal offerings at Arcadia, his real talent comes into full focus. Rapunzel is a rye wheat. The initial flavor is the spiciness you expect from the rye, trailing into the soft caress of the wheat at the end. It is beers like this, that show how complex a beer really can be.
Now to one of my favorites of the show. Right Brain Brewing’s (Traverse City, MI) Wicked Garden Beet Wheat. This beer immediately caught my attention just by the name. Personally, I love the flavor of beet juice, it was my favorite base for fruit juices when I worked at Golden Door spa. As the base for a wheat beer its phenominal. The beer is rich and earthy, roasted beets fill your senses. This beer screams to be drunk with a grilled steak.
The last beer I talk about now is from Sherwood Brewing, out of Shelby, MI. Buxom BlonDDe ale (the double D is not a mistake), this was actually everything I want from a blonde ale. With breweries taking beers in so many different directions, its great to run across one that has taken something as uncomplicated as a blonde ale and brewed it into what the style wants to be. That may seem odd, but its the difference between French food (hate the French) and Italian food. The French try to whip ingredients into submission forcing them to conform to their will. While the Italians can turn a dish made of only a few ingredients into something amazing simply by allowing the ingredients be themselves. Sadly, we have learned to scoff at Italian food because of its simplicity. But in the end, it is in this that the ingredients are allowed to show their best side.
I have now rambled enough for the day… Its time for a pint…