As a beer journalist, I often find myself traveling to quite a few festivals and other events of interest to the serious brew enthusiast. October has been a particularly active month for me, with a craft beer dinner, a meet-and-greet, a beer festival, and an Oktoberfest celebration. It's hard work, but someone's got to do it.
One recent weekend, I found myself in Orlando, drowned out of a camping trip by a downpour that refused to let up. Fortunately, I had additional activities planned, in the form of the Explore Your Craft dinner and beer sampling, presented by Draft magazine and Widmer. The dinner was preceded by a meet-and-greet with none other than Kurt Widmer, the co-founder and president of Widmer Brothers Brewing Company.
This get-together — held at Urban Flats, a gourmet flatbread restaurant — was fairly low-key, with assorted press and bloggers in attendance, as well as plenty of beer on tap. Big label Widmer beers like Drifter Pale Ale and the brewery's flagship Hefeweizen were the focus here, with a few special selections as well, like the Rotator Series X-114 IPA and the rare Northwest Red Ale.
The latter was a new one to me, and I learned that it was made from the base beer used in the seasonal Barrel-Aged Brrrbon Ale. The overflow from that batch is allowed to fully ferment, producing a very small run of tasty, full-bodied red ale. I'm generally not too fond of this style, but the beer was excellent. Alas, there are currently no plans to turn this into a full production beer.
And then there was the Rotator series, consisting of IPAs utilizing various experimental hop varieties for a single production run, before moving on to a new batch, with an all new hop in the spotlight. Yes, this means that — horror of horrors — the X-114 IPA, brewed with the phenomenal Citra hop, is no more. If you see any bottles around, snatch them up while you still can!
Afterward, the festivities moved to Ember, where a full line of Widmer beers were on tap at various portable bars, paired with a variety of gourmet foods. The beers included a range of seasonal, hard-to-find, and new releases, including up-and-comer Falconer's IPA, a unique Framboise Wheat Saison, Nelson Imperial IPA, Nelson O'rye-ly rye ale, and the Okto märzen.
By Oct. 14, I was fully recovered and ready for Brews by the Bay at the Florida Aquarium. This Oktoberfest-themed event featured a variety of brews provided by Pepin Distributing in Tampa, running the gamut from big-time micros like Southern Tier and Victory to macro domestics and even flavored malt beverages. Imports were presented alongside local brews from Tampa Bay Brewing Company and Cold Storage, and several breweries had Oktoberfest seasonals to show off as well. The Aquarium was an unusual but surprisingly capable venue for a large-scale beer fest like this, with beer tents and food from local restaurants sprawled across the premises.
In keeping with the Oktoberfest theme was the next day's WOBtoberfest at World of Beers Fourth Street in St. Pete. This event featured seasonal drafts from several respected German breweries, such as Paulaner, Erdinger, Hacker-Pschorr, and Ayinger, available for purchase by the pint, liter, or even boot! The boots — courtesy of Warsteiner — were available in both plastic and an extremely cool glass version, filled with the beer of your choice, with refills for $10. German-influenced food was provided by the Fire Monkey Food Truck, and the festivities also included conspicuously non-German music and a cornhole tournament. Either way, you can't argue with a huge glass boot filled with Märzen.
It was a fun month in the beer world, but I'm glad it's over — I need time to recover before the next wave of beer festivals and events rolls around. There's some truth to the idea of having too much of a good thing; although I'm sure my gym appreciates the business, a week or two without endlessly flowing beer is looking like a welcome respite!