I recently read a blog post discussing the necessity of American Craft Beer Week, which wrapped up last week. My first reaction was to scoff at what I was sure would be a contrarian perspective on a celebration that many agree is a very good thing. Instead, the writer agreed that a Craft Beer Week was called for, but it was often hard for him to see a reason for it, given his proximity to so many good breweries, beer bars and beer shops.
He's got a point. In areas that haven't been bitten by the craft beer bug quite as hard as we have, celebrations such as ACBW must surely have more meaning and utility, rather than serving as a somewhat self-congratulatory reflection on just how awesome that hobby/obsession/career of ours has become over the years.
For me, ACBW was another week of tasting fine, delicious beers — something we can do any time we want in the Bay area. Like many others, I had a great time during Craft Beer Week, but why stop there? In the past few weeks alone, I've managed to try quite a few great beers, all of which I'd never had the pleasure to try.
For example: The Rex in downtown St. Pete has Tommyknocker's Imperial Nut Brown Ale on draft, a pretty uncommon find. The first thing I noticed with this beer was the huge, malty nose. It's a big beer, originally brewed to celebrate Tommyknocker's 10th anniversary, and it contains actual maple syrup as an adjunct, which explains the sweetness. Although big, sweet beers aren't my usual preference, this one was pretty solid. Nutty and flavorful, just as the name would suggest.
Moving back a couple of weeks, I was in the Cigar City taproom — an absolute treasure for local beer enthusiasts. As part of the taproom's "Firkin Fridays," a limited-edition release of its Tocobaga Red Ale, this one aged with white oak, was on draft from the firkin (beer cask). I'm not a big red ale guy, but I love the uncharacteristically hoppy (for this style) Tocobaga, and the white oak addition was a great touch, giving the beer a hint of bourbon (which is also aged in white oak) flavor.
I had some interesting samples at the Brews with Attitudes Beer Fest, including a variation on a local favorite, as well as a beer that is not even available in Florida yet. First up was Tampa Bay Brewing Company's Iron Rat Imperial Stout, but this one was aged in cacao nibs, giving it a great chocolatey undertone that was quite enjoyable. It turns out that this beer recently won Best in Show at the Craft Brewer's Conference in San Francisco — way to go!
Next up was Son of a Peach, a peach-flavored beer from RJ Rocker's Brewing in South Carolina. This thing was extremely heavy on the peach, which I'm sure will be pretty divisive among people who take beer too seriously. Personally, if I find a beer that tastes like liquid peach cobbler, I'm drinking it. But really, it was fairly well-balanced for having such a strong peach flavor.
And then there were some sour beers that I picked up at two of my preferred beer shops — Shep's Deli and Rollin' Oats Market, both in St. Pete. At the former, I grabbed a bottle of Castle Brewery's Bacchus, a Flemish red ale that's been on my to-try list for a while. Flemish reds are known for their tart, wine-like characteristics, but this one was a little less complex than other variations on the style, such as my favorite, Duchesse de Bourgogne. It was very light-bodied and had a great taste and balance, but I think this will appeal more as an introduction to sour beers than for the die-hards.
The latter was the strangest beer I had all month—the Chapeau Exotic pineapple (!) lambic from Brouwerij De Troche in Belgium. The beer was absolutely filled with yeast sediment, so I needed to do some glass transferring before drinking it. It was a very light, very fruity lambic — almost more a pineapple juice than a beer. Although I could have used more tartness and body, it was a decent session beer, and it's pineapple-flavored, for crying out loud! This one has scathingly bad reviews online, but I'll gladly stick up for it. Sure, there are better lambics out there, but this one has them all beat in both the novelty and the pineapple departments.
So yes, I definitely see a need for American Craft Beer Week, and I think we can all agree that any excuse for beer festivals, coordinated tastings and other special events is never a bad thing. But you don't have to wait until Craft Beer Week to get your hands on a massive variety of quality brews, and there's always something new out there, no matter how long you've been in the craft beer game.