Campground full of brewers
Last Saturday, after seeing a poster for it while picking up Rye Porter ingredients, we headed up to Cooper’s Lake Campground for the 5th annual Brewersfest, sponsored by Porter House Brew Shop. We had read about it in previous years, but the date hadn’t worked for us in the past. I have to say, though, I think the date will definitely work out for us in the future… what a fun event!
As the event’s tagline says, BrewersFest is about brewing beer, period. It’s sort of like a craft beer festival, where you pay an entry fee, get a tasting glass and move around from table to table. Except these are all homebrewers, brewing is happening on-site during the festival, and it’s a relaxed campground atmosphere.
Adorable mini-tasting glasses
It was a gorgeous August day, not too hot but brilliantly sunny. I wished later that I’d taken a photo of our tasting glasses with beer in them, against the blue country sky… but I didn’t :-( We arrived around noon, and started out at Porter House Brew Shop’s registration tent, where we were given our Taster’s Choice ballots. Each brewer’s beer had a number, and you were to write in one of the numbers on the ballot by 6pm, with the brewer having the most votes winning the Taster’s Choice Glass (and the accolades of their peers). With that end in mind, I started recording the numbers of my tastings on my phone’s notepad, so I would have some chance of figuring out which beer I liked best at the end of the day – as opposed to “the last one I drank”. An additional bonus to that method was that I had a record of the day, and hence am able to write this post a week later :-)
So, to begin:
First up was Porter House’s own brews, which weren’t part of the competition, but we felt we should try them. But unfortunately, because they weren’t votable, I apparently didn’t decide to start making full notes until after that. I just noted we each had two samples. Generally speaking, A & I each tried different beers at each stand, but I only noted my own samples, and didn’t note the tastes I took from his glass.
We then decided we should really eat some lunch before an afternoon of beer sampling, so we headed for the barn and ordered food. While it was being prepared, I ventured out with both of our glasses in search of some beers to go with lunch. At the first brewer I came to, I got a Yam Pale Ale to pair with my pierogies, and a Red Ale to go with A’s burger… good choices! The Yam Pale Ale was nice and refreshing, fairly hoppy (the brewer showed me the hops he’d grown), and with a hint of sweet yam.
After lunch, we headed right back to that brewer, because the Scotch Ale with figs had caught my eye, Scotch Ale being one of my favorite styles in general. The brewer said that was his personal favorite, brewed in honor of his grandfather, a Greek immigrant who introduced him to the summer sweetness of fresh figs. This was one of my favorite things about Brewersfest… a story with almost every beer :-) Figs as an addition to Scotch Ale is a definite winner, by the way.
Next we wandered across the campground “street” to a tent where I tried a Honey Brown Sugar “Amber Ale”. Not what I would call an amber ale really, quite hoppy – which is one of the problems with people’s beer names, although I’ve found it to often be true of commercial craft beers as well.
Then we decided to be more methodical, and go down one row and up the next. My next sample probably shouldn’t be mentioned, as it wasn’t exactly (i.e. at all) beer… but it packed quite a punch and I poured more of it into my glass than I’d meant to. Whoof! But the same guy (I think) had an Orange Blossom Honey Wheat Pils on tap, which was a nice tasty beer.
To balance out the strong stuff, our next stop was a pair of friendly brewers who leaned toward herbal adjuncts. Their votable sample was a Lemon Balm brew, which was almost like a shandy, but with the pure lemon flavor of lemon balm – I think they were right that you get a more lemony flavor with the herb than you would with actual lemons. Since we showed interest in what they were doing with herbs, they also offered us a Chamomile Wheat, which was almost like drinking chamomile tea. Seriously, I would drink that if I were sick!
Next up was a young couple from Rochester NY who hadn’t been brewing very long. They were offering a “Scottish Ale”, but they said it hadn’t really turned out like they’d hoped, I think because they didn’t know they had to crush the grains, so it was pretty watery. But really, I kind of liked it… tasted of molasses, and it was more refreshing than a Scotch Ale normally is.
My next sample is noted as “Prince William English Mild – yes”, meaning it was indeed an English Mild Ale – good, to style, but nothing special.
I tried 3 beers from the next brewer, who I think was offering 6 or 7: Afterburner IPA with Scotch Bonnet peppers (really tasty with a nice little kick of heat), Donkey Punch (an 18.2 beer, sort of barleywine-ish, 5 years old, soooo smooth and malty), and Siberian Hammer III (a Russian Imperial Stout, also high ABV, another style I enjoy, and well done).
After those samples, we felt the need for a little sit-down, so we moseyed up to a bench in the shade and talked about beers for a while. Then we decided it was time for dessert, so we headed over to the brewer we’d seen near the barn who had mostly meads. I had a lemon raspberry mead, which really hit the spot, he somehow got the fruits to really come through rather than much of the flavor fermenting away. But unfortunately there was a stand-in pouring at the moment, so we couldn’t ask about it.
Annnd… back to the beers, picking up where we left off. I tried a Ginger Saison from the next brewer, which I think was pretty good, though I didn’t make any special notes about it. Then I had to try his “How did your raspberry lip gloss get on my stones” for the name alone :-) He said it was the result of brewing a Stone IPA clone with some Raspberry Wheat residue still in the equipment. I think it was the same table (but maybe the other brewer) who had a Black Rye IPA. Rye in general is another personal favorite, so I tried to catch all rye anythings at the festival. The next sample I just listed as “porter”, so apparently it was that memorable.
The next brewer had a nice Belgian wit, but the Roggenbier listed on their sign really caught my eye. But it wasn’t yet available; the brewer said it was on its way, with his wife, and to come back later, so I promised I would, because I’ve had rye this and rye that, but I don’t think I’ve ever had an actual roggenbier.
Next I sampled Vagabond Gingerbread Ale, for which I didn’t note a number. I think I recall that brewer saying that he was about to go commercial with his beers, so that’s why he didn’t enter them in the competition. Fair enough. I didn’t note that I especially liked it, so I think it was less tasty than I expected.
Time for another sit-down… We chose the “Tilted Tavern“, a sort of portable event bar, with nice wooden benches all around, manned by an elf and a hippie. This was the only booth at the event pouring commercial beers. I’m really not sure why anyone was drinking them at all… except that’s what we did, too. I had a glass of something which I didn’t note, and a fresh-made mojito, which went down a treat! We hung out there for a while, chatting with the bartender, who claimed to not really be a “beer guy”, but had found some of the homebrews he liked.
Onward! I next sampled a Kölsch, which I noted was “meh”, then a Dunkel (“really good”), and a Blonde (“meh”). Brilliant reporting on my part :-)
Next was another unnumbered brew, “Kaliber raspberry tea”, which tasted just like that. I think I recall the brewer saying he just didn’t register for the competition, which was a shame. I sampled a Root Beer Porter from the next brewer, and it really really tasted just like root beer. I can see this beer being dangerous.
Next was the B.A.S.H. tent, which had a number of members’ brews, but at that point I was only up to doing one per table, so I tried a Dunkel Weizen, which was quite enjoyable.
By this time, we had made our way all the way around the main area, so we stopped back at the Porter House tent, and I tried their Black IPA, which wasn’t bad.
Then we noticed there was another little sort of cul-de-sac of brewers we had missed, so we headed there. My next note says: “bekguan Carmen. Holijua pepper. – wit with – interestunf” :-D That’s a combination of typing on my phone in the bright sun wearing my contact lenses, autocorrect, and possibly the effect of – if you’re counting – roughly 30 2-ounce samples to this point. That I can understand this note after a week is surely a tribute to… something. This was a Belgian wit with ghost peppers (Jolokia), and it was interesting, meaning I wouldn’t have thought of making a hot wit, but I quite liked it.
Then we heard people mentioning the keg toss competition going on, so we made our way to the big field to sit and watch for a while. We caught the 2nd round of the women’s toss, and then all of the men’s. It was interesting to see the different tossing styles people attempted, everything from sort of bowling, to football-style (not at all effective), to discus-style (which was the winner, at something around 25′ I think).
Back to the beers in the cul-de-sac… I tried an English pale ale from one brewer, an IPA from one with no number (which was “bleah”), and an Amber Ale which wasn’t bad. I took a taste of A’s Chocolate Milk Stout sample, which honestly tasted like a cold glass of chocolate milk. That’s the one A ultimately voted as his favorite.
Ever since hearing about the Roggenbier, we kept checking back with that brewer, and it kept not being there yet. Then it finally arrived at this point, which was after 5:00, but they said to give it 20 minutes to chill, so we went and sat in the grass for a while. It was tasty, though possibly not worth waiting all day for :-)
In the end, my vote went to the Donkey Punch, partly because I really did like it a lot, but also partly because I liked all three of that brewer’s beers, and felt he deserved my vote as a generally good brewer.
I should also mention that I wore my Pittsburgh Beer Ladies shirt to the event, and got several nice comments on it, some who’d heard of our group, and some wondering about it.
So that was our first Brewersfest, definitely not our last, assuming they keep it up. It was really enjoyable to get to talk with each brewer, and it was pretty cool to see so many different equipment setups. And the creativity! I tasted some flavors in beers that I wouldn’t have necessarily thought I’d like, but they usually worked. $20 for a day full of good beers with other enthusiasts… highly recommended!