My goal was to leave in a reasonable state of mind and to be able to enjoy today, so I had a lot of half pours in my tiny tasting glass, poured quite a bit out into the buckets that were all over the venue, and skipped anything I could get fresh and local (so, I didn't try the offerings from the two excellent breweries one-town-over from my house, RAR and Eastern Shore Brewing--I'll see those guys in their tasting rooms with full pints, thanks).
|Beer Fest Selfie|
I didn't get to try everything, but there were a few standouts.
EVO had their always-excellent Lot 3 IPA in cask and dry hopped with Citra. As far as I'm concerned, this beer was best in show. EVO must spend a lot of time paying attention to their packaging, because it's always on point, and this was just super fresh and delicious. Dry, clean, bitter and incredibly aromatic. Just lovely. Their Day Crush Session Sour was also good.
Cult Classic is the newest brewery in my neck of the woods, and just a bit too far for an easy drive, so I haven't had a chance to check them out. They brought a perfectly crafted Munich-style helles lager that made me wish I were in a bier garden. Clean, fresh malt, with the barest hint of hops to balance it out. The perfect palate cleanser between the more extreme offerings at most other booths. My only complaints were that it should have come in liters and been offered with soft pretzels and bratwurst. They also brought a very well-made Irish red.
Stone. Here's the thing. I love a small brewery and the exiting stuff that comes out of so many of them. But there's something to be said for 20 years of experience in the craft, and the Stone Totalitarian Imperial Russian Stout was just. on. point. 10.6% abv, but not in the least bit hot. Cocoa and coffee, rich but terrifyingly quaffable, deep dark fruits. Just excellent. Bonus that I got to chat with the guy about what a great town Richmond is. Shame we moved right before they opened.
Monument City Brewing brought the second best cask I had in the form of their 51 Rye, dry hopped and with orange in the cask. I'm not usually a fruited IPA guy, but this was on point. The bitter peel from the orange melded perfectly with the fruity hops to the point where you'd just ask "does this have oranges in it?" I AM a cask guy, and the pin was on point with the perfect carbonation and cellar temp (not bad for just sitting out...I must have gotten there at the right time).
Reading the above, it's clear I'm a crotchety old man. I tried the occasional NEIPA and kettle sour, but they didn't really blow my skirt up. Not that I don't love IPAs made with expressive yeasts or sour beers...I'm just less excited by the beers riding those trends. I prefer a bracing bitterness in an IPA and a bit more complexity in a sour than is typical right now. But I'm still very excited by cask beer and crazy stouts, which were the exciting new trend...well...I don't remember, but I'm sure they were at some point.
Another thing I noticed in trying some beers is how very different some beers are on tap from when I've had them in the can or bottle. You expect the freshest keg at a festival, but some of these beers are completely different animals. One english-style beer that shall remain un-named, in particular, read as having a ton of caramel and a heavy, over-sweet character in the can, but was fresher, dryer and brighter at the festival with a notable hop bite. My thought in trying the beer in cans a few weeks ago was that it was heavily oxidized (and only really good for braising beans) and this confirmed it. I hadn't planned to ever drink that beer again, based on my poor experience of the packaged product, and only got a sample to confirm. I see how much of a shame that is based on the fresh product.
There's a lot talk about how we've got nearly 7,000 breweries today, that it's a bubble, and that we're going to see a shakeout like the great brew-pub purge of the late 90s. I hope it's not as bad as all that, but I have to say that some of these folks need to get their packaging ducks in a row if they want to compete against the breweries noted above, which can provide me a similar beer whether I get it fresh at a festival or in a can off the shelf. Now get off my lawn.
UPDATE/CONFIRMATION: A Double IPA won best of show. I...didn't try any double IPAs.