Weekend Discoveries: Fancy Beer! The Kind That Taste Like Blackberries and Chocolate!

This past weekend I went to a fancypants beer festival. I was slightly apprehensive, because my palette for beer isn’t sophisticated by any means: I am one of those people who generally sticks with Corona and lime, mostly because I like the lime. (Actually, I almost always prefer a cocktail or champagne to the near-exclusion of everything else, but let’s pretend that sometimes I choose to drink of my own free will — and not extenuating circumstance.) Maybe it is because I live in a smaller town now and there is less action happening, but I find myself doing things that go beyond my personal comfort/taste zone — and generally, I am almost always pleasantly surprised! Such is the case with the fancypants beer festival, where I expanded my admittedly narrow mindset when it comes to the humble brew.

I say “fancypants,” because the festival featured a lot of smaller and independent breweries, who do lots of wonderfully complex, often delicious things with beer. You paid for a ticket, got a tasting cup and a bunch of drink tickets, and then ran around tasting different beers during the course of what turned out to be a stunningly beautiful fall-like afternoon. I meant to take lots of picture for this blog entry, but honestly, the capacity crowds didn’t make for easy picture-taking, and as you can imagine, the later the event goes, the more tipsy you get — and suddenly it becomes much more imperative to eat some (incredibly good) wood-fired fresh veggie pizza than remember to snap a photo or two. Veggie pizza > taking pictures, nearly every time!

But I did remember to try lots of different beers! I discovered beer can be a beautiful, complex, intricate world, and I found LOTS of delicious options that I will make a point to seek out when I can. I’ve always been fond of lambics, but this weekend I delved in a whole universe of ciders. I spent multiple drink tickets at Crispin’s booth, where I discovered their line of delicious, refreshing cider beers, as well as some phenomenally yummy Fox Barrel ones. Fox Barrel made a wonderful blackberry pear-infused cider that I shamefully got seconds and thirds of, and I loved their apricot pear one and the pacific pear one, too. (Did I mention I spent multiple drink tickets at their booth? I think the lovely, friendly lady at the booth thought I was stalking her.) The blackberry was my favorite: it was very crisp but fruity, but not sickly sweet (at least for me.) It would be absolutely wonderful for summer; in fact, it made me regret not discovering it earlier in the season! Anyway: Crispin and Fox Barrel — check them out! SO FREAKING GOOD.

I know, a lot of people will be like, “Ciders! So wussy! So girlie! Beer as a fruity dessert isn’t really beer!” But I don’t care; I know my limitations! Being a beer wuss, following my sweet tooth will never leave me astray, so when it came time to branch out to more traditional beer, I made a beeline for stuff like Southern Tier’s Imperial Choklat Stout and the Imperial Creme Brulee Stout. These are both “sweet-toothy” beers as well, but totally on the other end of the spectrum: they’re dark, rich, decadent and much “beerier” than ciders, obviously. They both start with a rich hoppiness, but finish off with notes of chocolate, caramel and other dessertlike deliciousness. Both made my eyes widen — the sweet notes at the end are very much a delicious surprise. I have to say that the chocolate stout was my favorite, although the creme brulee one was by far the best-smelling beer I have ever encountered. I have traumatic memories in college of making my way through the quad on a Sunday morning as it reeked of the weekend’s cheap Schlitz and Heineken — but the Southern Tier creme brulee beer smells so freaking good, I wish they’d bottle it as a perfume or something.

I tried a lot more stuff, including more traditional IPAs, stouts, porters and the like, and did discover a “beer-beer” that suits me wonderfully: Stone’s Smoked Porter. I never thought I’d be into a dark beer, but this one was just s-u-p-e-r-b. It’s very robust, with a lovely dark, rich velvety chocolate undertone that pulled me in via the sweet-tooth factor, of course. But it wasn’t sweet in any way: it was a dead-proper dark beer! But absolutely delicious. It would be a great fall and winter beer, really hearty and woodsy, and I look forward to seeking it out again.

Anyway, it was a real pleasure to spend a beautiful proto-early fall afternoon getting tipsy on lots of beer and “expanding my palette.” A wonderful way to kick off the autumn season, I must say! I don’t ever think that I will ever be a “real beer” connoisseur, but it’s nice to know I’ve found a little niche within the wide, wonderful world of it all that makes me happy.

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