Hophead: Notes From Flying Saucer's Fourth Annual Fall Beer Festival
However, as I discovered, it's also an easy way to get a bad impression of a beer for a multitude of reasons that are no fault of the brewer's.
Saturday's festival in the Flying Saucer parking lot featured two dozen beers from American craft brewers, separated into East Coast, West Coast, Texas and "Cap'n Keith's Picks." For $15, you could try up to 10 4-oz. samples--and take home the sample-sized glass. For an additional $5, you could improve your selection and choose from the five premium brews in the "UR Not Worthy" tent, though you were still limited to a total of 10 samples. The diligent beertenders ensured nobody got more than his or her fair share by punching holes in each person's tasting card.
As I arrived late in the day, I started with the UR Not Worthy Tent to ensure I tasted them all before something ran out. What I didn't consider was that the strong-flavored and high ABV premium beers would throw the rest of my tastings into disarray. Still, totally worth it. Following are my tasting notes.
Dogfish Head Midas Touch (UR Not Worthy)
Very interesting. Clear golden-yellow, it was very sweet, yeasty, with spiciness and honey dominating the flavor, along with a lot of alcohol warmth. The line for the tent is so long that I don't even sit down with it, easily finishing it before I get to place another order.
Rogue XS Imperial IPA (UR Not Worthy)
The beer puller shakes a few drops out my glass and fills it up without a rinse or even a wipe. No wonder the line is moving so quickly. Oh well. The beer's a murky straw color, and WOW is it nice, with a big floral and pine hoppiness, some soft caramel maltiness in the background and a very smooth texture. One of the best beers I've had in a long time. The ABV is well disguised.
North Coast Old Stock - Vintage (UR Not Worthy)
A murky reddish-brown, this one definitely has the caramel, vanilla and toffee sweetness and mellowed hops of an aged ale. After a few more sips I pick up on some raisin, fruit and clove notes. It's creamy and very warming, if a bit sweet for my tastes. Another high ABV offering. Am I detecting a trend in this tent?
I sit down in the biergarten for a minute to take notes and look around. So far it seems like the DJ has multiple-personality disorder, going from Cake's "Sheep Go To Heaven" to Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean A Thing" to a few interchangeably generic alt-rock songs. The tent is dirty and crowded with a fascinating diversity of TX/OU revelers, young professionals, punk-rockers and older couples. Scattered pretzel and bratwurst remnants and empty cups on the tables suggest the place hasn't been cleaned all day, and the smell of rotting food makes it a bad idea to spend too much time sniffing at your samples.
Avery Beast Grand Cru (UR Not Worthy)
Super malty and syrupy, this reddish-brown amber beer might be the sweetest I've ever tasted, not counting the flavored malt beverages I'd rather not talk about. There are some raisin and brown sugar notes. This could be a dessert beer, but it is just way too sweet for me after even 4 oz. I can't imagine finishing a whole one.
Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale (UR Not Worthy)
Now things are getting interesting. This one looks a dark brownish-ruby color, almost black. I was expecting a stout, but was walloped with a bitter grapefruit-peel hoppiness. It has a tad of sweet character and a clean finish. A very nice palate cleanser.
Back in the seating area, the smell of cigar smoke is now competing with rotting food. In fact, there's probably a 2-1 cigar-to-cigarette ratio. Everyone is smiling, and it seems like half the crowd wears some kind of novelty T-shirt. My favorites: "I'm the designated passenger" and "Caution: This Is Sparta," with a traffic warning sign featuring silhouettes of a man kicking another into a pit. Beer people are good people. When the sign advertising "German Roasted Nuts" sends me into a giggling fit, I realize those UR Not Worthy beers were probably stronger than I'd anticipated.
Allagash Curieux Barrel-Aged Tripel (East Coast tent)
A straw-colored, very foggy beer, it doesn't seem to exhibit the yeasty Belgian flavor I expected. I suspect it would've benefited from a headier pour, but that would pretty much cut my serving in half. Still, a promising beer I'll have to try again later.
The DJ totally redeems his earlier cheesiness with Stevie Wonder's "Highest Ground" into Skee-Lo's "I Wish" into Beck's "Where It's At." And, too late, I realize that a Port-o-Pottie is the last place you want to bring a drink. With no place to set it down, holding it steady after a few beers and fumbling with a zipper proves a difficult task. However, this leads to the discovery that a sample glass fits perfectly into a sportcoat's breast pocket. There are two nearly-full beers set next to a toilet seat. I feel bad for whoever left them behind for a moment, then realize: If you set a beer down and forget to pick it back up, you didn't need it in the first place.
Franconia Hefe-Weizen (Texas Tent)
They were out of Real Ale's cask-conditioned Oktoberfest, so I pick this one. Big mistake. After all these dark, strong and sweet beers, it smells funky and weak. I'm sure it would be fine in another setting, but here I struggle to finish it.
Stone Cali/Belgique IPA (Cap'n Keith's Picks)
A clear golden color, it tastes like a good hoppy American IPA. I'm not sure what the "Belgique" implies. But I can sense my tastebuds are shot, as everything is starting to taste one-dimensional.
Anderson Valley Oatmeal Stout (West Coast Tent)
A bit sweet, but a good stout with roasted coffee notes. I'm a bit distracted by the smoke, rotting food and--holy crap, is the DJ really playing that awful 4 Non Blondes song?
Sierra Nevada Edge of Darkness (Cap'n Keith's Picks)
A dark amber and just as hoppy as Sierra Nevada's pale ale, this wasn't the stout I expected, but was good nonetheless. Kinda like the offspring of a mating of Sierra Nevada pale ale with a brown ale. A nice way to end the night, even if I now realize I probably should worked my way up to the overwhelming UR Not Worthy offerings. On the other hand, sobering up would have been difficult with those things sneaking up on me. Not that I'm nearly ready to drive yet anyway.
Fortunately, there's a Barnes & Noble with a coffee shop next door, and I stumble through the aisles along with the other drunks who need a little caffeine and time before attempting the drive home. I wish I'd worn an "I'm the designated passenger" T-shirt too.