This past Saturday, it was an afternoon of suds in Waldo.
I’m talking about HopFest 2015, the craft beer festival. Featuring more than 50 breweries and some 250 craft beers, the fifth annual HopFest featured some of the best brews from local, national and international producers.
What follows are my nonscientific, completely subjective and often random thoughts about HopFest and its hops and malt-based beverages.
First off, as a longtime participant in these types of mass-consumption events, the first thing you need for a successful tasting experience is a game plan. While trying to navigate 250 brews can be really hard work requiring dedication, focus and restraint, it’s also a lot of fun.
And it doesn’t take much of anything other than an empty glass and a decent amount of stamina. I do like to have a plan, though it’s fairly simple. I try and note the beers I haven’t tried before, including many of the hard-to-get offerings they poured at HopFest, and target those first.
Second, just like wine tastings, I hit the lighter beverages first and save superhoppy IPAs, dark and smoky stouts and porters and an ever-increasing selection of flavored beers for later. If I don’t get to them at all, that’s OK too.
That’s another one of my rules for these types of tastings — you’re not going to get to everything, not even close, so don’t sweat it. Taste what you like and like what you taste.
There was certainly a lot to like at this year’s HopFest. First of all, I thought organizers did a great job getting the various breweries onboard, and that the breweries offered a really nice selection of their products.
There were plenty of lighter-styled beers to get me started. This category was definitely dominated with wheat beers, which produced some of my favorite taste experiences of HopFest.
Two that really stood out to me were the Dunkelweizen and Weizenbock served up by KC Bier Co. The Dunkelweizen is a cross between the traditional Dunkel, which means dark, but is in no way heavy or ponderous, and a traditional Weizen, or wheat beer. All I know is that the KC Bier Dunkelweizen is refreshing and complex, and that’s not an easy accomplishment in the beer world.
As for the Weizenbock, KC Bier describes it as a “pumped-up version” of their Hefeweizen with “more malt, alcohol, fruity esters, and spice notes.” Whatever. They had me at Weizenbock.
I really didn’t spend much time in the Boulevard tent as I figure I can get most of their brews pretty much anytime I want. Don’t get me wrong, I think Boulevard’s beers are excellent across the board, but at HopFest, I was looking for something out of the ordinary, at least for me. The Duvel Single from Boulevard’s parent company fit the bill to a tee. Created by the Moortgat family, this is one of Belgium’s favorite ales. I can see why. Lower in alcohol, lighter and crisper, the Duvel Single might just be the perfect summertime beer.
By the time I came across the Duvel Single I was already experiencing what professionals call “palate fatigue.” I only had a few more tastes, at least ones I could accurately evaluate, in me.
That’s when I found what I considered to be the beer of the tasting — the Stiegl Sommen Koing, a barrel-aged beauty that spends time in both wine and bourbon casks. Talk about complex. Even with 10 or 15 tastes under my belt, this beer cut through the suds clutter and spoke to my soul. OK, that’s a little strong, but this beer, brewed in Salzburg, Austria, is everything a beer lover could want: full-bodied, layered with flavors and aromas, yet maintaining a lovely cleansing acidity. I even had seconds.
Thanks, HopFest. I look forward to formulating a plan for you next year.
Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons.