Tag Archives: festival

Kicking Off Festival Season in Paso

Due to a beer schedule conflict, we missed the inaugural Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival last year. Hearing many good reports from the first edition, Merideth and I didn’t want to miss the second installment. Mainly because we would never hear the end of it from Fran.

Glass waiting to be grabbed.

On a very warm early Saturday afternoon, Merideth and I, plus our friend Carlo, climbed out of our comfortable, air-condtioned vehicle at the Paso Robles Event Center. As we walked the length of the long line to find our spot at the back, we stopped and chatted with a few friends along the way. Despite the heat, the crowd was animated and chipper, patiently waiting for the opening bell.

These days, Merideth and I appreciate more and more a well-run, well-organized festival. For us, a hallmark of such a festival is how quickly the eager beer drinkers get to drink beer. About a half-hour before opening, the gates were opened, tickets were checked, programs and glasses were handed out. Once through we were held in a pen waiting for the top of the hour.

Like many people, we perused the program while waiting to be freed. With the heat, Merideth and I knew we were going to drink as much session beer as possible. Flipping the pages, we identified all the sub 5% ABV beers we might want to try.

The line for Dark Lord

A few minutes early, the festival opened. Like Christmas shopping mothers after cabbage patch dolls at Walmart, the crowd surged towards the Three Floyd’s booth at the back of the festival grounds. OK. I exaggerate a bit. It was more of a calm rush with an orderly queue forming. By the time we walked in, it stretched across the festival grounds.

I have to admit, I don’t get the Dark Lord mania (Yes, I have tried it). With so many great beers to drink, waiting in a long line in 100° heat for close to a fifth of the festival for one beer doesn’t make sense to me. There was one positive aspect of the Dark Lord craze for the rest of the festival goers. It kept a large number of people out of circulation. Once it blew, queues appeared for food and breweries that didn’t exist previously.

A lot good beer at
the Firestone Walker Invitational…

While in the pen, we also identified our first beer, Nebraska Brewing’s Apricot au Poivre Saison. Conveniently one of first booths, we quickly each had a pour of what would be my beer of the day. I love beers brewed with black pepper and spiciness of the Saison played very well with the pepper bite.

We spent the next couple of hours doing laps in the expansive festival grounds, coveting shade, misters and the big vineyard fans. Eating and drinking along the way, we would occasionally halt our wanderings to talk with friends. Recommendations for food and beer were usually exchanged and the typical response was “Is there a line?”

Here are some of my favorites beers at the festival:

  • Apricot au Poivre Saison / Nebraska Brewing
  • Zwickelbier / Trumer Brauerei
  • Paradise Road Pilsner /Figueroa Mountain Brewing
  • Saison / Funkwerks
  • Cabrillo Kölsch / Golden Road Brewing
  • Small Talk / Triple Rock Brewery
mmmm….. cupcakes….

The food maybe was the highlight of the day. Included in the price, the fare wasn’t your normal festival deep-fried and sugar-laden food. Local restaurants and caterers provided a cornucopia of wonderful small plates to enjoy while sampling the beers. Highlights included avocado ice cream, pull-porked sandwich, beer-infused gelato, Moroccan chicken lettuce wraps, and a yummy Paella. But the stars were the beer cupcakes, four flavors to choose from. Merideth and I tried all four, several times each I think.

A little past the half way point of the festival, we decided to call it a day. We were enjoying the beers, the food and seeing friends, but the heat was getting to us a bit. Admittedly, I was also tired of rubbing elbows with so many sweaty people. We traded the bustle of festival for the cool and quiet Barrelhouse Brewery tasting room.

We heard a lot of hype about the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival and kudos to Firestone Walker for living up to it.

View all the images from our day in Paso Robles…

Great Nebraska Beer Festival

Thanks to our friends at The Roaming Pint, Merideth and I had the opportunity to beer travel to Omaha, Nebraska for the first time. The Great Nebraska Beer Festival was looking for someone to talk about beer travel in one of their seminars. When Brian and Maria couldn’t do it, they suggested us. It was an opportunity to not only introduce ourselves to a new audience and sell Merideth’s book but more important, to try a bunch of Midwest brews. The whole thing was just too good to turn down.

The Shadow Lake Towne Center parking lot transformed

Shadow Lake Towne Center in Papillion (pronounced pa-PILL-yun) was the home of the Great Nebraska Beer Festival. Overnight, the empty parking lot in front of the Dick’s Sporting Goods transformed into a small tent city for the beer festival. The eighty or so breweries were grouped in six tents throughout the fenced in area.

Before the festival opened, Merideth and I wandered around trying to get the lay of the land. As I noticed all the brewers greet each other warmly via a handshake or hug, an odd feeling came over me. We didn’t know ANYONE. Most of the beer fests we attend are on the West Coast, where we do know everyone. We’re some of those people giving each other hand shakes and hugs. Not so in Papillion, Nebraska. We were definitely going to need all of our anti-wallflower powers.

Rain, rain, won’t go away…

The week prior our journey to Nebraska, we checked the weather regularly. As the week progressed, the chance of rain went from a paltry 10% to 80% the day of the festival. Sure enough, once the festival kicked off at noon, a steady rain began to fall.

We quickly learned a new lesson in our lives as book purveyors. It is very difficult to sell books at an outdoor beer festival in the rain. Despite the realization that book sales were going to be slow at best, all was not lost. There were all those new beer to try…

Best of show came from Cigar City

One of the hidden gems for us was Cigar City, not available in California. At the festival, a hand scrawled ‘CIGAR’ and a soggy program opened to its beers was the only designation for one of the biggest cult breweries in the country.

Cigar City Cucumber Saison won my best of show brew. I’ve had a cucumber beer and soda before but both were so subtle that my taste buds had to search for the flavor. Cigar City’s Saison, on the other hand, had a VERY pronounced cucumber taste. If they had added a bit of brine, I would have professed it the best beer ever made.

Peace Tree Brewing from Knoxville, IA

Given our friend and thebeergeek.com contributor, Renee is from Iowa, we made sure we tried some brews from her home state. Pom Pom Shaker, a Pomegranate Sour from homebrew club Iowa Brewers Union made my list of top 3 brews of the festival.

Peace Tree Brewing from Knoxville, IA had me won over before I tried any of their beers with their Partridge Family-esque bus. Their beers were pretty good as well, with the Red Rambler Red Ale and Hop Wrangler IPA tickling our fancy.

Throughout the afternoon, while Merideth (wo)manned the covered book table, I wandered out into the festival’s intermittent showers in search of beer. While some of the brewery names sounded familiar (Boulevard, Free State, Tallgrass), others like Ploughshare, Morgan Street and Beaver View, I had never heard of.  On each journey, I would bring back two beers for us to try.

On our list of notable brews…

Other notable brews we tasted…

  • Cask Mango Watch Man IPA – Empyrean Brewing, Lincoln, NE
  • Zesting the Cone IPA – Nebraska Brewing, Papillion, NE
  • 8-Bit Pale Ale – Tallgrass Brewing, Manhattan, KS
  • Schwarzbier – Morgan Street Brewery, St. Louis, MO
  • Powerhouse Pilsner – Gottberg, Columbus, NE
  • Saison – Funkwerks, Fort Collins, CO
  • Ethan’s Stout – Blue Blood Brewing, Lincoln, NE
  • The Griffin (Hefeweizen) – Grimm Bros. Brewhouse, Loveland, CO
  • Kölsch – Schlafly Brewing, St. Louis, MO
Blind Tiger’s beer dispensing back pack

Topeka’s Blind Tiger opened our eyes to a beer festival first to us, a beer dispensing back pack. I never saw it loaded but I assume it held a five gallon keg. All during the day, one of the brewers wandered around with a keg strapped to his back filling empty taster glasses to appreciative festival goers. I availed myself of this great service on several occasions when I found myself with an empty taster glass.

Obviously, Merideth and I were disappointed that the weather didn’t go our way. But in the end, we met some great people and drank some wonderful beer at the Great Nebraska Beer Festival.

View all the images from the Great Nebraska Beer Festival