I am one of those beer geeks who eagerly awaits the holiday beer season. Whether a spiced ale, strong ale or whatever, give it a holiday sounding name and I’ll be looking to try it. Thus, when Jeff Moses asked if we could help out with the BevMo sponsored Holiday Beer Festival he was putting on in San Francisco, I jumped at the chance. Not only would we be lending a friend a hand, but there was also the opportunity to try a large number of holiday beers. Plus, we would be able to see many of our Bay Area friends.
Before the beer, there was the work. We were at the Herbst Pavilion in Fort Mason bright and early on Sunday morning to help with the set up. We had about three hours to transform the cavernous, empty hall into a festive holiday beer wonderland. Soon after our early arrival, the pavilion was abuzz with brewers, brewery reps, distributors and volunteers trying to get ready for opening time. While Merideth decorated tables with festive green and red table cloths, I got to work directing traffic and hauling kegs, cases of beer and ice. By the time setup was complete, my middle-aged body was sore and needed a few beers.
There were over 125 beers to sample at the festival, with holiday beers making up maybe 30% of the total. And a funny thing happened. My desire to sample the winter seasonals was trumped by the chance to try beers that I wasn’t sure would make it to the Monterey Peninsula.
First beer of the day was Black Xanthus from Nectar Ales, Firestone-Walker’s second label. A rich, rich Imperial Stout, I had been stalking this beer for several weeks. What a way to start off the day.
Then came Ninkasi’s Total Domination IPA and Oatis Oatmeal Stout. Unibroue La Terrible… Deschutes Abyss…
In my quest, I came across the highlight of my day, Grand Teton Brewing. To my recollection, besides maybe Bitch Creek, I had never drank any of their beers. They were pouring beers from their regular lineup but also beers from their Reserve Cellar series, “Big Beers in a Big Bottle.” Of these, I tried Lost Continent Double IPA, Double Vision Doppelbock and Howling Wolf Weizenbock. All big, all delicious.
But the beer of the festival for me was another of the Reserve Cellar series, Pursuit of Hoppiness American Red Ale. Grand Teton’s winter offering, Pursuit of Hoppiness was 8% ABV and 100 IBUs; a wonderfully hoppy winter warmer.
I did manage to try a few holiday beers. My first was Anchor’s Christmas Ale, a nicely spiced, gingery brew. Even though I had tried the 2009 edition already, I thought it fitting that the holiday beer that started it all would be my first holiday beer of the festival.
Others I tried included Affligem Noël, Delerium Noël, Deschutes Jubelale, Gouden Carolus Noël, and St. Feuillien Cuvée De Noël.
All in all, it was a great day of beer and friends. It was good to see Amy, Bruce, Ed, Gail, Steve, Jay, Mike, Renee and finally meet Craig and Mario in person.
I don’t think it is because I am getting old, but more and more I enjoy the small, comfortable festivals over the ones that require the feats of strength and endurance. Hersbt Pavilion was spacious and roomy and the crowd just the right size. Lines were non-existent and it was easy to get a beer. Even the music, jazz tunes provided by Patt Casion and her Band added to the very relaxed atmosphere. Kudos to Jeff Moses (and his setup staff!) for creating a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.