I like food. I also like beer. It only took me like 8 years to develop a taste for it. When I first started consuming alcohol, I used to stick to “bitch drinks” (not my term) like vodka slime. The latter is still my favourite drink to this day, especially when I can’t decide on what to drink or I don’t want to fall asleep. Now that I have developed a more refined palate, I like to try my appreciation for different beverages from time to time, and the beerfest is a perfect venue for it.
Located in the Big 4 in the Stampede grounds as always, beerfest is conveniently accessed via the C-train system. We got there around 6 pm on Friday. Going off my last visit to the fest about 3 or 4 years ago, I expected it to be packed, esp on a Friday evening, but alas, it wasn’t. We quickly bought $20 worth of drink tickets and proceeded on our exciting adventure.
The first drink that caught Kent’s attention was Mill St Brewery’s Lemon Tea Beer. This is a wheat beer which is infused with Pekoe and Earl Grey teas that pours light amber. It turned out to be a great choice to start our beer tasting. The infusion of Pekoe and Earl Grey was subtle and balanced, yet very clearly evident. It is definitely a summer beer to be enjoyed on a nice sunny day while chilling outside. Well done, Mill St. It’s not hard to see they have been crowned Canadian Brewery of the Year 3 times in a row.
The next beer we stumbled upon was Crabbie’s Ginger Beer (alcoholic). I almost came when I saw their stand. Alcoholic ginger beer is one of my favourites, but I never can seem to find it in Calgary anywhere. I wasn’t disappointed at all when I finally got to sip this libation. Made from a secret family recipe, this ginger beer apparently has “four top secret ingredients” that are brewed with steeped ginger that is still shipped from the “Far East.” Marketing BS aside, this beer was hands down our favourite of all the beers available. In hindsight, we should have tried it after other beers as I was comparing all other beers to Crabbie’s (which I shouldn’t have) and how I awesome it was. Truly, a must try.
Dead Frog Brewery from BC was the next brewer that we came across that offered a very intriguing selection of beers. My eye was immediately drawn to the Pepper Lime Lager whereas the others decided to try out the Mandarin Orange Amber Ale. Both, unfortunately, turned out to be disappointing. The pepper lime beer was too subtle – we couldn’t really pick up anything that corresponded to pepper or lime. There were no citrusy notes to the beer either. Same with the Mandarin Orange Ale. Part of the reason could have been that we tried this selection out right after the ginger beer and our taste buds were overwhelmed with the ginger taste. Definitely, something to keep in mind though to try again.
We wandered kind of aimlessly after the Dead Frog experience when hot chicks in skimpy clothing caught my attention. Not wanting to deprive myself of this wonderful visual experience, I ushered the group over to check out the booth. Turned out it was the Mountain Crest Brewery booth, makers of the infamous Dam Good Beer. Mountain Crest has apparently added tequila and reposado to their portfolio, and being a big fan of both these libations, I was excited to try them out. The brewery markets these are “affordable luxury” but really, neither of those tasted like luxury. This is your garden variety Jose Cuervo shit. If you want to be a real baller and can afford to blow dough like an engineer in the oil patch, stick to something truly premium like Patron.
After a couple of misses, Kent & I were finally glad to come across a real established brewery like Big Rock, and thankfully, they had some new and interesting German-style varieties to try out. Against the better judgement of the server, I decided to go with Dunkelweizen whereas Kent got the Rauchbier.
The Rauchbier is a smoked beer where the smokiness is imparted using using malted barley smoked over an oven flame. The beer pours clear tawny with a light coppery hue, and had a very nice, satisfying smoky flavour to it that wasn’t overwhelming. Weizen stands for wheat, whereas dunkel stands for dark, so my choice was clearly dark wheat beer, which is new to me. It’s apparently a less common style of German beer primarily due to the Bavarian Purity Law that proclaimed that beer may only have water, hops, barley, and yeast. This beer pours a deep mahogany and due to low amounts of hops, tend not to be too bitter. However, I didn’t really find the beer that exciting and especially lacking in a full body flavour, which would be typical to a dark beer like this.
Next up was the Laughing Dog Brewery out of Idaho. They had an interesting line of beers, the main one being the Crotch Sniffing Bastard. This was an extra-strong bitter that wasn’t actually hoppy, or consequently, bitter. Kent seemed to like it, but honestly, I wasn’t too impressed by their selection present at the beerfest to spend my hard-earned dollars. I also thought CSB was alright.
Kent mentioned something about an alternative to wine pairings with food, which led us to the Estrella Damm booth. Estrella is a Catalan Pilsner that has been brewed since 1876 in Barcelona and is the flagship beer of S.A. Damm. The real reason we were there was to try out the Inedit for Estrella Damm, created by Ferran Adria of the ElBulli fame. Inedit is supposed to be an alternative to wine accompanying food. It was cloudy to the appearance with fruity and floral bouquet. Some of the tastes were probably a bit too subtle for me by now, so I don’t think I did this beer complete justice. However, I like the concept, and in general, I liked the beer, so I am going to try and find it at the nearest Co-op Liquor store to see if I can add to my review of this beer.
After this point, I think it became clear that tasting beers would be a pointless endeavour. The lack of water to cleanse my palate and the onset of a beer buzz had already affected my ability to judge beers. We still tried out a couple, but they were so unmemorable, I don’t feel comfortable writing about them. We did try a honey-mead at some point during the night, but it was such a tongue-fuck after all those beers that it tasted like a combination of varnish and shit. Wanting to end the night on a high note, we went over to Crabbie’s to get another round of ginger beer before exiting for the night.
A couple of things that the event organizers could do to improve the experience would be to have water in each booth to clean the mini-mugs. It would also help to cleanse people’s palates. But I have a feeling that beerfest is meant more to be a drinking event than a true tasting event, so that would be a moot point.
Overall, the beerfest wasn’t as awesome as I had remembered it to be. Maybe it was because my palate has significantly changed over the years and I wasn’t impressed by booths serving Alexander Keith’s or Sapporo. Or maybe it was the epic episode of Richard puking all over his hand inside Tubby Dog while the cashier was yelling “Not inside, not inside!” after the last beerfest. It could also be that I no longer appreciate having to pay for drink tickets AND an entrance ticket (damn you Grape Escape). Maybe I am getting old and after a long Friday, I didn’t have the energy or enthusiasm for a night of epic drinking. Either way, the entire event felt a bit lackadaisical. Maybe, next time I will head out on a Saturday.