All About Beer Magazine’s annual World Beer Festival in Durham has a special feel to it that separates it from other North Carolina beer events. For starters, All About Beer is based in Durham, and the weather tends to be gorgeous this time of year, making for a fine hometown party. The whole glorious occasion is backed by solid live music as well.
Children of the Horn offered funky stuff just as people were getting in the mood to dance, and Big Daddy Love welcomed attendees with a mix of rock, bluegrass and covers. But the biggest factor is the rush of fall beers that are ready just in time for the festival – recently brewed Oktoberfests, imperial stouts, and pumpkin beers add a new level of excitement to the proceedings.
I made sure to take advantage of the seasonal beer selections at the start of the day, having been shut out on a few limited brews last year. I still nearly missed out on one of North Carolina’s most desirable beers, Sexual Chocolate Stout by Foothills Brewing (Winston-Salem, NC). I scored a sample right before the remaining supply was whisked away to be saved for the afternoon session of the festival.
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Sexual Chocolate lives up to the considerable hype. It’s a sinfully smooth sip, with just a dash of that imperial alcohol bite and plenty of chocolaty, malty goodness to balance it out. Other seasonal tastes included Heavy Seas Great Pumpkin (Baltimore, MD), which was nice and sweet, and Sierra Nevada’s new Tumbler (Chico, CA), an incredibly quaffable “autumn brown ale.” The warm weather cooperated with Big Boss Brewing Company’s Sack Time Amber Rye (Raleigh, NC), a late summer seasonal, and Weeping Radish Farm Brewery out of Jarvisburg, NC offered Peachy Keen, a beer that is just about out of season but still tasting great since the featured ingredient is grown on their farm.
There’s plenty of evidence (Tumbler, for example) to support the contention that brown ales are rising in popularity, and the availability of fine examples such as Lazy Magnolia’s Pecan Brown Ale (Kiln, MS), New South’s Nut Brown Ale (Myrtle Beach, SC), and Peak Organic’s Nut Brown (Washington, DC) could help turn the golden tide soon enough. But the clear kings of the good beer jungle are still the pale ale and india pale ale, and the World Beer Festival was like Thanksgiving for hop lovers. While the ongoing war to see who can blow a drinker’s brains out with hops is still ongoing, there are many well-balanced offerings to be had.
Triangle IPA (Durham, NC) tasted just perfect on their home turf, but great ales were available from all over the world. Anchor Brewing (San Francisco, CA) brought their new Humming Pale Ale, and the quality is just what you’d expect from Anchor despite the fact that craft beer patriarch Fritz Maytag recently sold the company. Samuel Adams’ Latitude 48 (Boston, MA) and Breckenridge Brewery’s 471 IPA (Breckenridge, CO) also stood out. But Legend Brewing Company out of Richmond, VA, showed why they’re old hands at craft beer. Not only did they show up with a fine brown ale and Oktoberfest, they also brought a cask of IPA. After tasting my first cask ale, I was even more puzzled at the people drinking PBR in the next tent. Paying 50 bucks to wander among hundreds of amazing liquids while drinking one of the nation’s most unremarkable beers is incomprehensible to me, but to each their own.
Terrapin, Founder’s, Highland, and New Holland were noticeably absent from the festival this year, and some breweries, fully cognizant of North Carolina’s booming craft beer market, opted to showcase their more shiftable, less adventurous styles. Great Lakes Brewing, for example, just got distribution in the state this year. In turn, they left their amazing Christmas Ale at home and offered only their flagship lineup. Magic Hat offered only their near-ubiquitous #9. Sweetwater, New Belgium and Starr Hill brought their standards, and they’re great beers and all, but they’re in every grocery store down here now.
The absence of the aforementioned brewers did allow for a freshening of the lineup, and local brewers were highlighted more than ever. Most conspicuous were the Raleigh-based Roth Brewing Company – a youthful, enthusiastic new entrant into the rapidly crowding Triangle drinking market – and Durham’s brand new Fullsteam Brewery. Roth made a splash with their raucous behavior and Viking hats, but they put themselves on the audience’s map by releasing their Forgotten Hollow Cinnamon Porter at 3 PM, complete with celebratory countdown. They later reported via Twitter that they drained their allotment of the porter during an uninterrupted 24-minute pouring session. The porter was certainly novel and delicious, but the sample size was plenty. 16 ounces of it might be a bit much for me.
Fullsteam was founded by Sean Wilson, one of the state’s foremost advocates for beer, and his band of mad beer scientists has implemented a “plow to pint” philosophy. They’re sustainable, stylish, a bit steampunkish, and savory, and their mission is to bring the flavors of North Carolina to the glass. Their Carver Sweet Potato Lager is as mysterious as it claims to be, but there was nothing subtle about the Working Man’s Lunch Stout. It should be noted that I’m partial to stouts, but the Working Man’s Lunch simply dominated the rest of the crowd. Inspired by the southern depression-era “working man’s lunch” – an RC cola and a MoonPie – the beer is as deliciously lip-smacking as any I’ve ever had, and complex too. The craftsmanship of the stout stands on its own, other flavors aim to simulate the creamy sweetness of a MoonPie and the cola taste of RC, and everybody wins.
One person can only taste so much beer in 4 hours, but I feel that I sampled a great variety – 28 different beers and 13 different styles, to be exact. Some were vastly more memorable than others. Here’s a brief summary of the most notable.
My Five Best: Foothills Sexual Chocolate Stout, Fullsteam Working Man’s Lunch Stout, Rogue Captain Sig’s Northwestern Ale (Newport, OR), Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan Brown Ale, New South Nut Brown Ale
Worth Buying a Sixer: Breckenridge 471 IPA, Peak Organic Nut Brown Ale, Anchor Humming Ale, Odell 90 Shilling (Fort Collins, CO), Heavy Seas Great Pumpkin, Big Boss Harvest Time, Legend Brown Ale
Worth Having a Pint: Roth Forgotten Hollow Cinnamon Porter, Weeping Radish Peachy Keen, Sierra Nevada Tumbler, Huske Hardware House Sledgehammer Stout (Fayetteville, NC), Fullsteam Carver Sweet Potato Lager, Triangle IPA
Don’t Waste Your Time: Craggie Toubab Brewe (Asheville, NC), St. Martin Brune (Brunehaut, Belgium)