Out of all the beer fests I’ve attended throughout my life, I thought I’d seen it all. I’ve witnessed a bj in the bushes at a fest in Irvine, mouth pours of rare beer in Paso Robles and even watched a guy projectile barf on his girlfriend while sharing a moment on a kid’s teeter-totter in Indianapolis…seriously. At The Festival hosted by the Shelton Brothers in Los Angeles, I’m seeing something I hope to see more of: an extraordinarily normal crowd of festival goers among the best line up of beer, really…ever.
At The Festival, there are no pretzel necklaces, dirndl-hos or Where’s Waldos. The only German fashion to be seen are lederhosen worn by a guy pouring funky beers from Cologne, Germany. The closest thing to a ‘Where’s Waldo’ is the lovely Nicole Dreier from Mission Viejo, complete with a stand-out red-striped dress and tan ankle boots. This a different set of fest goers amongst a wild set of beers.
“It’s not about the beers that you will drink, it’s about all the beers that you won’t drink at this festival,” says Jay Price of Orange County. “I feel bad about leaving without trying them all…I may come back tomorrow!” he added.
I’m giddy with my first beer of the day: 3 Fonteinen’s (pronounced dree font-an-in) Oude Gueuze (pronounced yum) sipped next to their blender Armand De Belder of Brussels. The fact that Armand is here at all is somewhat of a phenomenon. In 2002, a warehouse full of his aging beer shattered when a thermostat broke. “It was what I call ze catastroff,” Armand says in his Flemmish accent.
Back with a new brewery with bi-level coolships, Armand is able to create two different beers from each brewday by boiling the second batch longer before allowing to cool. “With a longer boil, I can get a more concentrated sugar for a higher alcohol lambic,” he adds. The gueuze he brought to the Festival today is 100% his creation, adding that he used to blend different lambics from the region with the old smaller brewery set up.
A few steps away from Armand is a short line for a private tasting of a beer brewed in 2004 from Brasserie Cantillon with blender Jean van Roy. I’m shocked to hear that there’s “a freshness” with a thirty-year old gueuze (see vid below). After trying the ten year version, I’m in agreement. It’s shocking that a 5% ABV beer can be this light, bright, bubbly and full of flavor.
At this point I’m a fat kid lost in an ice cream factory. Beer from Italy, Switzerland, Holland and Germany call for my attention. Even the local breweries manage to pull me in for a sample. Firestone Walker blew the lid off their table by accidentally bringing a keg of unreleased SLOambic that is due to be “liberated” on 11/15. In true festival fashion, word gets out quick and the funky plastic bladder keg is dusted. Beachwood BBQ & Brewing’s Sadie even crossed my tongue, despite self-hypnosis to not drink any Bourbon Barrel anything. It’s also great to see two Orange County breweries amongst the abundance of whales. The Bruery and Bottle Logic pouring unreleased or hoarder only beer gave a reason to visit other than to cuddle/crotch grab like other festivals.
The Festival’s location is another highlight. Situated near San Pedro’s docks at CRAFTED, some 25,000 square feet of tasting room space is bright and airy. Although hot at times, the geek sweat wasn’t too awkward.
The Gripes, there were gripes.
- Lack of food. At 2pm, there were two food trucks with 50+ people per line and a pizza vendor that “ran out of dough”. “Can you throw toppings in my mouth?” one hangry person yelled. That person was me.
- One water station. Look, I realize there’s a drought, but some brewers were embarrassed pouring their light beer on top of whatever beer is still lingering in your glass. Were we supposed to get a pour, sip it, run to the water thing, then run back to the next table? After tasting the water, I skipped it altogether…it tasted like it was dry hopped with sun-dried plastic shards. Clean water should be available for glass rinsing/drinking at every other table.
- I managed to pay for parking whereas others didn’t. “Take this ticket to somewhere and spend $5 at the CRAFTED thing then give this ticket to some random drink table to get reimbursed,” I was told. I’m usually game for a fun side-quest at a festival, but I felt this was unnecessary and I felt ripped off of $5.
- I heard major complaints on how slow the line was to get in. I’ve seen more check in booths at smaller scale beer festivals.
- Raffle style drink tickets. I had the sudden urge to play skee ball with Taylor Hanson! I seriously haven’t seen raffle tickets at a beer fest since I was a child. Isn’t the new standard wrist bands with tickets attached? Lanyard with hole punches? Retinal scan with a database in the cloud?
Aside from the gripes, I still give this festival an A. It’s all about the beer, the brewers and a great crowd. I hope they work out the kinks to make it an A+ next year.
Note, I attended the first session.