I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Big Texas Beer Fest when I bought my VIP ticket several months back. The fest is touted as one of the largest in the region, and this year it drew five thousand attendees and 106 breweries from across the world (mostly from the United States).
Julio, DocHopHead, and I left Fort Worth late in the morning only to find Fair Park fairly placid. As we settled near the front of the line the revelers slowly piled in behind us. The folks in line were just everyday people from all ages and backgrounds. (More than a few came armed with handcrafted necklaces made of pretzels.)
As we chatted with the people around us it quickly became clear that we were a bit more prepared than most were. DocHopHead had a customized a list of most prized beers that would be available once we got in. We each had a copy of the “list.” Beers were categorized from high to low priority and a small map of the festival floor was placed at the bottom of the sheet for quick reference. Okay, this might seem a bit like overkill, but DocHopHead and Julio were simply learning from past mistakes. Last year, they were a bit overwhelmed by the selections and consequently missed out on a few rare brews. That wasn’t going to happen this year.
List in hand, we tried to hide our inner giddiness. Forget Wolf Creek Lodge and the like. Let the men have their fun where they want and let the kids have theirs. This was our Disneyland moment. With an uproar of cheers, the ropes were dropped and we were inside. First on our list was the coveted Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS) by Founders. Rated as one of the most popular stouts in the world, this beer is hyped up as much as the upcoming Star Wars installment. Once we had our sifter filled, we did a quick toast only to find the Imperial Stout had been served ice cold. Trying to get to know a complex beer like this at frigid temperatures is like trying to get to know a blind date who shows up in a burqa.
As we waited in a much-longer line for the Jester King Montmorency vs. Balaton, we let our hands warm up the KBS. Its not the kind of beer for craft beer novices. The flavors explode from the instant the dark stout touches your mouth. I got a burst of maple, cocoa, and molasses goodness with a rich, heavy body and warm booziness. Honestly, it was about what I expected it to be knowing the Founders regular Breakfast Stout, but this was definitely a notch higher.
Next on our list was Jester King Brewery. Folks around the country are catching on to this Austin-based brewery that uses locally sourced water, grains and wild yeast. Fans of the brewery will tell you that the batch’s flavor profile changes year to year, but that’s the idea. For them, it’s all about getting away from commercial production and back to the roots of brewing as nature intended.
The line for Montmorency vs. Balaton was long, to say the least. A few passersby asked what all the excitement was about. When we told them we were in line for a “sour” ale, the typical response was a condescending ‘Oh, I don’t like that.’ Fine, more for those of us who know.
Sour ales will probably never sell like hefeweizens or lagers. Admittedly, the taste is kind of shocking and, as advertized, sour. But as the DocHopHead crew has found out, the style is one of the great, (largely) unexplored frontiers of the craft beer movement. What is a sour ale? Some are tart, some are sour and oak barrel-aged, and some are simply a little funky. There are various styles that fall into the category, including American Wild Ales, Goses, Gueuzes, and Oud Bruins to name a few. All are fermented with Brettanomyces yeast, which produce lactic acid. The Montmorency was only #2 on our list of 25 beers, but it ended up being one of our favorites of the entire day.
Speaking of favorites, it must be noted that our favorite brew ended up being the Oskar Blues Bourbon Barrel-aged Ten FIDY. Did we already like the original Ten FIDY? Yes. Is the whole bourbon barrel-aged thing a bit overdone? Yes. Is the Bourbon Barrel-aged Ten FIDY one of the best beers ever brewed by monks and mankind? Quite possibly, yes. The barrel-aged variant took the rich, syrupy Russian Imperial Stout to a whole other level while actually making the drink more, well, drinkable. It’s hard to explain, but the barrel-aged quality actually livened up the color and profile of this usually weighty beer.
So that brings us to the rest of the festival. By this point we had to step outside for some sunshine and food and a dozen Dallas food trucks awaited us. Barbeque, Italian, and French baguettes temporarily stole our attention until we noticed the confluence of our two favorite culinary words: Korean and Korean. Okay I’m a little biased. I actually am Korean and DocHopHead spent enough time during pre-med with Koreans to be unofficially indoctrinated. Admittedly, I had no idea Julio knew about Korean cuisine, until he revealed his knowledge of our ancient secret language: bulgogi, kalbi, and kimchi.
As we chowed down on some serious Korean taquerria action, our favorite beer-grass, hillbilly, hip-hop quartet took the stage. Shotgun Friday is a local phenomenon that has exploded like the measles at Disneyland, minus the vaccine. Tony Drewry is something of a folk legend round here. After starting the tap selection at The Live Oak, beer consulting with The Bearded Lady and Pour House, fronting Shotgun Friday, bringing the Beerliner to Cowtown and doing stuff in Austin that I don’t even have clearance for, he pretty much had our attention. Beer related stuff aside, Shotgun Friday, is a seriously noteworthy band. I’ve written about them for The Fort Worth Weekly. The band is a blend of true Americana roots, improvisation, and craft beer culture.
After the show we went inside. The Fairpark Automotive Building was packed by then as general admission had let in. We hit up Community, Deep Ellum, and some newcomers like Texian Brewing Company out of Richmond Texas. We tried their Charlie Foxtrot, a sour Berliner Weisse. We were thoroughly impressed.
We are definitely coming back next year and buying VIP tickets. The extra hour before general admission was well worth it. Now that we’ve tried several of the world’s best beers in one day, it’s going to be tough thinking of next year’s list for the festival. Somehow I think in a year we’ll have some ideas and maybe a few new styles we’re exploring.