Grateful for Beer
In 1995, shortly after Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead died, one of the Kalamazoo releases was titled “Jerry’s Beer.” It was a mixture of strong Bell’s beers served from a jeroboam (3-liter bottle). Bell ceremoniously opened the bottle in the midst of a large crowd and then tilted it from side to side to serve the beer. Happy festival goers held out their glasses to be filled, and it appeared that not a drop was spilled.
Not all brewers are quite as brave as Bell. In 1999, Flossmoor Station Brewing Co. set out a half keg of barley wine aged in bourbon barrels (Old Conundrum, which a few months later won a silver medal at GABF). Then the brewers opened the tap and stood back. The crowd around the keg looked like a rugby scrum, with the luckiest shoving their tasting glasses below the keg’s tap.
The next year, festival organizers put Flossmoor Station and Kalamazoo Brewing back to back at the end of one of the beer tents. As the afternoon wore on and the release of various beers (Flossmoor brought three bourbon-barrel beers) neared, those crowded around both serving areas amused themselves with challenging cheers. “Lar-ry, Lar-ry,” chanted those in front of Bell’s. “Todd, Todd,” replied those awaiting beer made by Flossmoor brewer Todd Ashman, somehow turning “Todd” into two syllables.
It was loud, it was rowdy and not everybody was stone cold sober. Nobody would have mistaken this for a wine festival. It may not have put beer in the most civilized light, but it sure sent a message that it’s OK to be passionate about the beverage―and that’s worth celebrating.
Other Events for Your 2002 Calendar
Real Ale Festival
February 28-March 2
We spent much of the first evening of the second Real Ale Festival (1997) sampling cask-conditioned ale with noted British beer writer (and AABM columnist) Roger Protz, then with Anheuser-Busch brewer Mitch Steele. Such is the appeal of Real Ale. We finished off the evening with a late dinner in Greektown. Such is the appeal of Chicago.
The festival features 165 brands of cask-conditioned ales from across America and guest beers straight from Britain. It is an astonishing opportunity to drink traditional British ale, American interpretations of British ales, and ales that are nothing but American. The latter may be more (a lot more) heavily hopped than British brewers would approve of, or just plain funky―variations on Belgian-style beers, German wheat beers and even wheat wine―but they show off the beauty of fresh, living, cask-conditioned beer, no matter the style.
Colorado Brewers Rendezvous
This is the festival the brewers of Colorado flock to, and if they are having a good time you can count on having one as well. The park is in the historic downtown area. A railroad town, Salida was founded in 1880 and instantly became famous for its rough-and-tumble saloons and brothels. Many of the brewers set up right along the fast-moving Arkansas River, which is dotted with rafting gates.
Although brewers tend to feature more of their flagship beers than at the Great Taste, you’ll always find something out of the ordinary. In 2000, BJ’s Brewery in Boulder brought a gruit, and last year Boomtown Brewpub in Leadville served a malt liquor. The brewery to visit early is Ska, from Durango, because it tends to run out of beer (and pins) first.
Gigantic trees provide plenty of shade―and a certain amount of protection from the festival’s annual thunderstorm. A playground to the east is usually packed, as parents alternate pushing their children on swings and tasting new beers. The 2001 festival took on even more life because of Marty Jones & The Pork Boilin’ Poor Boys―one of those groups that proves that listening to live music is a little like drinking living beer (see Real Ale Festival, above).
Friday the Firkinteenth
Grey Lodge Pub
Philadelphia has earned a reputation as one of America’s best beer cities, in part because of restaurants featuring Belgian beers and because of the many outstanding craft breweries in the region. Yet, few beer tourists venture into working-class Northeast Philadelphia to look for beer. Too bad, because they are missing a gem of a pub, one that features 10 cask-conditioned ales from regional breweries whenever Friday falls on the 13th of the month. This year that happens in September.
The rest of the time, the Grey Lodge features specialty beers and Budweiser and Coors Light side by side. Think of it as a tavern from the 1960s with better beer. The food is basic―although the tomato pie at $4.50 is both a bargain and strangely intoxicating.
There are electronic and video games, including shuffle bowling, board games, TVs and a few animal heads. The tile floor isn’t in very good shape, and the upholstery on the semicircular booths is well worn. These are things nobody mentions when they recommend the Grey Lodge. Those in the know send you there for the beer and to see the smallish bathrooms, which are lovingly decorated with art tile featuring beer quotes (visit the website for pictures from the bathroom).
The place will be packed September 13, but stick around until 10:00 p.m. By then, things should begin to clear out and they’ll even fill your growler from firkins that haven’t been emptied.
Redbones Northwest Festival
The “festival” includes official events and a couple of beer dinners in mid-November but really begins a little earlier, when 50 or so kegs of beer arrive from the Pacific Northwest, and continues until they are all gone. Since 1996, Redbones has turned over its taps every November to showcase beers otherwise unavailable outside of Washington and Oregon.
A good time to visit can be early December, when some beers from the Northwest remain and can be compared with those from the Northeast. You might be able to try, for instance, the Lucky Lab IPA (from Portland, OR) and the McNeill’s IPA (from Brattleboro, VT). On the other hand, this is one of the few places in the country where we are willing to let them spin a wheel featuring the tap selection (they have one) and take whatever beer it lands on.
The biggest problem at Redbones is making room for both beer and barbecue. We have to recommend the “Barbeque Belt” with Memphis, Texas and Arkansas ribs and sliced brisket.