Brewers packed a block of downtown Main Avenue Saturday for the 12th annual San Juan Brewfest, Durango's premier annual beer get-together.
The event brought 25 breweries, mostly from Colorado. Local bands Baby Toro and the Lawn Chair Kings provided the soundtrack.
Beer festivals seem to be coming fast and furious lately; another one was held in Cortez the same day. They could all be considered a warm-up for the mother of all beer festivals, the Great American Beer Festival this weekend (Sept. 16-18) in Denver.
I took it easy at the Brewfest because I had plans later in the day, but I still got to sample the beers that appealed most.
I mostly kept it to hoppy pale ales and IPAs. The few dark beers just didn't appeal under the summer sun. Here's my brief impressions of the beers I tried:
1. Palisade S.O.B. Pale Ale. This little brewery brought an outstanding pale ale to the Brewfest; probably the best beer I tried. The bright, floral, citrusy hops led the way. Simply a great, well-rounded and inviting pale ale.
2. Palisade Dirty Hippie Dark Wheat. Compared to the earlier Palisade beer, this one seemed a little lackluster. It was dark, malty and full-bodied, with a hint of spice. It would probably make a good winter beer but seemed out of place here.
3. Colorado Boy Cask ESB. A delicous, flavorful offering from the little Ridgway brewpub. The cask conditioning favorably showed off the Extra Special Bitter's creamy, lingering, smooth hop bitterness. It again demonstrated the benefits cask conditioning can offer hoppy beers, as Carver's does every time it pours its Cascade Canyon Cask IPA.
4. Ska Hoperation Ivy. The latest Local Series from Durango's own Ska Brewing Co., Hoperation Ivy is an annual fresh-hop IPA. The just-harvested hops from a farm near Montrose lend an oily character to the bitter ale that can't be faked. Fresh-hop (also called wet-hop) beers are always distinctive and often excellent. People who care about conscientious and interesting brewing shouldn't miss this one.
5. Pagosa Pale Ale. This is a perpetual favorite of mine from Pagosa Brewing Co. It's dry-hopped twice with Cascades, and the hops just pop on the tongue. The grassy flavor and lingering bitterness make this a showcase pale ale.
Miscellany: The Brewfest is a blessing in offering beers from around the state usually unavailable in Durango. Furthermore, it benefits a good cause in the United Way of Southwest Colorado (I should mention by way of disclosure that I was admitted to the Brewfest for free to blog about the event).
However, good events can always improve. My suggestions:
1. More food. Some brats were on hand, but that was about it. Perhaps next year, the organizers could extend invitations to a few restaurants so festival-goers who are queasy about eating brats have some other options.
2. Tim Walsworth, the United Way director who organizes the festival, is a magnanimous man who is familiar with my complaint about the glassware. It's no doubt cheaper, and safer, and with fewer headaches, to offer a small plastic sample "mug" than a real pint glass. It's an understandable move.
Still, I would prefer a nice pint glass, which was offered at the Brewfest years ago, for the following reasons: a). A pint glass makes a much better keepsake. Cool pint glasses like the one Ska made for its recent 15th Anniversary party make sweet collectibles. b). Aesthetically, it's much nicer to hold a hefty pint glass than a little plastic thing. c). The plastic mugs aren't adequate to the demands of foamy beer. It's a pain to have to wait for beers to settle in the little vessel. d). Glass indicates a presumption that your customers are responsible adults, rather than potential trouble-makers. That sort of trust goes a long way.
But those complaints are minor. The Brewfest is a fun event, put on for charity, that offers some great beer. I look forward to the lucky 13th year.