Last weekend was the Seattle International Beerfest, a modest affair with a scant 210 beers from 15 countries, a beer garden with $3 pints, live music and a pet friendly venue. Situated under the Space Needle in Seattle Centre the event ran for three days with the $30 admission getting you unlimited re-entry and ten tokens towards some of the 4oz pours.
Despite the central location of the tasting garden, it took us a considerable amount of time to find the entrance. After wandering behind the Sci-Fi museum, over to the King Tut exhibit, talking to a rather unhelpful staff member, we eventually spotted beer drinkers through a chain link fence. We followed this fence all the way to the end of a gigantic line, which thankfully moved along quite quickly.
Once inside, I found the set-up to be really confusing. In retrospect I probably should have read through the line-up ahead of time and mapped out a route. There were only a few stations but each one had a dozen or so line-ups and you had to get in front of the cooler serving the beer you wanted to try. Token amounts were displayed prominently while the beer number was in smaller handwriting below. Despite my own ineptness at tracking down the beer, obviously a lot of work went into the beer fest guides, which had detailed and abbreviated beer lists, a map, general beer knowledge, tips to maximizing your experience and ads from local beer stores and tap houses.
Unlimited access is great if you are staying all weekend but it also meant that on a warm sunny Saturday you could barely find a place to stand and drink. Smarter people than I came early armed with blankets to stake out a coveted lawn space. For a beer geek trying to keep notes and take pictures it was a pretty comical juggling act -if you break your tasting glass it will set you back $5!
The Seattle International Beer Fest billed itself as a “high-end event” but I am not really sure how this was supposed to play out. This beer fest was similar to most outdoor events and $3 pints did not exactly contribute to a restrained drinking environment. Just an observation that notions of a high-end beer festival may be an oxy-moron.
There was a lot of beer and in order to try even a portion you really needed to come for all three days. Since I could only make it for the Saturday I had to strategize the best I could by focusing on rarities, new (to me) brewers, collaborations and anything with a really long line –very scientific I know.
There was an almost even split between draft and bottle selections. Cost to sample ranged from 1 to 10 tokens –for ten tokens you got to try on of the Samuel Adams Utopias, which was a rare chance to buy into a very expensive bottle of beer. The bottles tended to be the more expensive selections with one of the Evil Twin beers fetching 7 tokens and the Deschutes Conflux fetching 6 tokens. Doing the math on the bottles it seemed to me that the draft beers were a better value.
One odd element was the cask rotation. You would find the beer you wanted, follow the map, only to learn that it was all gone or had not been tapped. Okay, so the guide warned about this possibility BUT when you inquired when they may be tapping the keg the servers did not know!?! Kind of like winning the beer lottery if you show up at the right time and place.
What did I try? Not as much as I would have liked as a mix of hot sun and high ABV meant I had to be a picky drinker. I did manage to sample a couple of Mad Viking Beers, the Belgian Strong and the Vintage Bourbon Stout, a couple from Double Mountain Brewery, the Peche Mode, Ferocious Five and just a wee taste of the Rainier Kriek, the New Belgium Brewery/Lost Abbey collaboration, Mo Betta Bretta Sour Ale, Anderson Valley Brewery’s Brother David’s Triple, Lost Abbey’s Serpent Stout, Two Beers Brewery Ascension Triple IPA, Scotch de Silly Belgian Scottish Brown, Evil Twin Freudian Slip Barleywine, Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge Sour Ale, Oakshire Brewery Blackberry Impy Stout Gin Barrel Imperial Stout, Tenth & Blake Big Eddy Wee Heavy Scotch Ale, Pike Brewery Pike Saison Houblon, and finally, an Icelandic beer Olvisholt Lava Smoked Imperial Stout.
As always I like to toss out the caveat that it is really hard to give a review based on a small pour at a beer fest but I did enjoy the Mad Viking beers and the Double Mountain beers quite a bit. The Cuvee des Jacobins Sour was also an awesome choice on a hot day.
All in all a fun event with lots of unique beers! Thanks Seattle.