Of the many sumptuous food and drink events to descend upon DC, Saturday night’s SAVOR Craft Beer & Food Experience was a welcome addition.
In its third year, SAVOR is hosted by the Brewer’s Association and held at the gorgeous National Building Museum. The Brewer’s Association invites around 70 breweries to attend, where they can introduce causal drinkers to their lineup while also showcasing new and upcoming brews to adorning fans. Well-known East Coast staple, Dogfish Head, was around to do just that, where Sam Calagione and crew introduced Bitches Brew, a Miles Davis inspired ale. Their table had a steady line throughout the evening and ran out of their supply on hand nearly two hours before the event finished. Another brewery who saw similar popularity was The Bruery, from Orange County, Ca., who will only be celebrating their second year anniversary this summer, but has already garnered significant praise for their spectacular offerings. Their founder, Patrick Rue, was in attendance to offer 2 oz pours of Rugbrød and Coton to a steady line of eager attendees. Rue sought out a hobby during law school and chose homebrewing, where in his first year, brewed about 150 batches. Not long after, he created The Bruery which has become a bit of a runaway hit in brewing circles.
The event drew as classy a crowd as DC can, with some attendees in full pinstripe suits and long dresses, but the mood was casual, lively, and jovial, which seems to be an apt representation of the culture of craft brewers. As craft beer only makes up about 4% of the American beer scene by volume (8% by sales), the industry is small and the thus the atmosphere among the brewers is fairly intimate. Everyone knows, appreciates and inspires everyone else. For a city so jaded by politics, scandals, and indecision, an event with this attitude was quite welcome.
It wasn’t until Sunday afternoon that I was able to fully recollect the various beers I sampled. With around 150 available to try in the provided 2 oz. snifters, it’s easy to be overwhelmed, but in the best way possible. My tasting count for the evening topped out at 23, each with a small food pairing chosen by hand by the brewery. I didn’t have a single beer I didn’t like, but there were several notable ones:
Brooklyn’s Sorachi Ace, which the brewery is bottling for the first time this summer, is absolutely worth trying. Sorachi Ace is a hop varietal that originated in Japan with Sapporo but is now being used more widely in the United States. It produces a strong taste of lemon and citrusy hops, and here is followed with a nice, malty finish. A sip of this in conjunction with the spicy, sweet, and bitter Wasabi Ginger Chocolate truffle made for a great start to the evening.
Deschutes’ Abyss Imperial Stout was also wonderful, with a rich, viscous consistency. The head was thick and caramel in appearance and it tasted of chocolate, leather, and strong coffee. At 11%, bourbon flavors from the barrels in which it was brewed come through a bit as well. The salted chocolate caramels paired with it clearly worked, but were almost too easy of a pick.
New Holland’s Mole Ocho-Ale with Mexican spices was one of the more off-the-wall flavors of the evening and that’s a good thing. New this year to their High Gravity Series, which has also seen staples like the oak-aged Dragon’s Milk, this ale may turn off some with its unconventional flavors but I personally found it enjoyable. Notes of chocolate, paprika, vanilla and cinnamon come through at first, almost like a Mexican hot chocolate, but it then finishes with a peppery kick. The pairing of a mini portabello sandwich with red peppers and garlicky aioli pulled out the spices and kick of the beer decently, too.
And finally, the Bruery. Unsurprisingly, <oton and Rugbrød<were excellent. Coton, at 14% ABV, packs a punch of alcohol accented with notes of fig, raisins, caramel and toffee and shouldn’t be missed. Rugbrød is also delicious, but lighter on the palate with strong rye flavors and hints of banana and caramel. Both of these beers have been seen around the DC area often recently so if you have the chance, I wouldn’t hesitate trying them.
I also attended two of the private Salons on the second floor balcony, which were divided into educational and private tasting sessions. The first was hosted by Brian Dunn, of Great Divide and Brett Joyce, of Rogue Ales who walked attendees through some beer and cheese pairings. In the haze of the evening, I didn’t catch the proper names of the cheeses, but there were both mild, smooth, and sweet whites alongside bitter, aged blues to accompany Rogue’s John John Juniper Pale Ale and Hazelnut Brown and Great Divide’s Double Hercules IPA, and Oak Aged Yeti. The pairings were well-chosen, and it appeared as though the others in attendance felt similarly.
The second of the two Salons was hosted by Doug Odell, of Odell Brewing Company, and Patrick Rue, of The Bruery. Here, they served rare, barrel aged beers, which included Odell’s Saboteur Brett Barrel Brown Ale and Woodcut No. 3, the previous incarnation of the current No. 4 which I’d sampled earlier in the evening on the main floor. The Saboteur, which was paired with a Mouco Colorouge cheese from one of Odell’s favorite, local Fort Collins creameries, gave way to flavors of dried figs, raisins and apricots. Woodcut No. 3 also took on the taste of dark fruits and strong oak flavors and tasted quite wonderful. There were audible “oohs” in the room after the first sips. The Oude Tart from The Bruery had a tart, sour cherry taste as to be expected from a Flemish Red, but also took on characteristics of oak and Cabernet sauvignon in whose barrels it was aged. I have a personal love for Oude and other sour beers, so this was naturally a pleaser. Finally, Patrick offered everyone a pour of the infamous Black Tuesday, an Imperial Stout inspired by Three Floyd’s Dark Lord, and the rarity of this beer was not lost on the participants. One attendee asked Patrick what lengths he’d seen or heard of people going through to acquire it, to which he didn’t have any particular anecdotes, but did note that he sees it routinely go for $300 a bottle on eBay, which boggles him. He said he couldn’t imagine charging anyone more than $30 a bottle while still being fair, which is what the stout goes for at the brewery.
SAVOR can be a pricey affair, with the tickets run for $95 a pop (and $30 for each Salon), But, getting the chance to talk with the brewers who so clearly care for their craft, and experiencing the fruit of their labor first hand, in a gorgeous venue like the National Building Museum, I’ll take little issue with picking up a ticket again next year.
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