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Beer: SAVOR lives up to its name

The sold-out SAVOR event at the National Building Museum. (2010 Eddie Arrossi Photography)

Great beer nowadays comes from just about anywhere.

That was the lesson to be learned from the third annual SAVOR craft beer and food festival, which the Brewers Association staged Saturday evening at the National Building Museum.

Take Cockeyed Cooper, made by Uinta Brewing Co. in Salt Lake City, Utah. Measuring a bracing 11 percent alcohol by volume, the beer was aged in bourbon barrels to add notes of whiskey and tannin to the immense caramel malt body. This was not a beer you’d expect from a state where two-thirds of the population abstain from alcohol and where beers over four percent alcohol by volume have to be sold through state stores.

Steve Kuftinec, the brewery’s vice president of sales, further surprised me by mentioning that his beers stealthily crept into the Washington area about a year ago, courtesy of DOPS Distributing in Fort Washington, Md. Live and learn.

Or consider Saint Somewhere Brewing Co., a Belgian-inspired microbrewery (emphasis on “micro”) in Tarpon Springs, Fla. In Florida, beer culture was long held back by the sultry climate (best suited for chugging light beer) and a law (no longer in effect) that prohibited any size of bottle except for the 8- 12-, 16- and 32-ounces sizes favored by large national brewers. Saint Somewhere is evidence that the Sunshine State is sprinting to catch up.

Owner Bob Sylvester and his wife, Ann, were pouring two versions of a Belgian-style saison: the fruitier, richer Pays du Soleil, flavored with hibiscus and saw palmetto berries, and the tart and spicy Saison Athene, brewed with chamomile, rosemary and black pepper.

According to Ann, Saint Somewhere produced a scant 200 barrels of beer last year, which was apportioned among 35 states. “We’re the smallest brewery with the largest distribution,” she said with a laugh.

We SAVOR attendees might have drunk a significant fraction of their 2010 output.

The tendency, once you’re inside the 36,000 square-foot hall crammed full of beer and food and with only 3 1/2 hours for sampling, is to make a beeline for the rock stars of the brewing world.

Indeed, within minutes after the doors were flung open, Sam Calagione of GaithersburgDelaware's own Dogfish Head Craft Brewery had attracted a camera crew and a queue twelve-men deep waiting to try his latest beer. Bitches Brew takes its name and inspiration (not to mention its label art) from the 1970 Miles Davis album, which Calagione had on the stereo back in 1993 while writing the business plan for Dogfish Head. The beer, rich, chocolatey and quite strong, is “threaded” or blended, consisting of three parts imperial stout to one part honey beer. It’s seasoned with gesho, a woody root that brewers of the Ethiopian honey wine called “tej” use in place of hops.

With 70 breweries pouring 140 beers and samples limited to a few ounces, relatively few stations ran dry. But the Bitches Brew was depleted well before SAVOR ended, rewarding those who got their early.

What about the food?

Food was provided by Federal City Caterers. (2010 Eddie Arrossi Photography)

The menu, provided by Federal City Caterers, consisted of about 20 varieties of finger foods, along with an oyster bar, an artisan cheese table and a wide selection of chocolate truffles, including bonbons flavored with wasabi ginger, cayenne pepper and Old Bay seasoning.

Food was plentiful throughout the event, although some items (like the paella) were a little hard to find. The ubiquitous buffalo chili and spicy jerk chicken seemed to be the default hour d’oeuvres for hoppier beers, while portobello mini-burgers paired well with darker, roastier brews. Arguably the best match was the Thai green curry chicken with Brooklyn Brewery’s Sorachi Ace, a saison-style ale brewed with an unusual Japanese hop variety that tastes just like lemon zest.

A downside was the eating utensils: flimsy bamboo “sporks” that resembled tongue depressors and were poorly distributed, forcing some attendees to scoop up jasmine rice and mac and cheese with their fingers. The sporks were billed as biodegradable and compostable and certainly furthered the Brewers Association’s goal of a carbon-neutral event, but I thought they would have been more at home at a KFC, not an upscale showcase for beer and food.

SAVOR drew beer lovers from far and wide, not just for the general tastings but to the educational "salons."

"It's a pretty unique experience," said Jesse Rodriguez, who flew in from San Francisco to attend. At a beer-and-cheese pairing on the building’s second floor, Rodriguez won a bottle of Great Divide IPA for correctly answering the question, “What’s the difference between an oak-aged beer and a barrel-aged beer?” (Answer: an oak-aged beer doesn’t necessarily spend time in a wooden vessel; it might mellow out in a standard steel aging tank atop a layer of wood chips.)

I cautioned Rodriguez that he might need a special pass to take his beer home; the security force was under strict orders to prevent any booze from leaving the premises.

But they didn’t have a cheese detector, and a wheel of Maytag Blue was rumored to have exited the building in the purse of one ambitious souvenir hunter.

-- Greg Kitsock

By The Food Section  |  June 7, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Beer  | Tags: Greg Kitsock, beer  
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Nice coverage. it was a great night. However, is calling Dogfish Head "of Gaithersburg" a bit disingenuous ?

Posted by: JTSmithMD | June 9, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

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