I’m a little late today with The Friday Fermentable. I wanted to be able to report back from a local beer tasting event called Black Friday Beer Fest. In deference to today’s major shopping day in the US (named Black Friday to denote that many businesses come out of the “red” due to the brisk sales the day after Thanksgiving), NC’s Pop The Cap organization conceived a tasting of dark beers (local, national, and even Polish) to welcome in the holiday season and provide an alternative to hunting for parking spaces at the local mall (Tagline above: “We’d Rather Drink Beer.”).
Attendees were asked to either bring a new, unwrapped toy or pay $5 on top of the entry fee to be given to our local Toys for Tots program run by the United States Marines. It was great to see dozens of toys donated and over $350 in the bin for the program.
Unlike our huge annual beer festival with a few thousand attendees, this smaller inaugural event was more enjoyable – not just for the focus on a few beer styles, but also for the opportunity to meet local legends in the brewing community. Sean Wilson, leader of Pop The Cap, was checking people in and I had a chance to thank him for all of his hard work in getting a bill passed in 2005 allow beer with greater than 6% ABV (alcohol by volume, or v/v for you chemists) to be sold in North Carolina. International readers may be shocked to learn that we were unable to purchase barley wines, doppelbocks, or Trappist ales until 13 August 2005 when HB 1392 was signed into law.
(For the record, West Virginia, Mississippi, and Alabama are the remaining US states that restrict sales of beer by ethanol content despite permitting the sales of wine and hard liquor; Alabamians For Specialty Beer are currently lobbying to change their state laws with the Free the Hops campaign. Again, it will be amazing to international readers that 90% of the world’s beers cannot be sold in Alabama.).
I also had the pleasure of meeting Julie Johnson Bradford, editor of All About Beer magazine and another major player in the Pop The Cap campaign. In fact, Julie was volunteering to pour beer at the tasting. I was kicking myself that I neglected to bring my camera so I could have my picture taken with her. Together with her husband, Daniel, they have firmly established All About Beer as the premier US magazine of the beer enthusiast. (In fact, a subscription to All About Beer would make a great gift for the beer lover in your family or circle of friends.). Julie is also a recovering evolutionary biologist – no surprise as I’ve found a great many folks in the craft beer industry to have some previous connection with the sciences.
Speaking of tasting, Julie wrote a very insightful newspaper column earlier this month on the differential attributes of beer for tasting vs. beer for drinking, drawing upon Malcolm Gladwell’s discussion in “Blink” about Coke vs. Pepsi and the New Coke debacle. Her closing paragraph sums up the discussion:
It also seems possible that a beer tasting, like a wine tasting or any other academic exercise that takes food and drink away from their social context, may give us distorted information. Am I giving up on tastings? No, not at all. But I’m going to give myself a second challenge: When I sample a beer, I’m also going to ask myself whether this is a beverage I’d enjoy having by the pint with a couple of friends. A first impression may not tell the whole story.
As for the beers, I also enjoyed talking with Rick Tufts, brewmaster from Triangle Brewing Company and learning about their Belgian-style Abbey Dubbel, tasting it both from a conventional keg and as a traditional cask-conditioned ale. (Julie, of course, has an article about Rick and his brewing partner, Andy Miller.).This lovely amber-colored ale is both floral and malty, with a complexity of flavors added by aging in bourbon casks. While not yet available nationally, I would look for distribution of Triangle beers to expand as their reputation grows.
Dark beers were offered from all around the US as well as Okocim Porter from Poland. As I wrote yesterday, I am terrifically fond of Samuel Smith Imperial Porter, so these beers had a very high bar to meet. In general, I am somewhat disappointed with American attempts at porters and stouts primarily because they attempt to overwhelm with dark grain flavors or blow you away with hops, the latter of which is untrue to the styles.
The two beers that best stood out to me as being most balanced between roasted grains and hop bitterness were the Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout and the Duck-Rabbit Baltic Porter. Bell’s is distributed around the northern midwestern US and eastern coast. Duck-Rabbit of Farmville, NC, specializes in dark beers and does a spectacular job on almost every style they choose. Unfortunately, Duck-Rabbit is only sold in NC and Tennessee and is planned for South Carolina…for now.
I wish that I had more recommendations for readers outside of these areas but I encourage you to investigate dark beers in your locale. As the weather cools down, there are few beverages more satisfying than a stout or porter (or a nice glass of port, of course). Feel free to note your preferences in the comments.