04 Nov A Saturday Where Our Beer Geek Could Shine Through
This past Saturday was about letting our inner beer geeks loose. We certainly talked to a lot of beer people, got some good information, and will use that information in future articles, but mostly this weekend was about enjoying some beers that would normally not be available to us. By drinking them, we opened our minds, thought about how Indiana fits in to this group of breweries, and basically just immersed ourselves in (mostly) great beer.
So, am I proud that Walter and I are beer geeks? Almost always. A geek, according to dictionaries, is someone who has a deep and abiding enthusiasm for a subject, usually referring to some technical subject, but it doesn’t have to be. A craft beer geek, then, is a person who loves craft and spreads their love around, to drinkers, to brewers, to the general public. It encompasses all parts of beer – the making, science, tasting, business, and community of it.
Beer geeks. You might be a beer geek too. Do you map out beer stops when you travel? Have you tried homebrewing, even something as mild as watching or helping a friend with their beer? Do you think about beers and not the names of particular beers? Do you readily drink beer that you might not like because you may learn something from it? Do you still think beer is fun and want other people to keep it fun? Do you talk to people about craft beer – when they ask?
If you answered yes to most of these, you’re probably a beer geek. You’re an advocate for the industry and the people in it, and whether or not you talk about it a lot, you could. Some people look down on beer geeks, but I think it may be they are confusing geekdom with snobbishness. If you think that liking craft beer and spending time learning about it, celebrating it, and socializing around it, is a waste and people should be reading more Proust, then you could genuinely be said not to like beer geeks. But on the other hand, if you just dislike people who proselytize about beer, looking to tell you why your wrong about something or demanding that you kowtow to their knowledge, then it could be that you just don’t like beer snobs.
Beer snobs. Don’t know if you’re a beer snob? Well, do you think your opinions on the flavors of a beer are objective and that your opinion beyond the technical aspects is infallible? Do you make fun of other peoples’ choice of beer or how they pronounce a beer word? Do you not drink certain beers because you think they are inferior, whether you’ve tried them or not? Or do you tell people waaaaaay more about beer than they want to know – just so they know that you know? If you can say yes to several of these most of the time, then you might need to calm down a bit.
Sam Caglione of Dogfish Head once said (paraphrased), The knowledge, enthusiasm, and skill that two people have about beer might be the same, but a beer geek loves beer because he or she loves beer, and they want to learn more always, try new beers, and share that with the people they love – a beer snob tries to know as much as they can about beer as a Power Point and to lord it over people, or to stick out as an expert in a field of neophytes.”
Knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, craft beer is neither good nor bad, it’s how you use it. Use it to support beer and create new drinkers – you’re a beer geek. If you constantly use it to oppress others’ thoughts or opinions and raise yourself up by putting others down, then you’re a snob. I use the qualifiers (constantly, often, usually, almost) because even a beer geek can get carried away sometimes, and a beer snob sometimes is correct about a particular issue. My advice is to maximize your time as a geek and minimize those instances where you may overstep the bounds of geekdom. And most importantly, know when you’ve overstepped and apologize.
I do have one personal exception to the above – disliking AB-InBev beers does not make you a craft beer snob. If you can explain why you don’t like them and what it has to do with a love of independent craft brewers, then you’re fine. If you, on the other hand, only care about is the “quality of the beer,” don’t care where the profits go and look down on people who do, then you could be a snob. A geek is picky about what he/she drinks, a snob is picky about what you drink. If you explain your rationale when asked why you do or don’t drink a certain beer, that’s fine. When you give your opinion when not asked, then you’ve crossed a line. Drink to enjoy beer and people, not to critique beer and people.
Rhinegeist Rare Beer Fest. This past Saturday we unleashed the geek first at the 3rd annual Rhinegeist festival of beers from around the country. I wouldn’t say that they were all “rare” (whatever that is), but they were rare for us because they came from across the country, and included many breweries that don’t distribute in Indiana. We were able to talk to many other beer geeks and interact with many brewers and brewery personnel from establishments far afield. I can’t say we met even one beer snob, but I guess they were there. More on that below.
There were two sessions for the festival, so this was a long day for the brewery folks. That makes it even nicer that they were willing to do this for us and we tried to remember to tell everyone that we appreciated their participation. As a group, they were very enthusiastic and wanted to interact with the crowd, even when there was little chance that they were going to draw someone into their taproom or sell much more beer in distribution because of this festival.
They talked to the attendees at their level, whether it be to explain if a certain foeder beer was done solera style or not, what the hop profile added to a particular beer, or just to explain what a west coast IPA meant. I will admit that I was a bit disappointed with the amount of volunteer pouring that went on, so that the chance to learn more was diminished – BUT, I completely understand it. In some cases the brewery couldn’t send someone, in others, they were being spelled for a while so they could sample, use the restroom, get something to eat, etc. Like I said – with two sessions, it was going to be a long day.
On the attendee side, people didn’t crowd the entrance area, there were good T-shirts to be seen, but very little of the fan boy attitude. I personally didn’t notice any pretzel necklaces, but Walter said she saw one, perhaps two. It may border on snobbery to say so, but I think that might indicate that this crowd was more knowledgeable than most beer fest crowds. Unlike most Saturdays where we need to move on from one event to another and don’t see the end of any particular festival, we stayed until the session was over on Saturday and didn’t see anyone get out of hand.
There were VIP and GA tickets on Saturday, but the VIP label wasn’t for an extra hour of time, it was for access to four additional beers and to take home a stemmed wine glass and a bottle of the Rhinegeist 2019 Rare Beer Fest blend beer. We haven’t cracked one of them yet, so we will have to report on that later, but the majority of beers we had Saturday were very good. In fact, so many were so good (in our opinions) that it’s hard to pick out some to name in particular……but I will.
Double Mexican Radio, a bourbon barrel aged imperial milk stout from Bluejacket Brewing in Washington, DC was a standout, mostly because of the beer itself, but partly because Walter grew up near DC so she and they had a lot to talk about. Wibby Brewing from Longmont, CO brought one of the best IPLs we have ever had, and they were fun to talk to. The Modern Times Foeder Tones with coconut and cocoa was memorable. Urban Artifact’s Beipiaosauraus fruit sour was great, as was The Rusty Nail (2019) from Fremont Brewing in Seattle, even if they didn’t bring a couple of bottles to sell me in the parking lot on the sly.
You get the idea – these were some great beers. We did have a couple that were just good, and a couple that we didn’t like for reasons not related to personal preference, but why muddy the waters. There was even Indiana flair in Cincinnati, Black Acre brought Storm of Memories, a mixed culture version of the Stormblast Norwegian Farmhouse run through alfalfa, Sun King brought the BBA Storm Shadow, a beer that was just named one of the nineteen best beers of 2019 by Craft Beer & Brewing, and Upland Brewing had the Raspberry Sour and the BA Barrel Chested Barleywine.
It was a great afternoon of beer and people, some we knew and some we met right there. We thought there wasn’t a snob amongst them, but when I entered the beers into our UnTappd list (not snobbish for us, mostly for future reference for articles), I saw that a couple of people had created entries for new beers that were served for the first time Saturday. One person was brutal, she wrote the description of a beer saying it was a, “bitter, plastic, artificial stout.” So apparently, they didn’t like it and they are convinced that you shouldn’t either. I guess beer snobs 1) don’t know as much as they think, and 2) have no problem expressing their opinion as fact.
Brink Brewing. Our geekfest wasn’t over when we left Rhinegeist. There is a brewery called Brink which hadn’t yet visited or had beer from. The fact that they have now been named the Very Small Brewery of the Year for the second year in a row at the Great American Beer Fest meant that we definitely needed to drink their beer, and the fact that they don’t package any beer other than growlers and such meant that we needed to visit the taproom.
For the second time on Saturday we lucked into a parking spot right in front of our destination. It was a sign that this was going to be a good stop. We got a spot at the bar just before things started to get packed, and we had a good discussion with a couple of beerslingers and we were steered to a nice couple of food joints just a few feet away. Sitting there, sampling their beers with a plate of chicken nachos and good conversation, we could have remained happy and satisfied for hours – so we did.
They had a Baltic Porter, a NE IPA, and English Mild, a pastry stout, a sweet stout, a pilsner, a fruited sour, a brown….. all told they had 16 different styles on all at once. Some were solid, straight to style beers, while others were innovative style benders. Brink can walk both sides of the style street with equal aplumb. I especially enjoyed the international dark lager and Walter loved the lactose black IPA.
After we left, we discovered that they had given us an industry discount on our beers. That was completely unnecessary and I usually ask people not to do it so that when I write about them no one can say that I did it because they gave me a discount. But the weird thing was, we didn’t tell them about Indiana On Tap or intimate that we worked for a brewery or anywhere near the industry (I don’t feel that we work in craft beer, we work around craft beer). They were just nice and, I guess, enjoyed our conversation. Nice folks.
Next week we get to extend our visit to the beer geek kingdom when we travel north to Chicago for the Festival of Barrel Aged Beer (FOBAB). This is one of the top festivals in the country and has a competition woven through the sampling. We enjoyed seeing the Indiana breweries this weekend at Rhinegeist, and we’ll get to see no fewer than ten Indiana breweries compete and pour in Chicago. We’ll wait until next time to tell you about those breweries and the beers they brought.