Image credit: North Coast Brewing Company, Brewvolution, Prairie Artisan Ales,
Franconia Brewing Company, Texian Brewing Company, Oskar Blues Brewing
If there's one thing to be said about the Big Texas Beer Fest, it's that it brings all manner of beer drinker together. While there are an ample number of rare and limited releases to quench the thirst of the craft beer connoisseur, there are also products for those who still are still looking to take that first step towards better beer. Over 400 selections in all were available at this past weekend's third annual event, from the highly sought after stylings of Jester King down to the "crafty" creations of Shock Top.
There were no "best" beers, there never are, just the ones you enjoyed the most. As per usual, my list of beers that fall into that category follows. Remember that I tend to seek out beers I've never tried, which is why you won't see notes on beers like Firestone Walker Sucaba, or Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout. Those beers are well-known to many, and since craft beer is all about exploration, I prefer to put the spotlight on products that might be new or unfamiliar.
Seeing as how the Jester King line was a little longer than I was willing to endure, I sought my sour beers elsewhere. My destinations, as it turned out, were three breweries based in and around Houston. No Label produced a nice effort called Sour Batch 1: The Cherry Sour, while Saint Arnold unearthed a few bottles of Bishop's Barrel #2. My attention, though, was centered on a battle of the Berliners. Saint Arnold brought along Boiler Room, which presented as more of a classic Berliner Weisse compared to Texian's Charlie Foxtrot, which was an "imperialized" take on the style. Of the two, I would probably lean towards the latter. It's understood that an extreme effervescence comes with the territory in beers of this type, but I found the gentler carbonation of the Texian brew to be preferable. It was even better with a shot of of Torani Raspberry Syrup.
Devout to the stout
What do you get when you take the inspiration behind Bomb! from Prairie Artisan Ales and mix it with that of Evil Twin's Even More Jesus? A collaborative brew called Bible Belt. Given the similar ingredients, this imperial stout aged on coffee, cacao nibs, vanilla beans and chili peppers will draw inevitable comparisons to its Prairie predecessor. Both are great beers, but Bomb! is sweeter with a little more heat on the back end, whereas Bible Belt ratchets up the coffee component and has a darker overall chocolate character. In other words, they are the same but different. So, go ahead...start calling one beer the evil twin of the other.
What's old is new again
While it's not new per se, you may be wondering how Franconia's McKinney Champagne made the list of noteworthy brews. It may have originally debuted last August, but remaining kegs are drinking like a totally different beer. Upon initial release, the beer displayed more of the underlying wheat grain to go along with the wine-like qualities imparted by the yeast. Try it today, though, and the wheat fades into the background while giving way to more robust fruit flavors, as well as a tartness that wasn't as evident before. The verdict? Add this one to the list of beers that get better with age.
A barrel of this and a barrel of that
I'm always a little leery when a brewery starts changing the source of their spent casks in popular bourbon-barrel brews, but Oskar Blues has yet to disappoint when it comes to its treatments of Ten Fidy. In recent memory, they've rolled out versions aged on bourbon barrels obtained from the Breckenridge Distillery, Four Roses and now Spring 44. Not surprisingly, each spirit has brought different things to the table, and while the Spring 44 version might have been a bit more subtle than the others listed, it was still a tasty addition to an already top-of-the-line brew.
According to North Coast's website, the 2011 Cellar Reserve edition of their Old Stock Ale has been around since November of last year. After trying it, and deciding that it was the beer I enjoyed the most at this year's fest, I'm kicking myself for not loading up on it sooner. Aged in brandy barrels, this beer had layers of depth I couldn't even begin to unravel after a single two-ounce sample. Superficially I noted caramel malt, prominent barrel influence, dark fruit and warming alcohol, but this is a beer to be sipped and savored, and I would need a full pour to give it a proper review.