Image credit: Cloud 9 Charities
If we're going by crowd numbers alone, the Best Little Brewfest in Texas may be in line for a name change. Put on by Cloud 9 Charities, co-founders Kim Cloud and Daynor Stinson estimate this past Saturday's event in Old Town Lewisville drew upwards of 4000 people (including volunteers), up from around 1200 in 2013.
As for breweries, by my count the total number in attendance and pouring beer was roughly the same as last year. Among those not sampling (per TABC regulations) were no fewer than four breweries in development, each hoping to be up and running within the next year. That list of names included Audacity Brew House, Four Bullets Brewery, Frisco City Grainworks and the Little Elm Brewing Company. Combine them with a roster of brewers which included over two dozen others from Texas, and you couldn't help but notice a distinct local/regional focus, which was just fine by me. It wasn't just breweries, either, as winemakers and distillers hailing from the Lone Star State were on hand sampling their wares as well.
Soon-to-be brewers definitely drew some attention, as did those recently licensed and serving beer for only the first or second time. Crowds formed around the Collective Brewing Project's tap-ready delivery van, as well as booths manned by Shannon Brewing and the Texas Ale Project. While Collective is already making deliveries in Fort Worth, Shannon Carter indicated his eponymous brewery is just weeks away from debuting, with the Texas Ale Project expected to follow in Dallas sometime late summer.
For me, as always, the focus was on the new and unfamiliar. So, as you might imagine, I was more a less a fixture at the booths of the three brewers mentioned above. Between them, they brought along a total of ten new tastes, and while I won't give you a beer-by-beer account of all of them, I will comment on those I found to be notable.
Shannon Irish Red: The one thing I've been most curious about regarding the brewery under construction in Keller is the fire-brewed process they were planning to install. If this beer is any indication of what it can do, I'm already a fan. Shannon's Irish Red is appropriately malty, but what's distinctive about it is the deep, lingering caramel flavor that lasts well into the finish. This kettle caramelization is just the sort of thing Carter said I should expect when he first described his approach to me earlier this year.
Collective Pale Galaxy: Up until Saturday, if you had offered me anything along the lines of "session IPA," I probably would suggest you just go water the plants with it. Why? Because, to me, most of them are so lacking in body, they taste like nothing more than a glass of hop water. Then again, if you want to lower the alcohol, you need less fermentable sugars...which means less malt...which means less balance, and so on. Well, if first impressions mean anything, Pale Galaxy might be an exception to the rule. This brew was bright and fresh, with notes of tropical fruit and citrus to go along with what for others has been unattainable for the style...that being an ample body.
Texas Ale Kaiser Wilhelm: It seems this has been the summer of the Berliner Weisse, with a number of Texas breweries trotting out the somewhat forgotten style over the past few months. Being the latest to throw their hat in the ring, Texas Ale offered up an "imperialized" version of the German specialty. While it did have some added heft, there was no other indication of the beer's strength. In fact, had brewmaster Jan Matysiak not pointed out the ABV, I might have never known. In any case, the beer's upfront notes of wheat grain were coupled with a more subtle than sharp sour character, which I found to be quite enjoyable. Matysiak and brewery co-founder Brent Thompson suggested this and other beers they served were one-offs created just for the festival. At least in this case, let's hope they reconsider.
Rounding out the event was the Professional Brewer's Competition which pitted 88 entries up against each other in a variety of BJCP-inspired categories. Among those, the Best in Show prize went to Grapevine Craft Brewery for Sir William's English Brown Ale. As for other winners, check the Best Little website or Facebook page for a complete list once it's posted.
Finally, seeing as how all of the proceeds of this event benefit the Alzheimer's association and teen suicide prevention, it's worth noting that if you weren't able to attend you can still contribute to the cause. Visit the Cloud 9 Charities website and hit the "Donate Now" tab at the top of the page to help make a difference.