Two beer festivals in two weeks. I've been spoiled. This was my first trip to the World Beer Festival in Durham, and I must say I was quite impressed. It was another hot day, but the clouds, the tents, and the beer made for a wonderful afternoon. The WBF is a bit different than our hometown Brewgrass Festival, with a more national and international flair. Breweries from Oregon to Sri Lanka were represented, but there was also a large contingent of North Carolina brews as well. Another difference from Brewgrass is that the WBF is seperated into two four hour sessions. I do like the extra time allotted at Brewgrass, but four hours was still plenty of time to soak in most of the beer offerings. I'm not sure, but I think there was music there as well.
As for the highlights, first and foremost was the Cask and Barrel Tent run by Pop The Cap. There was an additional one dollar charge per sample, but the money raised will go further to help raise the beer culture in North Carolina. It was great getting to try the Wee Heavier on cask, but what had me most excited was getting to have some 2004 Ommegang Three Philosphers. The age really deepened the flavors on an already tasty beer. The other great thing about the Cask Tent was that it was air conditioned, which provided a nice respite from the summer like weather outside. At the end of the evening, our very own Drew Barton of French Broad was pouring samples of the Wee Heavier for the masses (picture by Sean Wilson of Pop the Cap, and you can see the rest of his photos here, where you can find yours truly in one of the pictures).
Two breweries from Michigan really stood out at the festival. Kuhnhenn Brewing Company, located in a suburb of Detroit, really went out of there way to bring some rare treats down south. Their Creme Brulee Java Stout was divine. You could really taste the carmelized sugar and that paired well with the chocolate and coffee flavors and it all added up to a unique and wonderful stout. Another unusual beer that was being served on the down low was the Tenacious Cassis, a black currant dessert beer that was sweet and fruity, with an unbelievable aroma. At fifteen percent it was a sipper, but I could see myself enjoying a good amount of it with its excellent drinkability. They also featured the Simcoe Silly, a belgian ale hopped with American Simcoe, and a Double Rice IPA, with the rice lending an interesting crispness, putting a twist on the Double IPA style. I would return to next year's festival based on this brewery alone. Alas, they only distribute locally, and it will be years before we might see them make their way to North Carolina.
The other brewery from Michigan that I really liked was Founders Brewing Company. They offer a solid lineup of beers, ranging from their Centennial IPA, a nicely balanced beer with plenty of citrusy hops, to their Red's Rye Ale, a moderately hopped amber with a spciy finish complements of the rye. The beer that I salivated for was the Kentucky Breakfast Stout, a hearty Imperial Stout that has been aged in Bourbon barrels. The bourbon finish really takes this beer to another level. The good news is that Founders is looking to expand to North Carolina sometime early next year. The bad news is that it will be awhile longer before we see any special releases like the Kentucky Breakfast. So do your part and drink some of their beers when they come out, and hopefully we will get a chance to see some of their more interesting seasonals.
I hesitate to post this because I don't want to let the secret out, but the best place to stay if you want to go to the WBF in Durham next year is the Duke Tower and Condominiums. Each room is a suite, with a kitchen, living room, and a seperate bedroom (bring extra pans if you plan on cooking though). They also have a nice pool to relax at, and it is a ten minute walk to the festival. I definitely plan on staying there again next year (see picture on the right).