There are times when I ask the important questions. Am I too picky when it comes to beer? Is my flavor palate narrowing or widening? Have I tried every style that exists? Do I really enjoy beer festivals?
This was the fifth annual Wrecking Bar Strong Beer Festival. Wrecking Bar is a brewpub in Midtown Atlanta, just barely trickling into the local stores, and this festival was mainly to highlight some of the best breweries in the region. The only caveat was that every beer available had to reach a minimum of eight percent alcohol.
The beers I bought last month, and boy did I buy them, were almost exclusively on this list. The barrel makers in North America aren’t going out of business any time soon. The upside to this is I get my bold stouts pretty much any way I want them. The downside is they are quite potent.
The festival was unusual in that it limited the crowd to 350 (felt pretty tight) and that there was no advance notice of the beers/breweries that would be there. If there was, I didn’t see it. The Facebook page just mentioned buying tickets and any links I saw were to the sold out ticket page. I like to plan my day and apparently get flustered when I have to make a battle plan on the fly.
There weren’t reps from these breweries, just volunteers wearing the Alabama red strong beer shirts who were pouring for themselves as much as to the attendees. The Wrecking Bar is an old house with a restaurant downstairs. There were 61 beers on tap and I came close to sampling half of them.
We did get cute little tasting glasses which will come in handy for future bottle shares. The beers got nice descriptions in the fold-out brochures that we received, with a little map. We started to the left at Red Brick which is one of the oldest breweries in town. I had the Vanilla Gorilla, a bourbon-barrel aged vanilla stout. Tasty and potent. We learned on the first tap that you say your number, not the name of the beer. In some cases the names were hard to pronounce and after a few double-digit beers it would have been tough to say “cat”.
We smartly took a time-out to go to the restaurant to order some burgers. We could pick up some samples during the meal, and we were not tempted to order beer from the menu because pesky sub-8 percent beers were not for our iron stomachs. There were beers upstairs, a set of rooms that probably had half of the total offerings. My friend Steve enjoyed Tropicalisma, a version of Creature Comforts’ Tropicalia, quite a bit. He’s more of a hop-head so he dug into the dozen or so strong IPAs.
It wasn’t just a stout and porter fest. There were wild and strong ales, double IPAs, and a few beers that defied category like one from Jester King that included mushrooms. I didn’t try that.
There were a few limited offerings and I had two of them. Cigar City’s Hunahpu reminded me of Mexican Cake, and yup, cinnamon is just a flavor I can no longer tolerate in beer. Three Taverns had a German Chocolate Cake version of their barrel-aged Helms Deep that apparently is one of the hottest bottles in town. It was cloyingly sweet, a bit much for me.
I’ll say the crowd was quite happy, and I was glad to see a more diverse crowd with more women and African-Americans attending including beer man about town Ale Sharpton.
Beer is a wonderous thing. At one-ish when we ordered burgers and tried a wine-barrel-aged beer from Burial in Asheville that tasted like a hot pepper punch to the face, I thought “we’re missing beer while we eat”. By 3, we were all but done. The problem with an extensive home stash, at a bottle share and at a beer festival is that it’s hard to decide when you’ve reached the “no mas” stage. Mine was when I was going back for seconds and even when it was a beer I liked, I knew that I had reached my limit. We walked to Fox Brothers BBQ, had some pork belly burnt ends (that and white bread helped soak things up) and waited for the ride home.
I missed out on one beer that I wanted to try, Wrecking Bar’s Siberius Maximus from 2015. Otherwise I did just fine, and discovered a few beers that I was excited to try were poured out into the large buckets of discards that were in front of each beer vendor.