Monday, October 19, 2009

Hopfest Brings Us All Closer Together

I had planned on writing about Hopfest over the weekend, but I just now was able to work my way through the crowd there and get home.

The promise of almost twenty breweries serving up their latest and greatest beers drew a diverse crowd to the second annual Albuquerque Hopfest. When we rolled up before six, there were already two lines reaching the end of the block, one line for the ticket holders and the other for the have-nots who would be able to enter after the rest of us.

Upon entering, we were given 4 oz. tasting glasses and a roll of 24 drink tickets, which came as a surprise to me, as I hadn't heard of any limit that went along with the up to $35 admission fee. I was a little put off at first, but then I did the math (ok, I got Texas Instruments to do the math) and figured: 24 samples at 4 oz. per sample = 96 oz. of beer. That equals 8 12 oz. bottles of beer per person, which at $35 about equals what you are going to pay per beer at a bar, plus the money goes to a great cause. And after looking around at the crowd, I was glad there was a limit to the amount of drinks per person.

See, there are plenty of beer fests that happen in Albuquerque, but they are always supported by the same faces, people who are more into the craft beer scene and are there just as much to taste the great beer as they are to get drunk from them. Doesn't make them better people, but they are a familiar bunch. At Hopfest, there were many, many, patrons who just wanted to get messed up, which is fine with me. The problem that seems to come along with that is some seriously bad attitudes that often lead to fights, so I was wary, especially as the crowd grew. I am happy to report that, even though people were shoulder to shoulder as the night grew older, there were no incidents to speak of. For those who frequent anywhere in Albuquerque where there is the powder keg combo of many people and much alcohol, you know this is no small feat. Further proof that good beer equates to good moods.

Well, there was ONE thing that ticked me off- at the Deschutes table, there were three girls at the front of the line who were doing shots of beer and getting refills, not making way for others to sample. A few of us were waiting patiently for them to get their fill. Actually, those of you who know me know I have very little patience for anything, especially when it comes to waiting for beer. So I went up to them and said, "OK ladies, that's enough. There are other people in line." Apparently, I think that because I wear an shirt, people will obey my orders. All I got was a shrill, "We're doing the SPECIAL!" from one of the girls. I guess the "special" was doing shots of each of the Deschutes offerings and yelling "Woooo!" after each one. They did eventually slink off, probably late for a promotion at Imbibe. If you go to a beer fest, get your sample, step away, and enjoy. You can always get back in line.

But what about the beers, you ask? Too many to count, and not enough time to try them all! I started off with Sierra Nevada's Octoberfest, a beer that only is available in kegs, and only a few of those make it to Albuquerque. I wish they would bottle the Octoberfest, as it is probably the best of the American versions on the beer market. Sierra, the main brewery sponsor of the event, also brought their Wet Hop Harvest Ale, Pale Ale, and Anniversary IPA. Big Sky introduced this year's Slow Elk Oatmeal Stout, which just hit the local stores.Rogue was pouring their Yellow Snow IPA, and I meant to visit their table at some point in the night, but forgot!

I may have been too busy at the Steamworks booth, where I tried one of my favorites of the night: Nitro Conductor Imperial IPA, which, as the name suggests, uses nitrous instead of CO2 (think Guinness) to carbonate the beer, and a creamy Double IPA is the result. Another thing in Steamworks favor is that an actual founder/owner of the company was on hand to talk up his beers. Oskar Blues was a popular destination, and they certainly get the award for most visible booth! It didn't hurt that they were pouring Gordon Imperial Red, either. Utah's Uinta Brewing had a few of their bottled beers on hand, with the Belgian style Monkshine the standout beer, in my always humble opinion.

Marble was a popular choice throughout the night, possibly because they brought their fantastic new beer, Imperial Red. This 8.5% beer had me throwing Marble my roll of tickets like they were beads at Mardi Gras, only with a more lasting reward in return. Chama was stationed right next door, making for one-stop shopping between the two local representatives. Though both Chama and Marble were popular throughout the fest, I'd say the longest lines all night belonged to Left Hand, surprisingly enough. If asked before the fest began, I would have guessed that New Belgium would have that distinction. I would have put money on it. I think maybe the fact that they didn't have "Fat Tire" pasted on their tent kept people away. Some folks seem to think that the company itself is called Fat Tire.

The success of the second Hopfest should certainly ensure a third next year. It would also have earned a larger venue, perhaps including the entire parking lot next to JC's NYPD pizza. But even though this year's event was crowded, everyone I talked to said they had a great time. The lines to get beer were never too long, and most people were cordial and just excited to try new beers. And that is what makes a beer fest like this so important to me. The more people we turn on to craft beer, the more voices we have calling to get great craft beer in Albuquerque. Thanks to all the Hopfest organizers, volunteers, and participants for making it an enjoyable night!

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