That was the delicious challenge attendees of “The Festival 2014” faced this past weekend in San Pedro, California, just outside of Los Angeles. Presented by beer importers The Shelton Brothers and the nonprofit Sharefest, in collaboration with Brouwerij West (with Craft Beer & Brewing as the media sponsor), it was the third annual festival but its first appearance on the West Coast, following the past two years in Worcester, Massachusetts, and Portland, Maine.
Among beer festivals, it’s unique, not just for the incredible selection of beer, but for its ambitious mission of flying in brewers from across the country and overseas. So there was Ron Jeffries (founder of Jolly Pumpkin in Dexter, Michigan) pouring his La Parcela pumpkin sour while Jean Van Roy (owner of Belgian sour beer legend Cantillon in Anderlecht, Belgium) shared pours of decade-old Cantillon lambics with small groups of festival attendees (pictured at top).
The biggest challenge for attendees was deciding which beer to try first. With breweries such as Drie Fonteinen (Beersel, Belgium), Crooked Stave (Denver, Colorado), and Sante Adairius (Capitola, California) lined up and pouring rare and exclusive beers, it may have been hard to choose, but it was also hard to go wrong.
“I made a list,” first-session attendee Karl Kalinkewicz from Malibu, California told me. “I tried to plan out my tickets, but it didn’t quite go to plan. Some beers ran out earlier than others and as soon as you walk in here it’s like, ‘oh candy, candy, candy everywhere.’”
The warehouse space, part of the artisan marketplace CRAFTED at the Port of Los Angeles, provided ample room to meander between aisles, stop and talk to brewers, and enjoy a taster while gazing at the palm trees through the windows.
In the warehouse across from the courtyard from the festival is the future brewery of Brouwerij West, a Belgian-style brewery with a small tasting room and small bottle shop set to open in April 2015, according to founder Brian Mercer.
The mixed crowd varied from serious beer geeks, who strategized their drinking plans days in advance, to Los Angeles locals who tagged along with friends and family. Both novices and geeks discovered new favorite breweries, beers, and even styles.
“I just found out that I like sour beer,” said first-time beer festival attendee Amber Plaster, while waiting in line for The Rare Barrel (Berkeley, California) and drinking a Mikkeller (Copenhagen, Denmark) Spontanbeetroot.
And the brewers seemed equally as giddy as the consumers.
“For me, it’s been amazing. These are brewers I’ve looked up to. I’ve read papers they’ve written, and I’ve drunk beers that they’ve brewed for years. Yesterday, to have them in and out of the brewery and stoked to see what we’re doing, that’s just surreal for me,” said Ian McCall, assistant brewer at Beachwood Brewing & BBQ in Long Beach.
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Beachwood Brewing acted as an unofficial host brewery for the weekend, holding a series of special events leading up to The Festival and welcoming brewers and attendees for pre- and post-festival beers. They also brewed two international collaborations, a hoppy Belgian pale ale featuring Willamette and Liberty hops with Belgium’s De la Senne and a smoked imperial stout with the Netherland’s De Molen. Both will be on tap at the brewpub in a few weeks.
Austin, Texas-based Jester King brewery took advantage of the trip to schedule a collaboration beer with The Bruery (Placentia, California), which they brewed the Monday after the festival (Jester King and The Bruery shared with us their plan for this collab, but we’ll leave the official announcement to them). The creative energy and cross-pollination that occurred at and around the festival was nearly as important as the festival beer served to attendees.
“I’m psyched on the camaraderie,” said McCall. “I think the friendships and relationships between brewers, and consumers as well, is just really, really cool.”
As with any festival, there were a few hiccups, but most were too distracted by the incredible selection of beer to grumble much. “To be here is to be a part of something—to be a part of craft brewing around the world,” said Patrick Gugg, co-owner of the beer bar Vices & Versa in Montreal, Quebec. “And it’s fun.”
Photo at top: Charles Eck of bottletrade.com