I was going to write a snarky article about Saratoga Beer Week, just concluded, after finding this post from the very first Beer Week in 2012. Then, the organizers were worried that no one would come to a beer event in the middle of winter. Tickets for the “Beer Summit” were maybe $30 and there was a Groupon to reduce that by half. Now, the tasting is $50 to sample the same brews I can get every day at my local beer store.
However, as Yogi Berra might say, not only did nobody go because it was too expensive, but it sold out. I wasn’t at the Summit, but I did attend a few events during the week and ended up in a markedly better mood. Highlights were Brew Salt Night at Olde Saratoga Brewery, where one could have a flight of six beers paired with beer-salted foods for $8, a “Sour Hour” at Henry Street Taproom, and the San Diego Takeover at that same establishment featuring the magnificent Duet IPA from Alpine and a pepper-laced Imperial Stout from Green Flash.
There are a few reasons a craft beer festival might not be on the same level as a comparable event focused on wines. Unlike vintners who are steeped in their terroir, brewers use commercially available ingredients and many are part-time hobbyists. Also, the folks who pour the samples at the tastings are often distributors, rather than the brewers themselves. And then there’s the pricing. How much is too much to pay for a workingman’s quaff?
I balked at $40 for “Wild Thing—A Celebration of Sours” but it turned out to be fair value. We drank five extremely unusual sours that would have been $6-8 at the bar and each was accompanied by a generous portion of an appropriately sour and stinky artisanal cheese as well as HST’s buttery sourdough bread. I do wish the event had stretched out a bit and there had been a break between flights; 5 sours in an hour is a lot. How about a trivia contest focused on wild yeasts? (I’m serious.)
A few restaurants in town featured beer dinners but did not tempt. They were devoted to a single brewery and, unless it’s a powerhouse like Green Flash or Alpine, I’m not interested in tasting your entire line because I don’t like lagers, porters or, god help me, pumpkin-spiced and other flavored beers. How about an IPA dinner, in which you pair each course with an appropriate ale of that category? A stout will be permitted for dessert.
My suggestion for the distributors, who have a vested interest in presenting their product to an audience of eager neophytes, is that you take more of a leadership role. Don’t just showcase your most popular lines. Throw us some curves from oddball brewers and challenge us to demand them at our local outlets.
And, let’s have more events like the Brew Salt Tasting that are inexpensive and just plain fun. The OSB bar staff, not some fancy caterer, made the paired snacks including moustache-shaped peanut butter sandwiches (to go with PBJ Stout and Chocolate Brew Salt) and they were great.
Okay, glad I got that off my chest. Can’t wait for next year.