I had an excellent time at SAVOR this past weekend – it blended everything I like about beer festivals into one exceptional evening. I haven’t gone to every beer event in America, but I have to say that SAVOR is far and away the best I’ve ever experienced.
The Beers: There were about 75 excellent breweries on hand, and each poured two beers, most of which were extremely hard to find goodies. On top of that, many of the breweries in attendance aren’t distributed in my neck of the woods – places like Bell’s, Cigar City, Three Floyds, and the Denver Beer Co., whose beers are only available in the greater Denver metro area (their graham Cracker Porter was a thing of beauty!). I love the fact that these out-of-state breweries come to me instead of me having to catch as catch can when I travel.
Like the Pints for Prostates Rare Beer Tasting that’s held in conjunction with GABF every year, SAVOR is an excellent opportunity to check off many exceptional beers from your “must try before I die” list in a single evening.
Who was pouring: The access to the brewers was pretty awesome, too. Each station was manned either by the folks who brewed the beers, or by other heavy hitters from that brewery. I chatted with Tim Faith from New Holland, interviewed Laura Bell from Bell’s Brewery and said hello to Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head. As someone who has a lot of questions about what’s going on in the beer world, I love it when I have the opportunity to connect with the people who know the inside skinny, even if it’s for a few seconds while they pour me a beer.
The Fancy Food: The food was front and center at SAVOR, as each beer was paired with a bite-sized gourmet morsel meant to take the flavor of the beer to new and interesting places. There was stuff like Crispy Shrimp Shumai with Lemongrass and Tamarind Sauce (paired with spiced brews like Left Hand Good Juju and Habanero Sculpin IPA), and Beef Shank and Mustard Terrine with House Pickles and Salted Chip, which was served with some hopped up IPA’s.
Truth be told, while the food was really good, for me SAVOR quickly turned into a “oh hey, yeah, food” event, rather than a beer and food pairing event. It’s sort of like when a guy watches the swimsuit portion of the Miss USA pageant – we aren’t admiring the bathing costumes, even though that’s what the event is supposed to be about (well that, and the incredibly articulate contestants). SAVOR was all about the beer for me – the food was just tasty belly fillings.
The Salons: I dragged my wife along with me, and her favorite part of the evening were the educational salons, which were held a few floors up away from the din of the main event. It was nice to have a little quiet time and learn something new in a session guided by noteworthy men and women who are shaping the future of craft beer.
We sat in on a barrel-aged beer session with Dan Kopman from Schlafly, and later a session that was all about stouts with Fred Bueltmann from New Holland and Chris Lennert from Left Hand Brewing Company. It was here we tasted the amazing things New Holland’s wood master Tim Faith has been doing over there, both with Smaug’s Breath – an incredible peppered up version of Dragons Milk Stout – and Night Tripper Reserve, which featured a blend of their 10.8 percent ABV stout aged in Bourbon, rum and whiskey barrels. Both beers were a revelation, especially when paired with some artisanal chocolates.
Anyway, it was a treat to spend some time up close and personal with the people who make the beers we love, taste something special, and learn something new.
The Crowd: The event was packed – perhaps not as packed as it’s been in Washington DC in years past – but there were many people in attendance, and yet it was a courteous crowd.
Missing was the frat boy element, looking to down large quantities of beer with their bros. The reason for this was probably the price of the ticket – at $170.00, it’s quite an expensive night. It might sound snobby of me, but it was nice to have a room full of respectful grown ups enjoying some fine beers without bro-dudes wearing pretzel necklaces and slapping the glasses out of one-another’s hands, trying to get the crowd to go “WHOAAAAAAA!” when they heard the glass break.
Don’t get me wrong – I love the insanity of some festivals, but it was nice to see beer put up on a pedestal for an evening and enjoyed by an appreciative and subdued crowd. While some of you might think that SAVOR is an example of the wine-ification of beer, don’t worry – when an event is packed full of brewers, it’ll never be snobby or uptight. Everyone was way too down to earth for that.
I’d say the only thing I didn’t like about SAVOR were the ticket prices (plus the added cost of the salons) and the fact that it’s returning to its regular home in Washington DC next year (hopefully the ticket price will deflate to its normal cost of $135.00 as well). That means a road trip and using some vacation days for me, because I fully intend to be there.
You should think about it as well – if you can go to only one beer event a year, I think SAVOR is the one. You get rare beers, face time with the brewers you love, tasty food, interesting salons, and the chance to spend some time with people who take craft beer as seriously as you do. If I were creating a beer event that blended everything I love in a festival, I don’t think I could do any better than SAVOR.