Impressions of Savor

6 Jun

The Beers I Tasted at SavorI have been trying to get tickets to Savor for years. I first learned about this DC beer event from the short lived but awesome Brewmasters show. In the premiere episode, Sam Calagione and Dogfish Head launched their namesake beer commemorating Miles Davis’ seminal album, “Bitches Brew”, at Savor.

I had no idea DC was host to such an awesome event. The very next year I tried to get tickets. I tried every year since without luck. This year, I got tickets to the show floor for Friday night and a salon on sour and wild beers featuring the breweries Yazoo and Upland.

The short version is it was everything I hoped it would be, an incredible well organized and orchestrated event highlighting the very best, large and small, from craft beer.

What struck me immediately was how well prepared the brewery staff were. Pretty much every table I visited, I asked for the story of the brewery and/or the beer. Everyone asked had a well thought out, often rehearsed, answer.

The guys from Societe in San Diego really impressed me. I couldn’t resist picking on Stone as the big fish in that local scene. The Societe folks were intensely gracious, one of the staff having worked for Stone before getting involved with Societe. He reinforced that even with some really big breweries in the space, with national and even international reputations, all of the San Diego breweries are still incredibly collaborative, supportive and friendly. They drink each other’s beer. Everyone benefits when all the brewers in the scene thrive. They really are only in competition with themselves, to make the best beers they can.

The story behind Ethereal was another great one. Two buddies decided to turn their love of brewing into a going concern rather than going to grad school. The explanation of the name was layered and awesome. They touched on the classical view of the world composed of five elements. They chose ether as the vital essence, the element of spirit. The name of one of their beers, Lambda, has a very literal meaning. They made a mistake, an error, in first brewing the beer. They embraced the result and kept making it. The other beer they had on offer, Anomaly, shared similar technical and commonplace connotations. It was one of many funky, wild and sour beers we tasted, representing a trend towards those styles throughout the event.

Me with Sam Calagione of Dogfish HeadI got to meet several high profile brewers, as well, including Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head, Steve Grossman of Sierra Nevada, and Jim Caruso of Flying Dog. With the brewers whose stories I know so well, I think I acquitted myself well. Even a few years ago, I think I might have embarrassed myself with the likes of Sam Calagione. Instead, I managed to express my heartfelt gratitude and admiration. To be honest, I may have gushed a bit at Jim Caruso. I am very proud of my adopted home state of Maryland. Flying Dog plays a huge role in that pride, as an early stalwart of our local craft beer scene.

The beers I tasted are too numerous to list. There were some clear trends, though. I already mentioned the prevalence of funky, sour and wild ales. There were a few IPAs but there seemed to be less emphasis on that particular American mainstay. The ones I tried were more sedate and complex or brought something entirely new to the party, like Bayou Teche‘s Loop 31. There were several old ales, one of my very favorite styles, the pinnacle being Kuhnhenn‘s Olde Village Stock Ale. My notes reveal a pretty good spread across the spectrum, including porters, stouts, Belgians, and a few fun outliers like a braggot and a caramel cream ale.

Next year, if I score tickets, I will attend an earlier salon. The salon I attended was at 9:30. I expected it would be maybe thirty minutes, tasting maybe two beers. It was twice that and hence a struggle after tasting my way through the show floor, first. Upland and Yazoo each shared a beer from their sour program then served up to collaboration beers. I have to admit to using the tasting bucket to empty my glass in order to sample all of them. I should also have used the buckets earlier in the evening to keep more focus on variety rather than volume.

I am eager to go again not in the least because the cap on tickets had a direct positive effect. While the floor was crowded, I never felt uncomfortable. It never took more than a minute or two to get through any lines to the tap and the brewer. There was plenty of space around the perimeter to take a pause without being in the way.

I am a little worse for wear this morning but only a little. I am not sure I wish I had tickets to go again tonight, I am not sure I will have fully bounced back by then. I only got through about half the show floor. Part of me would have liked to visit maybe a few more of the tables for breweries I’d never heard of. I don’t feel deprived, though. I was pleased to recognize so many breweries and to see a great representation from the small, two person breweries all the way up the range to the top five craft brewers. I really can’t wait to try to get in next year, now that I feel like I have the lay of the land.

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