It was 9 o’clock Saturday night, I had been drinking continuously since about 1:00 in the afternoon and it now seemed that I had drank myself completely sober. I decided to reminiscence about the last 36 hours and all the splendor that is real ale, so I began to write some things down before all was lost in a weekend of liquid insanity.
A couple of my friends from Buffalo, NY were in town visiting and I successfully persuaded them that, since beer needs to be celebrated from time to time, it was our duty as alcoholics to partake in the celebration. So we put a few extra miles on their rent-a-car and drove up to Carlsbad for the 6th Annual Real Ale Festival. As was custom, Mike (21iceman40) needed a ride because he’s too scared to drive anywhere in his 1992 “Billy Madison” style trans-am. We got up to the festival at about 5:30 Friday night after a hellish Southern California rush hour extravaganza. There was a steady crowd of beer lovers already there, most of whom had already made claims to
all the tables and chairs that we could see. As we stood in line to pay our $20 for 8 drink tickets and a complimentary glass, some of the organizers were telling a drunk old man that he could not smoke his cigar inside the gates and that he had to go outside. The old man exclaimed “but...I...uh…I...I don’t think that I can get up.” We were at the right place. We all laughed, pointed and then proceeded to the taps.
There were about 42 different cask beers to be tried. Although I knew that I would have plenty of time to try them all over the next two days, I didn’t hesitate to start downing beers left and right, as is my forte. A few beers caught my attention right away. Not surprisingly, these were the big ABV beers. The Avery Tenth Anniversary was there in its 10% glory; the Ballast Point Crystal Pier Double IPA, Pizza Port’s Red Square Imperial Stout, Bear Republic’s Racer X, and Boundary Bay Brewing Co’s “Skip’s Imperial IPA” were all over 8% abv. The other casks consisted of around 11 pale ales, 9 stouts, 10 or so IPA’s, a couple brown ales, and a few oddities. I started my beerventure with a sample of the Avery Tenth Anniversary ale. Maybe it wasn’t the greatest idea to dive right into the big beers, but I found the Avery 10 to be a bit over the top in stickiness, sweetness, and bitterness, but oh well.
True Simian: Space Monkey pre-brachiation
A few beers later, Rick (Brocklanders) showed up, as did Marc (Marc). It was now time for the Ratebeer crew to get the party started. We staked out a table at the back wall of the fest and took over the seats when the original occupants had gone to get some more beer. This would now be our home for the next 5 hours.
Around the fest, was Pete Zien from Alesmith. As we San Diegans know, Pete is the coolest and nicest brewer you could ever meet, as well as being one of the best brewers in San Diego. He didn’t hesitate for a second to help me spot out other brewers to harass.
Arne Johnson & James Kasta From Marin Brewing Company
I proceeded to find an abundance of Beer “Celebrities” among the crowd: Lee Chase, head brewer of Stone, and the Arrogant Bastard himself Greg Koch; Jim O’Brien, the original founder of San Diego’s best brew-pub O’Brien’s; Tom Nickel, the present co-owner of O’Brien’s, head brewer for Oggi’s, and co-organizer of the Real Ale Fest itself; Maribeth Raines-Casselman, Head Brewer of The Great Beer Company; Arne Johnson & James Kasta From Marin Brewing Company; Chris Grundy from Ballast Point; Mark Jilg from Craftsman; Alex Puchner, head of brewing operations for BJ’s; Woody from Rock 105.3’s “B.C. and Woody” show (not necessary a beer celebrity, but a celebrity nonetheless); Tomme Arthur, Head Brewer of Pizza Port Solana beach and Co-Organizer of the Real Ale fest; and Jeff Bagby, Pizza port brewer and also co-organizer of the real ale fest.
Mark Jilg offers his Craftsman
I also ran into a few other fellow RateBeerians: Akinm and Blake; as well as Richard. The Most memorable encounter was with an extreme beer enthusiast named Dr. Bill, who told me to meet him at the end of the bar for some treats. As I arrived at the end of the bar I noticed some impressive empty bottles, including the Fishtail Leviathan and another Fishtail beer, a 1998 Mead the Gueuze, an aged bottle of Brown Shugga and an aged bottle of Still Nacht, if I remember correctly (which is doubtful). He offered me tastes of a 1996 Samiclaus as well as a trippel, the name of which has escaped me and my notebook. The Samiclaus was indeed quite impressive compared to the younger vintages that I have experienced. All in all, Friday night was a blast. I was definitely set to do it all over again the next day.
Saturday morning came and I woke up in one piece, which is always a good sign. My friends from Buffalo decided to drive to Yosemite to get married, so I had to pick up Mike in my own car and make another trek up to Carlsbad. We got there about 100 pm in the afternoon to find that the crowd was already deep into the beer tasting festivities. We grabbed some chairs at the back of the fest and started sampling the beers we targeted as finest. Soon enough more RateBeerians, brewers, and even more beer fans soon arrived.
Arlen Harris from LaConner Brewing
Jcalabre and Spacemonkey were seen wondering through the crowd and the ever-popular Drunkasaskunk finally showed up too. By the way, I have pictorial proof that spacemonkey is indeed a monkey. But anyway…
The beer drinking was steady for the first few hours. At about 400pm, I was ordering up a glass of Craftsman’s Rye pale ale when I saw, at the other end of the bar, Skip Virgilio, the founder and original brewmaster of Alesmith. I ran to the other side of the bar, pushing all that came in my path, and snagged a picture of this San Diego beer legend. At the bar in front of Skip was Arlen Harris, brewer for LaConner Brewing Company of LaConner, Washington. He brewed up one of my favorite ales of the night, the “LaConner IPA”. On my way back to my seat, I ran into yet another fellow RateBeerian, Dougal, along with one of his friends, a member of the homebrew club the "Barley Literates.”
The Organizers: Tomme Arthur, Jeff Bagby, and Tom Nickel
The drinking slowed to savoring as the night fell. My two favorite beers, Boundary Bay’s “Skip’s Imperial IPA” and LaConner’s “LaConner IPA” (interestingly both Washington state beers) were among the first three beers to be scratched from the list, the Bear Republic Racer X being the very first. Many others followed. By 630pm, 21 casks had been kicked, and increasing by nearly the minute.
A random poll of attendees for the fest favorites yielded some interesting results. A trio of young beer fans found the Santa Barbara White Star Extra Pale Ale to be their favorite, where as I found it fairly well hopped and fruity but nothing special. It’s interesting to note that Tom Nickel also found the Santa Barbara XPA to be awesome, and told me that most of the brewers that he talked to found it to be their favorite too. Just further proof that I have no clue what I’m talking about. Tom’s two other favorites were the Racer X and Ballast Points Crystal Pier Double IPA. Spacemonkey liked the Russian River IPA the best, Iceman and I both agreed that the Boundary Bay “Skip’s Imperial IPA” was best in show, while Drunkasaskunk favored the Avery 10.
By the end of Saturday night, an estimated 1000 people
had attended the fest. Of the total 56 firkins, only
15 made it to the end. Other honorable fest attendees
included the brewers from Boundary Bay, Alpine, Sports
City, On Tap!, Rock Bottom, and Bear Republic. Tom
Nickel called the fest a huge success and said he is
eagerly awaiting the 7th Annual Strong Ale Fest on
December 5th and 6th. You know I'm there.