<P>The three solid days of rain and bluster leading up to the Schlafly Hop In the City had me worried, but when the day dawned clear and beautiful I knew good things lay ahead. The festival did not disappoint me. Upon arrival I was greeted with a handsome tasting glass, a very serviceable tasting guide, and 34 different styles of Schlafly beer to challenge my palate.
<P>The layout of the fest was quite nice with a large tent providing shade for the kegs and accessible lanes to the beer. Ample water for washing out and spitting was also provided. Outside of the tent various local bands belted out tunes and a large grill churned out absolutely succulent slabs of ribs, gargantuan pork sandwiches, and other barbeque delicacies. With the atmosphere just right (excepting the annoying smoke which occasionally ruined a great aroma of malt, hops and barbeque) I was able to focus on my task of subjecting my palate to the incredible array of beer styles. The day only got more enjoyable when I noticed a gangly goofball with his nose shoved deep into a glass of ale. Clearly this must be a Ratebeerian, and sure enough it was none other than the immortal Trappist Ales Rule (aka Jeff). We enjoyed some excellent beer together and discussed the joys of beer and some of our more sought after brews (to the dismay of my novice beer-lover friends who accompanied me I think.)
<P>Get to the beer already, you say! And I shall. The highlight of the fest was the festival beer itself, the Hop Harvest Ale. Simply to behold the ceremony surrounding the tapping of each cask was a joy in itself. The casks were paraded through the grounds on a pallet with a kilted Scottish bagpiper leading the way. The beer in the cask more than lived up to the hype. The Hop Harvest was dry-hopped with fresh Cascade hops flown in overnight from Yakima, Washington. The resulting hop-monster was the star of the fest. A beautiful orange colored brew that occasionally came with bits of hops still in it, as Trap discovered. However, the abundant hops were offset by sweet, chewy malt that gave the beer a perfect balance and flavor. The Imperial Stout (full of chocolate, licorice, brandy, and rum raisin) and Winter ESB lived up to their pre-fest billing and were favorites of mine. The Schlafly Pilsner and Witbier were surprises for me, serving up loads of flavor and getting high marks from me considering my occasional disregard for those styles.
<P>Unfortunately, not everything was quite as rosy at the fest. According to a worker (and my taste buds) several of the lagers did not keep well and their flavor suffered accordingly. The Dubbel was also a huge disappointment as it was oxidized beyond belief. The biggest disappointment however, was the absolute destruction of my palate and my inability to get through all the offered styles. My hat is off to all those beer fest veterans who able to style jump with aplomb. By the time I had gone through 18 styles my palate was obliterated and I was forced to stick to the Imperial Stout and Hop Harvest Ales to close out the fest.
<P>Overall, I came away with the fest largely impressed with the event and the brewery as a whole. Few breweries even attempt the vast range of styles; much less bring it off as well as Schlafly (for the most part). I will be back again next year and hope to see more of you there!