A small taste of the craft beer garden

James Macias, Features Editor

The craft beer garden was everything it was advertised to be; which is probably why no one attended it. Taking place Sept. 23-30 in the Bolthouse Courtyard near the main entrance to the fairgrounds, there were two rows of booths lining the space with a basic dj set-up boasting an equally basic dj spinning top 40 at one end and a very authentic Mexican taco vendor capping the northern side of the space.

The program says that the Craft Beer Garden will be much like a wine tasting event except without the wine or the generosity. The idea is that you pay $10 for a wristband with four numbered tabs that you can trade for small four-ounce cups of beer at the booths of your choice, or alternatively you can give them all to one booth for one 16-ounce cup.

Then if you want more beer, like if maybe you wanted to taste all of the beer available or are just generally accustomed to drinking more than 12-16 ounces at a time you have to buy another wristband of which you are limited to two.

The number of people inside the Bolthouse Courtyard never climbed above 30 at any time and probably never exceeded 150 (total) all night long. There were one or two vendors present who didn’t mind being generous as long as their generosity was rewarded with enthusiasm about their beer. This development coupled with the taco vendor made the overall experience tolerable.

There were 12 breweries represented. Each showcased two of their best beers for the tasting pleasure of the guests. Many booths were staffed by regular fairgrounds personnel rather than by someone who actually knew anything about the beers they were serving and several booths were from corporate breweries like Blue Moon, Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada.

Offerings were presented from: Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Company, Golden Road, Firestone Walker, Founders Brewery, Lagunitas Brewery, Temblor, Ballast Point, Goose Island Brewery, Blue Moon, Samuel Adams, Sierra Nevada and Lengthwise.

The most unique brewery represented, by far, was the Goose Island Brewery from Chicago, Illinois. Their offering was served from wine bottles rather than the smaller bottles one normally expects to find containing such products because this beer is actually aged in used wine barrels. The two brews available were Sofie and Gillian so named in line with a long standing Goose Island tradition of naming brews of this variety after women who were significant to the brewmasters.

Sofie’s flavor was very complex. Completely different from anything the uninitiated might expect. Hops form a foundation for a flavor built on distinct wine notes around a fruity body and there was a strong, ‘spicy’ (for lack of a better term) final kick. It was probably unfair to call this product a beer as it has an Alcohol By Volume (ABV) rating of 6.5% and of course it would be inappropriate to call something made from hops not grapes a wine; so it remains a paradox of sorts.

Gillian’s flavor was almost subtle. It started with the same basic structure, hops were its foundation with wine filling out the body, but this time there was a strong sense of strawberry or possibly cherry, which settled right on top of everything and made you want another glass. As for categorization, it suffers from the same unique characteristics as its sister Sofie. But this “beer” has an ABV of 9.5%! One other vendor warrants an honorable mention; the Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Company from northern California offered two beers: Mt. Whitney XPA and 99 Pale Ale. While not necessarily very unique in terms of recipe or flavor, these two sacred nectars uphold the longstanding tradition of Nor-Cal beer brewing. Easily the match of any large corporate brew such as St. Pauli Girl or Sierra Nevada and the crew who ran this booth was not shy about sharing their beer, which distinguishes them completely from nearly everyone else present.