Weekend Beer Picks

Whereas the first six months of this year have passed fugaciously, this week has been interminable. Every day I have looked at the office clock, or the computer clock, or the iPhone clock and have become whelmed with anguish that only an hour has expired instead of the four I had felt. Once the work day is finally over, of course, and I get home and can relax two things happen. First, time pretends it’s the Milennium Falcon and jumps to lightspeed right away; second, I realize that I have a ton of things that need to be done at home and, oh, day’s over. This weekend, then, I need some beer that will soothe and brighten.

When I think of soothing beer, I always think of something dark and roasty; a beer that has substance but not one that demands palate analysis; an ale that will warm while you hold your glass and not lose character. For a beer that brightens I want the opposite – in appearance, at least. A yellow to amber jewel, with mild hop aroma and presence; something on the effervescent side, with character but, again, nothing demanding.

With those parameters and my interest currently piqued in the College Street Brewhouse my beer picks for this weekend are:

Sweet Devil Stout
This beer is the Guinness of Mohave County. It’s thick, creamy and has just the right amount of roast. Just thinking about this beer is making me happy. Smooth, sable, and really good with, or as, dessert.

Big Blue Van

I’m not always a fan of fruity beers, but CSB pulls it off and makes me like it with the Big Blue Van. It’s a wheat beer, which is my vote for the best style of beer for the desert, and it’s infused with blueberry and vanilla. Honestly, you can’t help but smile after drinking this beer.

You can find their beers at the Kwik Stop on Hualapai Mountain Road. Or you can take a trip to the brewery.

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The Kegerator’s Mini-Me: SYNEK

When first I read of the SYNEK beer dispenser my impression was that it was an instant beer brewing machine; an abomination, in other words, Frankensteined from Mr Beer and Keurig for the mad consumerism of the West. I dismissed it out of hand, believing that real beer requires the patience and vision of an artist. Still do I believe. But this SYNEK is not the bastardized contraption I took it for.

Here’s the basics: it’s a mobile beer tap. You know the kegerator, no doubt. Well, that’s what this reminds me of in miniature. The company has specially designed cartridges – bags, really, kinda like the bladder in those back packs you can drink from – that you fill. The cartridges can keep pressure and, evidently, refrigeration for thirty days.

The cartridges can be filled at any brewery that has the necessary adapter. Several breweries are on board already. Home brewers can also fill the cartridges with this adapter. I think this could be cool for home brewing. Fill two or three bags with your own brew and you’re stuff is on tap, draught quality home brew from counter top or poolside or grill side, etc.

SYNEK is heralding the end of the growler age. Much is being made of the thirty day period as a grand improvement over the now old fashioned big brown growler. I’m not totally sold on this point. See, a growler doesn’t last a night at my house. The wife and I both love craft beer. The growlers don’t have a chance. Or, I’ll fill for a dinner party. Again, they won’t last a night. So, the 30 day time frame is irrelevant to me. I’ll only get two nights out of it. Craft beer sitting in my house for a month? Nay, nay.

But then I think of home brew again and this thing becomes palatable. A brewer could buy for or five bags (they are not reusable, they will cost you every time you have to buy one) fill them up with a batch and have home brew for a month. The 30 day time limit starts with the first pour. Cartridges can be switched out whenever you like. Halfway through, etc. carbonation will hold.

As I write about it this sounds better – from the home brewing perspective. And it’s a gallon sized bag compared to the half gallon growler. I’ll have to see what my local will charge me for it. I could fill a couple bags and have a couple weekends stored.

I haven’t totally decided about it yet. But that’s just zymurgical atavism in my personality. The Folks at SYNEK have a kickstarter program running now. there’s a few days left. Oh, and he name is derived from the word “cynical”. Gotta love that.

The Second Annual Beer Fest in Kingman, AZ

Let me first transmit a “thank you” to my beer network. There are enclaves of friends and acquaintances out there who are listening to the grapevine and letting me know of beer events. This time it was my Goodyear crew that alerted me to Kingman’s second annual Beer Fest this past Saturday, May 31.

I’ve been in Kingman for some twenty years now and have attended a handful of events around town. There’s been only one alcohol related event that I found palatable. So I entered this beer festival with trepidation and left with … well, mixed feelings. That is, oddly, better than I anticipated.

But, first, the beers. A beer festival is all about the beers!

College Street
This brewery is from Lake Havasu City, Arizona. They had great beers at the last festival I attended.
Sweet Devil Nitro Stout. Can’t help but love this beer. It’s thick and dark and creamy, the desert’s answer to Guinness.
Jesse’s Malt Liquor. The moniker “malt liquor” always makes me think of a sweet, thin, cheap beer for hoboes. That’s not this beer. Nay, it is a medium bodied delight heavy on sweet caramel. It triumphed as my fave of the fest.
Big Blue Van. Just try it. Ye shall not be disappointed.

Barley Bros
Another brewery from Lake Havasu. It’s been there since 1997. They were among the first places I went as I discovered craft beer.
Kickstart Oatmeal Stout. It was supposed to have espresso notes. Alas, though, I found this one unrememberable.
Tripleberry Wheat. This wheat beer sounded intriguing and finally drew me back to their table for a sample. The cranberry was most prominent. It was well balanced but in the end it was just liquid bubblegum.

Mudshark Brewing
A third brewery from Havasu. They had about a half dozen or so of their beers on tap from their refer truck. I always go to Full Moon when I see Mudshark. As I’ve written before it is my favorite wit ever. So far. However, it was too cloudy and bland this time. Very unhappy.
V.C.P. They were also pouring their new vanilla caramel porter. Nice even color, chewy body, but not too heavy on either vanilla or caramel. I’d like to try it again. Somebody go buy me a Sharkcage.

Historic Brewing
This is Flagstaff’s newest brewery. That town just can’t stop producing breweries and good beer.
Piehole Porter. I did not notice it was a cherry vanilla porter. But the cherry and vanilla jumped out right away. It tastes like a pie. If it had not edged toward soda, like an ice cream float, this would have been my favorite.
Joy Rye’d – I did not try this for I dislike rye. But my beer Fest associate could only say it was “tooooo hoppy”.
Every Day Special - a “hopped up Pilsner” according to them but I tasted none. They must have dumped into the rye.

Grand Canyon
This brewery from Williams brought their American Pilsner and Sunset Amber. I like Sunset Amber, though it veers toward hoppy side instead of malt.

Pints
Laughlin’s brewery did not bring their Rehab Red but they had several other selections.
Loaded Jefe Mexican Lager. Not bad, good color, smooth. Laughlin’s version of Modelo.
Watermelon Wheat. Better than the berry.

Romer Beverage Company
The AB wholesaler truck had some good beers available and they dominated as far as selection. Some memorable beers: Odell’s Lugene Milk Chocolate Stout. Odell Fernet Aged Porter (this beer is a personality to be reckoned with, to be sure. It’s in my top three beers of the day. But it is so powerful it’s almost difficult to quaff). There were several other Odell beers; plus some from Sleepy Dog in Tempe. And lots more.

So the beers were mostly delicious and enlightening. Now on to the rest. How did the Kingman Beer Fest hold up in the context of the beer festival world?

Attendees received fifteen tickets for $25. It wasn’t a bad price for several good beers. However, we did not get a tasting mug. Well, okay, the first fifty people did receive such a cup. The rest of us could get one if we wished to pungle down $3. I felt that was just cheap, Kingman cheap. Every other festival I’ve been to included a commemorative mug upon entry. Even the wine festival held here provided a glass. So, it’s a little thing, but it would be an improvement.

At first most of the people staffing the tables that I met were local volunteers not brewery employees or brewers themselves. That was distressing because they didn’t really know anything about the beer. For example, at one table where a pilsner and an amber were offered I was simply told one was their light beer one was their dark. Not quite accurate and it made it obvious the pourer did not know the product. It’s nice to go to these festivals and be able to interact with the brewers. But to be fair that was just the first hour I was there. Knowledgeable types did arrive.

While I was personally disappointed in the beginning the more I spoke with people, especially the visiting brewery staff, I began to feel a little better about the event. Some visitors remarked that Kingman is in a decent area for beer festival since it’s on a corridor between Phoenix and Las Vegas. Many remarked that it wasn’t a bad festival for this being only its second year. There is potential for growth. Almost all the breweries said they would come to year three.

If there is year three, some modifications are in order. The booths and tables were tightly arranged in a corridor beneath the bleachers at the Fairgrounds. When I first walked I could look left and right and easily see the entire festival. My initial impression was that this was a tiny place and absolutely the wrong venue for a beer festival. Person after person commented that the location was too crowded, too small.

Mudshark’s refrigerated truck was running the entire time which did not go over well. It dominated the ambiance of the … corridor. However,I shall not lay blame at Mudshark’s fins. They were having mechanical issues with the truck from the moment they left Havasu. If the festival had been held in a more open area, say, a park, as the wine festival has been held in, the mechanical issues would not have been so noticeable and annoying.

Speaking of sound, there was a good buzz happening when I entered the … hallway. The good buzz was conversation that could be heard above even the Mudshark truck. I took that as a good sign. Another sound point: I heard over and over again that people wanted music, especially a live band. And, once again, if the festival would be held at a different venue a band would fit. Live music makes a festival memorable.

However, I also heard, from attendees and brewers alike, that this year’s locus, though cramped and loud, was still an improvement over last year. Why? It kept everyone out of the sun. And if the beer festival shall continue to be held at this time of year a shaded setting is imperative. Imperative.

So, festival organizers take note. This beer festival is a positive thing for Kingman. Choose a better location. A beer festival needs space; attendees need to be able to wander, chat, enjoy the beer in a laid back atmosphere. And there needs to be some live entertainment.

Combining the variety of beers available at this beer event with the annual Oktoberfest that is held downtown would vastly improve both events. Then we could start truly calling the thing a beer festival. Oktoberfest already has an okay venue (the whole, you know, train passing by thing annoys me) and live entertainment. I’m not sure which has better attendance. I’m leaning towards this beer event I’m writing about over the Oktoberfest. Put the two events together until it gets unwieldy and then we can move on. While doing that, add some additional food vendors if possible and consider a home brewing competition. There’s a good amount of home brewers around here and we wouldn’t mind showing off our art.

Everyone said that the beer selection was better this year. That’s my focus. A beer festival can provide some community interaction, sure, and it can highlight local businesses, okay; but let’s not turn our local beer festival into a lame Chamber of Commerce mixer-like event. No, it needs to be about the beer. Bring the beer and the rest will fall into place.