This weekend's Fruit Beer Fest got me thinking. Despite reports of a few hitches in the execution, it illustrated a couple of ways in which the good beer world continues to evolve. Let us recall that as recently as just several years back, the typical fest was designed merely to highlight craft beer. Breweries were invited to attend, and they would send one of their standard beers. This was novelty enough.
The fruit beer fest is an example of a more recent incarnation--the "curated" fest, where a single organizer works with breweries to come up with a diverse range of beers that more deeply explore a theme. In the Fruit Beer Fest, Ezra secured soured beers, dark beers, and hoppy beers as a way of showing the myriad ways fruit can be employed. For most people, there was at least one revelation to be had. Give Preston Weesner credit for pioneering this at the Holiday Ale Fest, where he collects a wide range of styles to flesh out the concept of "winter beer." I always hate to pick on the venerable Oregon Brewers Festival, but it's a stark example of an old-school fest that is only very slowly turning toward this model of beer selection.
The second trend was evident in the beers themselves. Once upon a time, a brewer made a batch of beer, put it in steel tanks, waited a period of days, and then packaged it. Nothing wrong with that, but now most breweries have barrel-aging programs, which give them a whole new level of control. I mentioned Block 15's Psidium, which brewer Nick Arzner made by blending an aged sour with a freshly-brewed guava farmhouse ale. Breweries have been aging and blending for hundreds of years, but it takes cellar space and foresight to have the tools in place. I particularly enjoyed the notes of oak and wine added to Coalition's wheat beer and was surprised at how much oak tied together the cherry and roast in Ninkasi's cherry-aged Oatis.
Ten years ago, only a handful of breweries had barrel programs; now most breweries squirrel away a cask or two for special brews. And fest curators are taking advantage of the trend by designing special, one-time beers. These are twin trends illustrative of how good beer continues to evolve. Blessed are we who live in these highly-evolved times.
By the way, here are some great pics of the fest, via Matt Wiater (I recommend the slideshow option).