Early September in Pensacola means it’s time for another trip to the Emerald Coast Beer Festival and, with attendees and participants alike coming from hundreds of miles away, this year’s event proved to be another rousing success. If anything, it’s an embarrassment of riches with over 200 beers to sample.
The first day of the festival has a dinner featuring one brewery’s creations paired to each course. This year brought us local beer guy turned regional Rogue Brewing representative John Lasseter and a number of his company’s outstanding beers. The clean texture, crisp finish and fall spice flavors of the buckwheat-based Morimoto Soba Ale were a perfect counterpoint to the garlicy cucumber mignonette served atop freshly-shucked oysters.
I finally found a chance to try one of Rogue’s beers crafted from grain and hops grown on their personal estate. The Single Malt Ale features grain that was floor-malted, a traditional method of dragging a wide wooden rake through the barley, and exhibiting some dried orange peel and tangy hops.
Rogue also distills their own liquor. The barrels used to age their alcohol get double duty when they’re refilled with beer. Rogue’s John John series employs whiskey, rum and gin. Gin? You’re not supposed to barrel-age gin! Well, they do and it’s all to permeate the barrel with aromatics (the gin gets re-distilled… quite an involved process just to fancy up a beer!). The result is John John Juniper Pale Ale that’s absolutely stunning. Minty hops and pine dominate this ale rounded out by the cucumber from the gin.
The next day is the festival proper and with no shortage of beer to try I was incredibly thankful that Alan Williams, owner of Sole` Inn on Palafox, set me up with a suite. First stop on the tasting tour is always with the guys who started this whole party for us, the Emerald Coast Home Brewers. Cliff Houde brought us an amazing Belgian tripel full of banana popsickle and fresh grain. Buddy Mogle had a smoked ale reminiscent of last year’s “Baconator.” Slight nose of grilled steak and gorgeous scorched stick flavor… an acquired taste for most. Sean Papillion’s Rye Pale Ale was slightly spicy and perfectly balanced.
The first of my personal top three was from Lisa Oberkirch with LA Lagers (they nailed my top spot last year!). Her Summer Honey Orange Chamomile smelled of Rooibos tea and had knock-out flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, candied orange peel and freeze-dried pineapple. George Blackstone of the Carboy Junkies brought us a coconut porter that smelled and tasted like a liquid Mounds bar. Finally, Paul Simms with Random Acts of Brewing poured me some of his oak-aged stingo (a barleywine style of beer traditionally from northern England) I like to call “Proceed With Caution.” Huge butterscotch and citrus nose, it was a vanilla, bourbon, pine & caramel juggernaut.
Cheers to everyone who made this another great beer fest!