Another bright, sunny day in early September brought us yet another fun and successful Emerald Coast Beer Fest and all of its attendant embarrassment of riches. Can there be too much of a good thing? There certainly can when you’re a beer enthusiast who’s trying his best to cover the event and sample as much as possible while not getting sloshed over the massive selection provided by the regional home brewers.
Unofficially, the event actually began a week prior at the West Pensacola home of Sean Papillon for an Escambia Bay Home Brewers in-house competition for kolsch beer… which doubled as an excuse to roast a whole pig for 24 hours and see enough food and beer show up to feed a small third world nation for a week. The phrase “cross-eyed” doesn’t begin to describe my experience. Oh, and top honors happened to go to the host’s beer entry; a well-deserved cheers goes out to him and his family.
Then came the regional home brewers’ kolsch competition whose judging I hosted in my store. I was lucky enough to be a judge along with Mark Robertson, head brewer of Pensacola Bay Brewery. We sampled ten entries from around the panhandle and came to the same conclusion: Golden Triangle Brewers from Columbus, Mississippi had the best entry. It was pale gold with a clean malt nose and classic, crisp kolsch flavor.
The 17th Annual Beer Fest officially began with their beer pairing dinner followed by the main event the next day. With over 83 home-brewed entries, I had to strategically attempt a judicious sampling of each club’s wares lest I find myself in a Hendrix-like state of face-down trouble.
Luckily, most of these guys know me as the skinny fella who writes that article in the paper and would let me stand to the side of the table to sample, thus circumventing the long lines. While there were many that were outstanding – and even more with terrific names (Kessel Run had to be my favorite as a Star Wars fan) – here’s my official top three.
“Spezial Brown” from the Carboy Junkies was nutty and malty with a walnut shell quality. My old friends from Mobile’s Random Acts of Brewing stood apart from the pack with a mango lambic that packed a toffee/candi sugar nose and tasted of dried apricot and peach yogurt and, well, mango, of course.
And the winner of Beer Garden’s unofficial top spot is the Noble Hop Belgian Tripel from Craig Pepoon of the Home Brewer’s Underground out of Ft. Walton Beach. The spicy, herbal hop bite was a fantastic twist that made sense to a bready, malt-forward golden tripel; a perfect marriage between countries and beer styles.
Cheers to all the participants, beer distributors, volunteers, Seville Quarter staff, cooks, food vendors… and especially to Escambia Bay Home Brewers who organize this event every year with proceeds benefiting Big Brothers & Sisters of NW Florida. Another great job, guys.