If you’ve followed Brewed For Thought long enough, you likely know that I originally hail from the Monterey Peninsula. Unfortunately, Monterey is a ways behind much of the Bay Area when it comes to craft beer. Things are changing though. Beer lovers can find good beer in many places from bottle shops like Bottles N’ Bins to tap rooms like the Cannery Row Brewing Company and Post No Bills. Local brewing is improving and becoming more prominent with Peter B’s in Monterey and English Ales of Marina. The Monterey Beer festival has been around for a couple years now and is also showing growth. While years past have been crowded and the term “drunkfest” has been applied, I wanted to witness the event myself and see how far my hometown has come.
It should be noted first of all, that it was a beautiful day at the Monterey County Fairgrounds. The sun was out and the fog stayed away for the entire day, quite a feat in Monterey. The weather welcomed crowds to the festival that gradually built through the afternoon. With the VIP passes allowing access as early as 11:30, the festival was allowed to build without feeling like the grounds were getting the bum’s rush.
The setup of the festival should be applauded as there was plenty of room for moving about without the festival feeling too spaced out. While the crowd was thick, it wasn’t difficult to move around and get where you wanted to go. For those looking to escape the crowds, the shaded area near the fair’s public stage was accessible with picnic tables for those wanting to sit and enjoy a meal.
Food was available for purchase and there was a wide variety to choose from. I had a bite or two off of the VIP table during the early part of the festival but settled on a pulled pork sandwich from the Cannery Row Brewing Company for my mid-festival snack. This sandwich was quite the treat with a slow-smoked flavor to the meat and a tangy slaw on top.
The selection of beer was interesting, and that’s not meant as a euphemism. For a festival that had a reputation for less-than-interested attendees, many of the beers being poured would appeal to the uninitiated but also lead them further down the path to craft beer wisdom. Deschute’s Twilight Ale was a perfect offering on such a warm day but I was really impressed by a couple local brews.
El Toro Brewing, not exactly a Monterey local but there are definitely many breweries further from the Peninsula, featured their W.I.P.A., a Wheat India Pale Ale. The addition of a west coast IPA’s hops to an aggressive wheat beer base was refreshing and unique and was one I had to get a couple tastes of. Peter B’s featured a few interesting selections starting with their collaboration with local Beer Geek Chris Nelson. The Hefeweizen was bold and refreshing, another good hot day drink. I was also impressed with their barrel-aged Oatmeal Stout and firkin of IPA.
The featured beer of the day was a new product from the organizer of the festival, Jeff Moses, and future Hall of Fame baseball player Frank Thomas. Together, they teamed up to create Big Hurt Beer. Thomas tells me that during his brief time playing in Toronto he got a taste for stronger lagers and wanted to create something with the same flavor and impact, but without the harsh flavor of the higher alcohol. Brewed at Minhas Brewery in Wisconsin, the beer was created from Thomas’ specifications and given to an exprienced brewer to make it come to life. A strong, moderately hopped lager, Big Hurt Beer fits into that space in the market for full flavored lagers that might not be experimental enough for craft beer geeks, but provides something more flavorful than your standard industrial lager.
For entertainment, the stage was populated by a parade of cover bands. A U2 tribute kicked it off followed by an AC/DC group which got the 21st Amendment taps flowing even more quickly. It was actually at the 21st Amendment booth where I settled in to get a taste of their Mystery Beer, a Saison from the pub, that lasted less than 30 minutes.
With the festival filling in I even opened a collection of bottles I brought from my personal stash. I was impressed with the audience I received and the feedback I got about the beers.
At the end, I didn’t get the impression that others had conveyed about year’s past. There were definitely folks there with one thing in mind, but there were also a lot of people looking for the best beers they could find.
In my first year of attending, I found the Monterey Beer Festival to be a lot of fun. There were plenty of craft beer booths with some more mainstream booths also mixed in. The festival seems to be coming of age and we can likely look for more to come down the line.
Thank you to the guys from Bruvado for letting me on top of their rig for some excellent shots of the festival. Take a look at all the photos from the festival at the Brewed For Thought Facebook page. I’ll include some of my thoughts on some of the beers I tried as well as give some additional comments on the festival. Be sure to tag your friends and yourself.