There couldn’t have been a better day than Saturday to roam the streets of Downtown for Motley Brew’s Great Festival of Beer. The morning’s rainy haze had passed just in time to start tasting, and as the layout of Fremont East was transformed into a maze of beer, food and music, I found myself feeling like I was back at Life Is Beautiful.
I spent a good four hours sampling an array of 4-ounce pours, and found a handful of favorites, like Hopothermia, a double IPA by Alaskan, and Tenaya Creek’s Cherry Wheat. Surprisingly, no stouts made it on my list, as I opted for light, refreshing and sometimes sweet notes to accompany the beautiful weather.
Atomic Liquor poured the perfect summer witbier, the Blanche De Bruxelles, crafted with coriander and orange peel. Think Blue Moon on steroids. Most of my beer choices weighed in with hefty ABVs, and I was especially thankful for the free bottled water I found making my way through the boozy labyrinth. Those shot-sized pours may look innocent, but after putting in a few hours of damage, they most definitely add up.
1. Tenaya Creek, Cherry Wheat The local brewery’s Hauling Oats became my stout of choice this winter, but I opted for something more summery. Before receiving my pour, I made sure it had actual cherries in it, and was happy to find it does. The rosy, strawberry blonde color adds a bit of depth to its light and crisp taste, and the cherries bring forth a perfect amount of sweetness—not artificial or sugary. If Goldilocks drank beer, this would be just right.
2. Uinta, Cahoots Double Rye IPA Velveteen Rabbit and Uinta Brewing paired up at the beer fest, pouring a Belgian style sour called Birthday Suit and the Cahoots Double Rye IPA—both releases from the Crooked line. I opted for the latter, made with two types of malted rye, malted barley and an assortment of hops. Cahoots packs a punch with its 9.4 percent ABV, but the taste is never too hoppy on this one. Instead, its loaded with a wallop of rye flavor and followed by a balanced, hoppy tang.
3. Alaskan Brewing, Hopothermia I was a major fan of Alaskan’s Winter Ale, but I wasn’t sure I’d feel the same toward their Double IPA. Low and behold, Hopothermia is another impressive beer from Alaskan. Unlike most IPAs (especially a double), this beer had a sweet aftertaste, with a hint of peach and strawberry. Despite the name, it isn’t as hop-forward as you’d expect, just balanced and delicious. A great beer if you’re trying to ease yourself into IPA territory.
4. Mendocino Brewing, Eye of the Hawk Mendocino Brewing Company uses the same recipe in 2014 that they did in 1984 to make this American-Style Strong Ale, part of its select collection. It ended up being one of my favorite beers, and clearly, I wasn’t alone—the Eye was all tapped out when I went back for more a few hours later. Brewed with caramel and pale malted barley, plus Cluster, Cascade and Saaz hops, the Eye is a bready, malty beer with an impressive 8 percent ABV.
5. Brasserie Lefèbvre SA, Blanche De Bruxelles Atomic Liquor was pouring a strawberry beer that I’d been hearing about all afternoon, but when I finally made my way to the booth, they’d run out. I ended up trying a witbier, pitched to me as a better Blue Moon. With a great mix of coriander and orange peel, this beer is complex, delightful, and wonderfully suited for warmer months. —Leslie Ventura
1. Wahoo Wheat Thai Chili, Ballast Point This was a great example of how to do a wheat correctly, with an ultra-crisp taste, plenty of flavor throughout every sip ... and a pinch of Thai chili spice. A complete package of yum.
2. Joseph James Rye’d ‘N Dirty Black rye IPAs are quickly becoming my go-to drink, and this one just sings from the first sip. The different parts—the rye, the hops, the sweet, the bitter—feel perfectly balanced. This is the only beer of the festival I went back for seconds on.
3. Grand Teton Bitch Creek ESB A terrific beer, and this is coming from someone who lost his interest in browns a long time ago. This one starts with the crispness of a lager and fades into a slow, sweet chocolatey flavor.
4. Firestone Walker Wookey Jack And we’re back to the black rye IPAs. I’ve had Firestone Walker’s masterpiece on tap, and I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) to find a bottle ever since. Well, talk about serendipity. Firestone Walker’s booth had some taps, but Wookey Jack was bottle only. How could I refuse?
5. West Coast IPA, Green Flash I discovered Green Flash for the first time at Aces & Ales last year, and I’ve been on the lookout for them ever since. I’m a huge fan of Green Flash’s double IPA, so I couldn’t pass up the chance to give West Coast a try on tap. It did not disappoint. Green Flash is proving itself a legitimate contender for my favorite brewery.
6. Able Baker, Five Pepper Porter Whoa! I can honestly say I never saw this one coming from new kid on the block James Manos, who brews locally but is still seeking a facility from which to sell his product (so no, you cannot buy it yet). It pours thick and has almost no head. The first sensation you get is a full mouth of coconut, then a bit of chocolate—and then the spice kicks in. I shared this one with multiple friends to gauge their reaction. Each one was the same—quizzical looks, followed by wide eyes and a “whoa!” In an age where so many are used to the same old thing, this type of reaction is noteworthy. It will be interesting to see what Manos does in the future. —Ken Miller