Abacoa; it's a "New Urbanist's" dream of townhomes wrapped around a walkable central business core. It's also just a pretty cool place to come hang out and watch spring training or minor league baseball.
But this past Saturday saw, instead, the inaugural Jupiter Summer Fest, the first craft beer, wine and music lovers festival for the city. Presented by Gold Coast Distributing (one of the major beer distributors in our area), the festival featured beers from such craft breweries as Sweetwater Brewing of Georgia, Sam Adams and Angry Orchard from Massachusetts, and New Belgium Brewing from Colorado.
Starting today, one of Colorado's most sought after breweries (and third largest craft brewer in the nation) will be available in the Sunshine State. Bottles of New Belgium should be in stores already, but festival-goers were lucky to get a sneak preview of what will be available at retail. Like Fat Tire amber, an easy and approachable ale that will convert even the most stringent maco-drinkers, or the west coast hoppy Ranger IPA bursting with North American hops and a dry hop finish, or the Trippel Belgian style ale with spice, herbalness and banana-like flavors.
We were even lucky to sample a couple of the famed 'Lips of Faith' series, the brewery's small batch offerings. Brett Beer, for example, was a little funky (from the use of Brettanomyces) with some honey and clove flavors while the Paardebloem gave us some complex flavors derived from the grains of paradise and dandelion greens used. Enthusiasm is too mellow a word to describe being able to find bottles of these in stores.
As the afternoon progressed and the rain disappeared, the festival began to fill up. It is always exciting to see the volume of crowds that form around the local beer creators, such as Miami Brewing Company or Midnight City Brewing, where the beer enthusiasts congregate to discuss the latest offerings and how they taste or are created.
Midnight City, the brainchild of Craig and Darren Nelson, were out in full force with their Imperial Cucumber Ale. This whopper of a summer brew had an enormous cucumber aroma followed by strong melon and malt flavors with a crisp finish; a perfect drink for a hot and humid day. They also offered up some Summerfest Saison, which had a light farmhouse flavor. "The response to the beers has been great," Darren said, adding "and the new logos too." Though they aren't set on a location to open up shop just yet, the gears are in motion.
One of the highlights of the festival, of which an enormous booth was erected, was the homebrew competition, sponsored by Bx Beer Depot. Nine beers were entered, judged, rated, and given out to curious spectators who kept looking for something new to try. I have not seen this happen before at a festival, where once the homebrew was judged, the rest of the bottles are opened for festival patrons to partake. It was an experience that many who came up to the tent were surprised and happy about.
Oh, and the winners? First place for the homebrews went to Karl Zink (noted AHA brewer of the week) for his Double India Pale Ale, while second place went to Alan Dritenbas (who nabbed top honors at the Palm Beach Craft Beer Fest a month ago) for a dry stout, and third was bestowed to Sloan Mathis (home brewer and food blogger) for a pomegranate wheat. All of these were top notch, and it was easy to see how just small variations in the flavors could have led to any of them making first.
"It's great to win," Alan said. Getting a beer judged not only has the opportunity for homebrewers to win some cash, but also to get professional feedback on the beers being made. A lot of big names in the beer industry started off in their backyards or garages.
Another fellow homebrewer, Michael Malone, thought that the response to the craft beers available at the festival was pretty incredible. "It's good to see people come out and look for beers that aren't the usual 'Bud Light'.
It just so happened that one local Jupiter bar / bottle shop, the newly opened Specialty Beer Cellar, was on hand to help make that seeking a little easier. General manager Shane Kirwin was with his team pouring out delicious and popular beers like Duchess de Bourgogne, Val-Dieu Blonde and Saxo. "We have 16 taps, of which 13 are Belgian beers," he says of the Belgian and European-centric beer selection. Couple that with "100 bottles to drink on premises and 300 to go" and you have a pretty sweet hang out spot. Owner Vincent Devore was equally as enthused about sharing his love of the brews from the Low Countries. "I want people to come and enjoy the atmosphere, and we want to help educate them about Belgian beers."
For the close to 750 people that came out the Abacoa for the event, the day turned from the possibility of a monsoon to a gorgeous summer evening, complete with a massive set from Corey Smith. As another inaugural beer fest came to close, it was time to just wander back down through the immaculate streets of Town Center, pondering the universe, and figuring out when the next festival would be.
If there is ever a doubt to these festival, the best way to get your money's worth is to engage in conversation: with a local brewer, fellow enthusiasts, or even event staff. You never know who you may be talking with. They could be the next Sam Calagione, or opening a brewpub in your town. If nothing else, you'll learn some new things about beer and about yourself. Did we just go there? I think we might have...
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