As the first weekend of summer reared its hot and sun-filled head, the second-annual Palm Beach Craft Beer Festival was there in downtown West Palm Beach to quench its thirst with beer from across the state, across the country, and across the world.
Florida brewers including Due South, Miami Brewing Company, J Wakefield, Lagerhead, Tequesta, Florida Beer Company and Rooney's Ale joined in the outdoor festivities with booths providing beer from breweries such as Sweetwater, Brooklyn, Harpoon and Shipyard. With such a bevy of options, there was definitely something for everyone's palate.
The event never seemed overcrowded, which can become problematic at these sorts of things, which was good, because in the summer heat, people can get worn out quick. Thankfully, the massive downtown condos at least provide shade during the late afternoon, and the food trucks lining the perimeter meant that no one could have left the place hungry (nor should anyone miss the amazingness that is the Doug E Fresh hot dog from PS 561).
Even with a veritable World of Beer at our fingertips, it was with great joy to spend the majority of the festival hanging around the Florida-based brews, and see the tremendous response for these beers. From each tent, sips of beer brought sounds of elation from the imbibers, who then walking out and recommended to all those who would listen that they too should sample the deliciousness that they had just experienced.
Some of the beer highlights included:
Due South's Category 3 IPA
Some citrus and resin come out in this American styled IPA. Gorgeously amber, with some nice foam, that really helps to release some of the hop aroma. The friendly team of Due South co-owner Jodi Halker and staff were out to spread the love of this hoppy IPA along with the ever-prized Caramel Cream Ale.
J. Wakefield's Coconut Hefeweizen
Smells of chocolate with a bit of fresh coconut. Smooth creamy mouthfeel, good body. The coconut was hinted at, and of the fresh variety rather than toasted. Excellently refreshing, touching on a pina colada.
Jonathan Wakefield himself was on hand to dispense some of his non-sour beers to festival goers, including the aforementioned Hefe, an oyster stout with fresh oysters, a Belgian pale ale, mango IPA, peanut butter cup brown, and a 'secret' keg of a blended Florida Weisse.
Miami Brewing Company's Mocha Coffee Brown
This was a rich and complex brown ale, that almost encroaches on porter territory. The brew team pushed what can normally be a basic and simple brown ale into places full of toffee, caramel, and a bit of creamy coffee.
Members of Miami Brewing were happily pouring out the mocha coffee brown ale, as well as Big Rod, their signature blonde ale. "I wanted to push for the brown today," assistant brewer Chris of the Miami Brewing Company told us as we sampled the brown ale. "The Big Rod is generally the most popular beer we put out, but I wanted something dark to accompany it."
Lagerhead Brewing's Watermelon Blonde Ale
This is a beer for people who really love watermelons. It's heavy on the aroma, and smells like you just cut into a fresh melon. The taste is heavy on the watermelon as well; it's very juicy and has a hint of dryness that accompanies after the sweetness of the melon fades. With a barbeque, it's probably a winner.
As up-and-coming brewers from South Florida currently seeking a place to lay down their roots, Lagerhead Brewing has been building up a loyal following. Their tent was constantly surrounded by thirsty beer seekers, who didn't mind waiting a bit to sample some of the more interesting brews at the festival; a cider, mango pale ale, watermelon blonde, and basil IPA. "A lot of people enjoy the IPA," said co-founder and co-brewer Frank Conrad. "My baby is the Barracuda Brown... everytime we brew it, I feel like it's not perfect... there's always something I feel can be improved upon."
That quest for perfection has given the team at Lagerhead (Frank, Dan Paulus, Tim and Steve Dornblaser) amazing goals to strive for. "We all brew separate styles, and really focus in on those," he continued. "For example Steve does porters, and Dan does some of the 'random' stuff... we're all able to learn from each other in that environment, and learn things four times faster. There's more people to catch a mistake. We work as a team, and, I think, make better beer as a group. You only get better when you brew with other people."
With a planned 15 barrel system (465 gallons), the boys at Lagerhead are looking to emulate the success that Tequesta Brewing has had up in northern Palm Beach County. "We love the vibe there [at Tequesta]. We just want to have a place that's relaxed, to have a good time, and to make good beer."
In addition to the tents offering up pours of the best in local craft beers, the Palm Beach Draughtsmen, a homebrew club that meets monthly at the Due South brewery in Boynton Beach, hosted a homebrew competition with hundreds of dollars of prize money for the top beers.
As for who soaked up that sought after prize money, the top tier beers were as follows: Michael Malone won first place, and $500, for his Channel Trout stout, while Alan Dritenbas took home $200 for his Dune Smuggler american wheat entry. Both ended up almost perfectly on style for their categories. These wins might not be surprising for those who follow the Treasure Coast homebrew scene; they are a part of the Treasure Coast Brewmasters homebrew club and have won numerous awards including two gold medals at the 2013 Hogtown Brew-Off in Gainesville.
Patrick Fossett, an officer for the Palm Beach Draughtsmen, said he was contacted to host the competition for the festival. "I think it's great to have a contest... it helps people recognize that you can make tasty beer at home." It's not that hard, he continues. To start, "just head out to the local homebrew shop and buy one of their starter kits instead of Mr. Beer. You'll have better equipment and better ingredients."
Michael and Alan were ecstatic for their wins. "These are recipes that we've been working on for a while," the pair said, with pints of their creation in hand. "We've been brewing together for a couple of years now. It's been so much fun to explore different styles with other people who are as interested in the craft."
Of course, I had to know what they'd do now to celebrate. "We're going to head up to Tequesta Brewing."
A local brewery: the best place to celebrate any win.
Beer things in your Twitter feed -- Follow me @DougFairall
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