Friday, May 1, 2009

Brewski Fest 2009: Tasters' Choice (Part 1)

Brewski Festival. A mountain resort. A buffet of gourmet food. 46 breweries, 105 beers. Mmm-mmm-MMMM.

This was my 4th Brewski Fest—Dupa and I are the “Brewski O.G.’s” among our circle of friends. In each of the two previous years, our numbers had grown considerably, due in large part to the word of mouth and stories that began spreading the second we had returned from the annual beer tasting festival. T.C. and Toe have been to the last three; LRG has been to the last two, and so on. However, this year the trend reversed. When dates were announced and initial planning began, well over 30 people said they were at least interested, and more than half of those 30 said they would definitely be there. But over the months between then and April 25th, that original projection of thirty participants was thinned by prior commitments (most commonly weddings and wedding-related dealings). And others just didn’t seem to believe me when I told them that tickets would sell out quickly, and missed the boat (tickets went on sale in late November; by mid-January they were sold out). So Saturday, when we had all assembled at Seven Springs, a grand total of seven of us actually held a pass to the fun.

However, while we had fewer troops this year, we did come armed with a new weapon: team t-shirts, complete with names and numbers on the back. We weren’t the first to think of it; for years now we’ve seen groups of people at Brewski Festivals rocking shirts custom-made for the day. So this year we threw our hats in the ring. I designed a shirt, took orders, and we showed up properly outfitted at gametime.

While only seven of us—Dupa, Chappy, Toe, LRG, T.C., his brother-in-law (“J Sun”), and yours truly—would be going to the Brewski Festival, there were 10 of us gathered at the resort. The wifey squad—Girlfriend, Mrs. T.C., and “Mrs. J Sun” came to the hotel, but chose to pursue ventures other than Brewski. Mrs. T.C. is pregnant, and therefore settled for relaxed activities like watching movies in the room. Mrs. J Sun, happy just to have some “her time” away from her kids and hubby, joined her in the relaxation. Girlfriend, on the other hand, was feeling her not-just-inner debutante; she went horseback riding early on, and then later got a massage.

The menfolk, on the other hand, gathered in Toe’s room with a few beverages to watch the NFL Draft and the Penguins/Flyers playoff game. Thanks to the room having a rather unique floor plan—wherein one large hotel room is split into two separate bedrooms, with a bathroom and short hallway between them—we were able to have both broadcasts on at the same time on two different flatscreen TVs. We would occasionally migrate back and forth to catch the latest on either screen, all while polishing off a case of Miller Lite and the better part of a fifth of Captain Morgan Private Stock.

J Sun, who is Mrs. T.C.’s older brother, was a first-timer to Brewski Fest. In fact, it isn’t often that we get to hang out with him at all, and he was now surrounded by some of the drinking world’s heavy hitters. As the other six of us fired back and forth inappropriate stories and comments, he sat quietly smiling and shaking his head. After one particularly strong comment by Toe, I looked over at J Sun, who almost seemed to be wincing.

Me: “You taking this all in, J?”
J Sun: “You know, I’ve been married for eight years now, and have two kids. I’m just sitting here, soaking all of this in and thinking, ‘I remember those days…’”

Around 6:30 pm we gathered for a few “before” photos, our band of 7 Brewski brothers showing off the tees on our backs and the giddy anticipation on our faces. Then we headed to dinner. Each of us quickly inhaled a plate of gourmet food from the buffet, laying down a solid foundation for the monument to intoxication that was about to be built. At 7 pm the doors to the Foggy Goggle (Seven Springs’ ski lodge) were opened; we tightened our laces, gripped our complimentary Brewski Festival sampling glasses, said a quick prayer for our success and safety, and entered the arena.

Dupa has recently become somewhat of an aficionado on Belgian beers (or, at least, he knows a lot more about them than the rest of us do), and within 5 seconds of entering the Goggle I lost him. I made a few stops, and when I finally glanced down towards where the Belgian companies were, I spotted him tipping back his glass like a toddler with a sippy cup.

We tasted, tested, and tasted some more. Beer was all around, and much of it was delicious; personal favorites, among those I was trying for the first time, were Brouwerij Van Steenberge N.V.’s Gulden Draak, Leinenkugel Brewery’s Summer Wheat, and New Holland Brewing Co.’s Dragon’s Milk. The Erie Brewing Company was giving away temporary tattoos, and one of their reps happily helped Dupa, Chappy, and I each apply one to our respective bodies. Being modest (shut it), I asked her to put it on my right bicep. Dupa, being…Dupa, had his pressed onto his stomach. Chappy joked, “I should get a tramp stamp.”

Dupa and I *simultaneously*: “DO IT!”

A few minutes later, Chappy was proudly sporting his love of Erie Brewing on the small of his back.

As in past years, some of the breweries used “booth bunnies”—young, attractive women who probably knew as much about the beer they were hawking as they did about quantum physics. Often I would find one or more of our squad’s single gents coolly chatting-up a young lass from the other side of a countertop tap, likely not taking a moment to think and realize that she’s not going to fall in love with you while she’s on her grind. At one point, while the remaining five of us stood around a counter talking, we noticed that LRG and Toe had disappeared. I walked around a corner, and found them standing at the Labatt table, where a pretty brunette in tight white shorts was stationed. I walked up, got myself a glass of Summer Ale, gave the two of them a “you horndogs” grin, and walked back to the others.

One particular girl earned more proclamations of love from the boys than any other. She was working for Peroni; petite, with brown hair, personality, and an intriguing smile, she was pleasant eye candy. She bewitched Toe in particular, as he repeatedly bemoaned to us how he would love her deeply and truly. If the kid could’ve gotten his hands on any kind of ring that night, he would’ve dropped to his knee for her. Her partner at the brewery’s tap was a cute blonde, whose “Peroni”-emblazoned t-shirt found itself struggling to keep her ample chest modest. As TJ said when I later showed him a picture of the girls and mentioned the brunette’s charming personality, “Shee-it. The blonde's got two personalities.”

The occasion really is a one-of-a-kind experience. A reggae band played as hundreds of people from different walks of life rubbed elbows while holding little glasses full of a variety of ales, porters, stouts, ciders, and lagers. Our rookies, Chappy and J Sun, seemed to be patting themselves on the back mentally for heeding those who had convinced them to buy a ticket. Our shirts drew appreciation from vendors and fellow event goers alike—although several asked if we were a Brewski Fest softball team. We collected shirts, stickers, bottle openers, and other giveaways along with our servings of nectar. Dupa even purchased an apron with a brewer’s name printed on it. Eventually 11 pm came around, with each of us grabbing the last drops of beer from the nearest table we could find.

To be continued...

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