The 4th Annual Boulder SourFest was held at Avery Brewing Company this weekend, and it proved to be one of the best, and most unique, beer festivals I have ever been to. Having been unaware of sour beers until my first Great American Beer Festival a few years back, I am still somewhat surprised by the sight of hundreds of people lined up to get their hands on these wild ales.
Although I shouldn’t be.
I have seen the chaos that ensues whenever Crooked Stave releases a new bottle, I stood in line for hours at the Roy G. Biv event. I’ve also seen the run on local liquor stores when those rare Russian River bottles arrive. And I’ve forked out $15-30 for a single bottle from The Bruery, New Belgium and Jolly Pumpkin. Despite the fact that most of my friends still find sour beers peculiar at best, and just plain wrong at worst (one friend described Weyerbacher’s Sour Black as “a mistake” before spitting it out), I have loved them since my first taste. The fact that the 4th Annual Boulder SourFest sold out in less than 1 minute tells me I am not alone. And while I feel bad for those who were unable to get tickets, I have to say the exclusivity of this event really does make it one of the best beer festivals. There is room to move, there are no extremely long lines, and you can take your time to enjoy all the palette confusing concoctions these brew artisans are able to produce.
My wife and I arrived just before noon. We took our place in line, somewhere between the Crooked Stave crew and Falling Rock’s Chris Black. Just a couple sourheads in a sea of Cantillon t-shirts. Doors opened on time. Security were checking ids and giving bracelets throughout the line, so all we had to do was scan our tickets, grab our commemorative glassware, and head into the taproom.
35 breweries represented the 82 beers that were available for tasting. Every beer had a number, and you ordered by that number — keeping things simple and saving me the embarrassment of being unable to pronounce some of the names. The first 20 drafts were available inside the taproom. When we ordered our first tasters (I went with the Avery Fifteenth Anniversary and my wife went with AC Golden’s Troy’s Blend), we realized we needed to provide a ticket for each pour. We also realized the average pour was going to be about 4oz.
This ticket deal discouraged me. I was only provided 16 tickets. The event was 5 hours. The math just didn’t compute. Within the first 20 minutes we had worked our way through 5 selections – at that rate, we would be through all our tickets in about 2 hours. This fact caused me to inquire about the ticket situation. The Avery employee working the bar just smiled and said “if you run out, come find one of us, we will see how you look and decide what to do”. I took this to mean if I ran out of tickets and was sober enough to clearly ask for more tickets, they would provide me with more tickets. It turned out that his knowing smile came from experience. I would not be asking for extra tickets.
After exhausting our options in the main taproom, we headed through the barrel room to the the heart of the festival. The other 62 beers were being served in a variety of tents out back. The weather was perfect back there — not too hot, not too cool — where sporadic sprinkles were welcome. Local musicians provided the soundtrack, while food trucks provided tacos and kielbasa.
We were an hour into the fest and it was obvious who was winning the popularity contest — Crooked Stave, who had already kicked most of their supply, and Cascade, who had the the only long line I saw all day. So, with a generous pour of Viking Metal in my glass, we stood in line. It was during this downtime that I started to regret wearing my Green Flash workshirt, as I was asked for the 10th time if I worked there. But honestly, as repetitive as it became to explain that I used to live in San Diego, but did not work at the brewery, it did turn into many memorable conversations. We made quite a few new friends because of that shirt.
After working our way through everything Cascade had to offer, as well as some excellent selections from Odell, Redstone and NOLA, we retired to the barrel room, where they had plenty of seating, as well as a Palette Cleansing Station featuring Avery’s traditional line of beers. We compared notes with those at our table while we ate lunch, and then we got back to it.
At this point we’d tasted everything that we planned to taste and still had quite a few tickets left. It helped that we were essentially sharing our tasters, providing us with 32 options instead of just 16. So we just started trying random stuff, and even went back for seconds on a few of our favorites (Cascade’s The Vine, New Belgium’s Oscar-Worthy Coffee and Redstone’s Black Folie). We actually ran out of tickets during this Round 2 of favorites, but we were also pushing toward the end of the event, so people became friendly with their extras. When I gave my wife our last ticket for a second taste of a NOLA selection, the guy behind me handed me one so I could join her. And just minutes later, while we were hanging in the beer garden out front, a guy we had lunch with handed us 5 more tickets. Unfortunately we were only able to use 3 of them before the bell rang out, marking the end of the event, but one of them went to a taste of Avery’s Immitis — one of my top five of the day. And what a day it was! We tasted 35 beers. We left on our feet. And I never had to sample the Tums they had at every station.
They say next year there might be a lottery for tickets. I’m not sure how that solves the problem. I’m not sure that there is a problem. I say just sell tickets like you always have. Those who get them first will get in. Seems fair to me. But then again, I was one of the lucky ones.
Top 6 Tastes:
Avery/New Beligum – 4th Annual SourFest Blend
Allagash – Allagash Midnight Brett
Cascade – Vlad the Imp Aler
Redstone – Black Folie
New Belgium – Oscar-Worthy Coffee
Avery – Immitis
Kicked Too Early to Taste:
Pizza Port – Double Entendre
Perennial Ales – Strawberry Rhubarb Wild Ale
Crooked Stave – Origins Grand Cru
Least Favorite Tastes:
Firestone Walker – Lil Opal
Grimmm Brothers – Farmers Wild Daughter
Asher – Eaux-de-Vie
Oscar Blues – Barrel-aged Empire Mine Gold