The Saturday after Andrea, the Great Tropical Storm of 2013, made her way over Florida, I boarded my trusty boat, the S-10 known to some as Black Sunshine, for the longest voyage in its 17-year existence to take me from Greenville to Tampa.
In an ultimate blessing-in-disguise moment, the idler pulley in my truck locked up and snapped the serpentine belt the Friday before my departure, when I was only two miles from my auto shop, and not somewhere in south Georgia in the midst of a sea of corn. (I didn’t know there was such a thing as an “idler pulley” until 10 days ago.)
So with fingers crossed that the ol’ sled would hold up over the 603 mile drive, I set sail for the Bay. 9 uneventful hours later, I arrived at my new home with the truck in tact.
After coming so far, I feel that Tampa immediately opened its arms to welcome me with a big hug filled with beer. That hug came a week after my arrival in the form of the 2nd Annual Sour Fest at the Cajun Cafe on the Bayou in Pinellas Park.
Florida doesn’t have much of a reputation as being a beer state. With the exception of North Carolina, that pretty much goes for the entire Southeast. However, there is definitely an upward trend for local beer in the greater Tampa/St. Petersburg metroplex.
There are about a dozen breweries in the area and a few more on the way shortly. Add in a progressive beer festival that features all sour beers, and it sounds like Tampa/St. Pete is ready to handle some serious craft beer. And lots of it.
On To Sour Fest
Sour Fest featured over 100 sour beers, most of which were brewed by local breweries. It was hosted by the Cajun Cafe on the Bayou. The Cafe definitely has a beach shack atmosphere to it, and as the name suggests, it’s positioned right on a bayou with a spacious deck overlooking the water. I had a couple people also speak very highly of the food.
Speaking of food, with admission into the festival, you were given a ticket for a sampler plate of their cajun cuisine. The plate included pulled pork BBQ, jambalaya, cajun gumbo, and a piece of crawfish cornbread. It was all delicious.
In addition to the cajun plate, they had servers walking around with large trays filled with stuffed pretzels, bacon wrapped little smokies, and around 4 they brought out the whiskey bread pudding. I had the bread pudding with Angry Chair Brewing’s Let My Peaches Go Berliner Weisse, and the pairing was something like a phenomenon.
Sorry, I forgot this is a beer blog, not a food blog…
Since the festival was outdoors in Florida in June and featured exclusively sour beer, a niche genre for sure, the festival was not packed. I seldom had to wait in line for a beer, or even the bathroom.
The one brewery that did have a significant line was J. Wakefield Brewing out of Miami. I had never heard of Mr. Wakefield until Saturday, so I obviously had to see what worth waiting in line when there were no other lines to wait in. Well, it was worth the wait.
He came with a strong lineup of five Berliners. I got to try the Miami Madness (A tropical Sweet Tart on steroids), I’m Your Huckleberry (Berrylicious and aggressively sour. And sorry, that’s the best taste analysis your getting out of me after a beer fest in which I didn’t write anything down.), and Ain’t Yo Momma’s Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, which Nicole described as angel kisses.
I came to learn the reason I had not heard of J. Wakefield Brewing is that it’s still a brewery-in-process. They hope to open their doors in December 2013. That’s definitely a brewery to keep your eye on.
Another other brewery that I thought was right up there with J. Wakefield was Green Bench Brewing, which also happens to be a brewery-in-process soon to be opening in St. Petersburg.
My favorite of the Green Bench offerings was their Sour IPA, which I felt had a perfect balance between the sour and hop character. It was a delightful beer, and the extra hoppiness was a welcomed addition after tasting so many other fruit-forward sours. They also poured a barrel-aged peach Berliner Weisse, French Oak-aged Black Saison and a Brettanomyces Pale Ale.
One of the more fun and unique experiences at Sour Fest was 7venth Sun’s Blending Lab. You could pick up a tray with four of their sour selections and a mixing vial.
Blending beer is how gueuze is made, mixing old and new lambic together. Since the beasties that produce sour beer can be a little more unpredictable than straight brewing yeast, many lambic and sour beer makers also blend different beers and adjust proportions to ensure consistency in the final product.
7venth Sun’s blending tray included Wolfman’s Berliner (3.8% Berliner Weisse), Saison Vert (a saison dry hopped with Nelson and Citra), Brett d’Or (Belge d’Or 100% fermented with brettanomyces bruxellensis) and Red d’Or (a raspberry Belgian golden).
My favorite combination was 2 parts Red d’Or with 1 part Brett d’Or. The Brett d’Or had an intense brett funkiness, so the sweetness of the Red d’Or toned it down to where it had just enough of everything you would want in a funky brett Belgian. The only combination I did not like was mixing equal parts of Wolfman, Saison Vert and Brett d’Or. Way too much funk and not enough soul.
In addition to the local and regional breweries that were there, the festival had several tables that were pouring some of the best sours from around the world, including some that are rarely seen in the Southeast. Included in that group were some of my all-time favorites: Cantillon Gueuze and Rose de Gambrinus, Lost Abbey Red Poppy, New Glarus Berliner Weisse, Westbrook Gose and New Belgium La Follie.
Since this was the first sour beer festival I’ve been two, I noticed two key differences from any other beer festival I’ve been to. The first is that most sour beers are somewhere between 4-7% ABV. There aren’t many high-gravity beers to sample, so three hours into the festival, I didn’t feel like I was really feeling it. I could sample to my heart’s content, drink some water along the way, and I could maintain a good pace.
The other major difference was that after sampling sour beers for three hours, my stomach had all the acidity it could take. While I love sour beer enough to want to drink it all day, sours are ultimately best enjoyed in a pint or two with a meal, not as an all-day out on the beach beer.
I really enjoyed my first trip to Sour Fest and the Cajun Cafe. For only being the second year of this festival, I thought the selection was outstanding, the food was a great accompaniment, and the logistics were transparent.
I will definitely mark this one on my calendar for 2014, and I’m sure I’ll find myself out on the deck at the Cajun Cafe sipping an Abita eating a Po Boy, just maybe not when it’s 92 degrees.