Raleigh Rare Beer Festival
The Craft Beer Festival Movement
I kind of feel like a hippy going to Woodstock when I attend a craft beer festival. The whole craft movement is still pretty new and the festival phenomenon is even newer with multiple popping up in almost every major metropolitan city (We have well over a dozen here in Charlotte). When I tell friends that I’m going, it’s like I’m wearing a renegade badge of honor where attendance is determined by the length or girth of your beard.
Of course, while I feel like a complete rebel, I can only imagine what others are thinking. “There he goes to another booze-filled fraternity party complete with keg stands, beer pong, and flip cup.” Let me quickly dispel those myths. First, there are no keg-stands. Main-lining a 12% ABV, thick as syrup stout in large quantities straight down the hatchet would make even Bluto from Animal House puke.
Second, beer pong is just gross. Seriously, those balls are covered in dirt, urine, and the plague. That ball rolls on the floor where our feet are, and we put it into cups to drink. Do you know where our feet were previously? The bathroom. Do you know what’s on the bathroom floor? Urine, feces, and herpes. Third, there is no flip cup. There should be flip cup though because flip cup is awesome (and plague free), but there’s not.
There’s actually a high level of sophistication in the craft beer festival crowd. We like good beer and enjoy trying the many different artisanal ales the burgeoning industry is producing. We celebrate new comers and herald local favorites who make national headlines by winning awards. Sure, there’s a good level of drunkenness going on at the end, but the craft beer crowd maintains a high level of responsibility. Taxis line up and Uber rates spike as we safely make our way home.
Attending Raleigh Rare Beer Festival
The Raleigh Rare Beer Festival was one of the most sophisticated festivals that I’ve attended. And it should be at $70 a ticket. We decided to attend at the last minute. For regulars of the event, I realize that may sound strange since the festival does sell out rather quickly (VIP tickets sold out in 8 minutes this year), but I found a pair for sale in a Facebook craft beer group at face value. Needing a weekend away, and with enough points for a free hotel room in downtown Raleigh, Mrs. G and I decided to go.
I have to say that my expectations were rather high. Neighbors have been raving about the event for years, but we always brushed their invitations to attend aside. Traveling to attend a beer festival sounded kind of absurd. There were plenty of good festivals right here in Charlotte that wouldn’t require a hotel room. But none of them promised the level of rarity in beers that Raleigh Rare does. Raleigh Rare encourages one of a kind beers and vintages. Sometimes, like Rodenbach Brewery’s Foederbier, it’s the only keg in the country.
Like a good craft nerd, I reviewed the beer list the day before and created a three tier system on what I wanted to try. Tier one was my must sample list and tier three was my “only if there’s time” group. With so many bourbon, tequila, rum, and wine barrel aged beers (my faves), it was difficult to not include everything in tier one. There were also a good number of sours which have been growing on me lately. I was quite stoked for Raleigh Rare.
Then I stepped into the tent where the event is held behind Tylers Restaurant and Tap Room and was elbow to elbow with hundreds of my not so closest craft enthusiasts. As I’m not a fan of large crowds in such close quarters, my excitement turned to anger. For $70, I expected some breathing room and not constantly having to say “excuse me” me as I sought out my tier one beers. While a few beers and deep breathes did mellow me out, I will still maintain that either a larger space needs to be used for future events or less tickets need to be sold. Fundraiser or not for Pints for Prostate (a darn worthy cause), I felt a tad cheated.
Drinking Some Rare Beers
Griping aside, this is still a must attend event for any craft beer enthusiast in the country and that’s no exaggeration. The beer line-up is the best you will find anywhere. Yes, what you are about to read are all from my notes (they even gave us tasting notebooks with our tickets). Since this was a more sophisticated festival, I found many other enthusiasts also taking notes – at least for the first hour.
The first beer of the day was Big Boss’s Muerto Viviente. I’m a big fan of Big Boss and even christened my kegorator with a keg of Bad Penny. Muerto Viviente is a Belgian Dark Strong Ale aged in tequila barrels. The tequila aging further mellowed out the beer introducing some of the more fruity notes from a fine tequila.
Some other beers of note were Crank Arm’s Pappy Van Winkle Aged Imperial Stout. This was the booze bomb that I expected. Normally, I frown on beers that fall into more of a one dimensional tasting space, but this was Pappy Van Winkle, one of the hardest bourbons to find. I wanted to taste the booze more than the beer and I did.
Deep River’s Black Swirl was an awkward but enjoyable surprise. Black swirl is a black gose brewed with coastal NC oysters. As this was only my third sample of the afternoon, I was still coherent enough to hold down a conversation with the brewer. A bushel of oysters, shell and all, were added to the boil allowing the brine to substitute for some of the salt that is typically added. While I’m a big fan of a gose (a pint and a plate of chicken wings are a perfect hangover cure), I enjoyed the uniqueness of the Black Swirl. The brine was big on the nose and ever so soft on the palate allowing the beer to end with a touch of sweetness instead of the typical sour bite of a gose.
Next was Double Barley’s Sparkky’s Milk Chocolate Stout. Double Barley was a favorite of mine from Charlotte Oktoberfest and didn’t fail to please again. Sparkky drank thick like a milkshake (as it should) with bold flavors of roasted coffee and cocoa.
The top of my tier one list was surprisingly one of the macro craft breweries, Sam Adams. Sam Adams brewed an Imperial Stout with cocoa, nibs, coffee, vanilla, and black pepper that was aged in Utopias and bourbon barrels. All the flavors seemed to dance well together with each getting a chance in the spotlight. The black pepper was the grand finale leaving just a slight spice to the finish. At first sip, the spice was a unique touch. Then it built with each sip overpowering the other more melodic flavors. I still enjoyed this beer though but would prefer it accompanied by food. A grilled ribeye comes to mind.
The final of the tier one beers that I actually took notes on was Wicked Weed’s French Toast Stout. As Wicked Weed is the darling of North Carolina breweries right now, they were the only brewery with a line. I was disappointed. The description promised all the flavors of French toast – maple, cinnamon, and vanilla. And they were all present. I’m just not sure they belong in a stout. While not in the description, I also tasted rather strong hints of bourbon.
With each beer festival I attend, I like to point out a sleeper brewery – one that I’ve never heard of that completely blows me away. Fonta Flora won the award at Charlotte Octoberfest with Double Barley coming in a close second. The clear winner at Raleigh Rare Beer was Quest Brewing out of Greenville, South Carolina. They had some of the most creative offerings (and I tried all three) – Miner Family Vineyards Cabernet Barrel-Aged Sour Kriek, 2013 Buffalo Trace Imperial Coffee Stout, and Smoking Mirror Porter. The Smoking Mirror may just well be the best of the day casked with Greenbrier Farms Bacon and Granny Smith Apple. It reminded me of a raucbbier with sweet and sour notes.
Has anyone else attended a similar Rare Beer Festival? What were your thoughts? Tell us in the comments section below!
Raleigh Rare Beer Festivat is the first in two back-to-back weekends of beer festivals for The Wandering Gourmand. Enter your email below to see how the festival compares to Charlotte’s Queen City Brew Fest.