Beer tents, food trucks, portable toilets, music, and of course throngs of beer lovers. This was the scene on a very warm Cinco de Mayo in St. Louis Forest Park. This year’s St. Louis Microfest was the largest in its 17 year history, with 110 breweries. 38 International, 24 from Missouri and the rest from around the country. It was a challenge, but one I embraced with jubilation, and eventual inebriation.
How does one tackle such a challenge?
I came armed with a diploma from Cicero’s Beer School and my past experiences at the Centennial Beer Festival and the Heritage Festival, which is almost upon us. I also read the advice of local beer columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Evan Benn.
I believe the all important key to conquering a beer festival, especially one of impressive size, is …spitting. Yes, spitting. You must not drink the full sample. I repeat DO NOT finish every sample. I know it seems wasteful, even sacrilege to pour out good beer, but it is the only way. Trust me.
Also, in theory, I would start with low bodied, lower alcohol beers, such as Pilsners, Brown Ales and wheat beers, then move to Amber Ales, IPA’s, Double bocks, Stouts, and Porters. However, with the festival layout (beers grouped by brewery, not style) and time constraints (yes its four hours, but most breweries offered at least 2-3 samples), it was logistically impossible for this taster to have a perfectly light to heavy flight, without looking like a wild woman, running in fast forward from table to table, tent to tent, and back.
What is beer tasting, anyway?
Beer is beer, right? Maybe if you are talking about the drink all day varieties, like Bud Light and Miller, aka Session Beers. But when it comes to craft beer, there is so much to explore in each glass. And know that aroma affects flavor and you’ll miss the full bouquet (and taste) when you drink it from the bottle or can. Try holding your nose sometime while you sip your beer and you’ll understand.
First take notice of the appearance, does its color match its style? Dark, red, or golden? Clear, cloudy or foamy?
Immediately give yourself a good sniff or two before the smell leaves the glass. Malty or hoppy? Chemical odor? Spicy?
Finally, get that drink down the hatch. Let it flood your tongue. Is it well balanced? Do you taste bitterness, fruitiness, maltiness or hoppiness?
How does the beer finish? Some will linger, dripping your mouth with heavy malts or blasting it with a hop finish. Others will have a crisp clean finish.
Stand out Missouri beers, from my book of notes
Perennial Artisan Ales, St. Louis: Saison de Lis
Belgium style, at its best. The chamomile flowers, as seen on the label, do give it that special something. It is floral and fruity, but with the right amount of spice.
Public House Brewing Co, Rolla: Revelations Stout
This beauty placed 3rd in the session beer category at the 2012 World Beer Cup. Which, explains why this stout struck my fancy. It was full, but did not heavily coat my mouth and belly. Plus, I hear it pairs well with dark chocolate.
Cathedral Square Brewery, St Louis: Iglesia Agave Ale
Not having had many agave ales, I loved the fruity aroma and sweet taste. Very drinkable beer for summer.
If you don’t want to wait another year for the Microfest, worry not, as mentioned earlier, the Heritage Festival is June 15, 16, and 17.
And remember, the great thing about a beer festival is stretching your pallet and discovering something new.