Something that I’m starting to enjoy is becoming a volunteer for Hops In Humboldt. Unless I have a ride, I don’t really like going to festivals and having too much beer. I like to enjoy the whole aspect of the festival, which is a celebration of beer. This year was an experience like no other at Hops In Humboldt and it gave me a full immersion into the experience I was looking for. I’ll get to that in a minute.
First, I’d like to take time out and thank the entire Hops in Humboldt team for putting this together every year. Having dabbled in a few similar things, I can say that its not easy pulling off something like this. Thank you to Woody, John, Tina, Jere and everyone else that I can’t name right now. They received Fortuna’s “Non-Profit of the Year” award, and they deserve it. This years event was probably one of the best I’ve seen. Years past see some long lines, probably due to small glasses and unexpected high attendance, and booths running out of beer early. There are probably people more in tune to the inner workings of the event than me, but from my perspective, this year was fairly free of problems. Heck, I didn’t even smell pot smoke once.
At 11:30, I got in line with the rest of the volunteers and was quickly flagged down by a fellow homebrewer. Jay was running the judging and someone failed to show up. “You want to to be a beer judge?” he yelled over the sound check music. “What do I have to do?” I inquire. “Taste everything!” he says with a wide grin. To tell you the truth, I was hesitant. I didn’t want to taste everything, I wanted to just hang out and pour, but I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.
After orientation, I was relieved to find out that I would be able to taste ahead of time before the main crowd and would have to be done by 3 PM. I have balked at these types of things in the past because when I hear the term “beer judge”, I instantly polarize myself to the BJCP standard, to which I am not qualified to do. But this was something different entirely, as you will see.
I was assigned to the “Best of Hops” group of judges and the criteria went way beyond just the beer. “Best of Hops” has to take into consideration number of beers offered, quality of beer, decoration of the booth, energy, “hotties” (both male and female), “X-factor” (like cask beers, randalls, etc.) and a couple of other criteria that I’m not going to divulge, because I don’t want to have to fight for the opportunity to be a judge next year!
If you want a good example of how to win this award, just take a look at the booths from Six Rivers Brewery and 21st Amendment, who ultimately split the Hops in Humboldt awards. For all intents and purposes, these booths were mini-parties. For those of you reading this who may be a participating brewery or brewer, the key to this award is to turn your booth into a high energy magnet. Bring lots of beer, your brewers, decorations, extras, schwag and beer karma and you will do well. So with all apologies to Six Rivers and 21st Amendment, the purpose of that statement is to get you more competition for Hops in Humboldt 2013 or more accurately, a much more fun filled festival at every booth!
I started my lap around the festival at the Gordon Biersch booth and was very surprised to be met by Dan Gordon himself.
Now stop for a minute and digest that. The head brewer was at the festival pouring his own beer. (Bonus points on the judging sheet, by the way — having a brewer pour me their own beer makes me giddy as a school girl, I will admit it) This was not an isolated incident. Other breweries like North Coast and 21st Amendment had their brewers there as well. Yeah the locals did too, but the point is these guys, who are surely very busy, took the time to come to Hops in Humboldt from many miles away and represent their brewery. So that should give you an idea on how peers in the brewing world are viewing Hops in Humboldt. Gordon Biersch produces 3.1 million gallons of beer annually and Dan Gordon took the time to attend. Very cool.
Dan poured me a blonde bock from a barrel (X-factor) and he spotted my Maple Leafs hat and we chatted hockey for a bit. I could have ended my day right there and been pleased as punch, but I had a job to do.
I’m certainly not going to detail every beer and every booth, but I will touch upon some more personal highlights.
One thing I was surprised about was the high number of amber beers being offered. Now I love amber beer, but there isn’t a whole lot you can do with it. There really is no thinking outside of the box when it comes to amber. Nobody has ever said, “That amber is the best beer I’ve ever had.” But I was pleased the festival wasn’t dominated by sours. I was also pleased to see cider well represented. Cider is that kind of bastard child of a beer festival but I think people need to look beyond it as a “girl drink” and appreciate it. A brewer can make a beer consistently batch after batch. Cider is much harder to pull off in that department and is often at the mercy of mother nature and a highly skilled cider maker. My pass through the Ace cider booth was humbling. The sparse booth sported a borrowed purple pop-up from Barefoot Wine and the logo was eventually covered with a hand made sign claiming “NOT WINE”. “We are a company of 12 people,” the rep claimed. “We don’t even have our own pop-up. We had to borrow this one.” But Ace produces a damn fine cider and perry, so give them a try sometime.
My visit to the North Coast Brewing Company booth was another highlight. If I were to judge strictly on the beer, NCBC would have received the highest marks from me. I was treated to Old Stock 2005, and one beer tasted side by side, one aged in bourbon barrels and one in brandy barrels. Brewer Ken and I talked homebrewing for a bit and he says he still brews at home where he is more free to experiment. No doubt, some of those experiments end up in the NCBC brews.
My last leg yielded more surprises. Bacon beer and a watermelon randall was eyebrow raising. My whirlwind experience was punctuated by my visit to the 21st Amendment booth, which was aiming for the full San Francisco experience. I was sat down by brewmaster Shaun O’Sullivan and given a full dose of judge-schmoozing. If you go by line length alone, 21A was the place to be. My deadline was almost up, so I couldn’t stay long.
What you should take away from this is a good idea at what it takes to win those awards at Hops in Humboldt. If you are just filling tasting glasses, don’t expect to win the awards. If you are filling glasses with variety, gusto, energy and beer culture, you will do well. I challenge future attending breweries to give Six Rivers and 21st Amendment a run for their money at Hops In Humboldt 2013!