West Seattle Beer Festival / Rookie Mistakes + Rusty Nails
This past weekend, my besties and I went out to partake in one of our very favorite pastimes: attending a beer festival. Our destination on this dreary day—a gray affair, sprinkling and cool, crisp and finally smoke-free—was the inaugural West Seattle Beer & Music Festival.
When we first arrived for the day session on Saturday (day two of the fest), I was struck by its emptiness, being more accustomed to the epic spectacles thrown by industry stalwarts such as the Washington Beer Commission, Washington Beer Lovers (WABL) and Elysian Brewing. Hosted by local event-production company Westside Productions, the nascent nature of the fest was apparent in the limited choices available at the Alki Masonic Center.
But while volume may have been lacking, they made up for it with some big names in Pacific Northwest beer—from Seattle-area stars such as Urban Family and Fremont Brewing, to Oregonian favorites including Deschutes Brewery and pFriem Family Brewers. After taking our first lap, I was disappointed to find only one frothy beverage darker than a deep gold: the Capella Porter from Ecliptic Brewing, which was delicious, with a subtle hint of coffee and a nice, balanced malty sweetness.
I was not surprised, however, since summer is not my season for beverages. My love affair with craft beer began in college, and was originally a monogamous relationship with thick, malty and rich stouts and porters: the darker the better. I fell hard for the XXXXX Stout from Pike Brewing Company and Arrogant Bastard Ale, and didn’t stray far from these varietals for many years. Being a Seattle native, the weather accommodated these tastes nicely; I allowed for an occasional dalliance with Pyramid Brewing’s Apricot Ale or an Alaskan Amber in the summer, but this was on a strictly don’t-ask-don’t-tell basis.
But then I moved to Austin, and everything changed. Triple-digit heat. Outdoor patios where the only respite from the blazing sun was a spot under a half-cocked mister in the shade and the frosty beverage in your hand. This was no place for the pitch-black pints of my youth. This was a land for IPAs, for Wits and Hefeweizens and Golden Ales. I was forced to lighten up, at least when it came to my beer selection.
My gateway drug was the Devil’s Backbone from Real Ale Brewing: a Belgian Tripel that packed enough of a punch in spice, hops and alcohol content to compare with the more robust winter flavors I was used to. From there I discovered the 512 Wit, which was perfect for sipping on a scalding summer patio while getting some writing done. And then there were countless Stone IPAs, 512 IPAs—more hopheaded delights than I could possibly recount in one post, and many an afternoon whiled away at Craft Pride or The Ginger Man sampling all the local offerings.
But then Austin and its obsession with the excess overcame me. Like so many things I experienced in that sunblasted, soul-sucking part of the world, I had too much of something I once loved, and I came to despise their very taste on my tongue, their aroma in my nostrils, and my once-pure love turned to bitter resentment, and I had to take a hiatus.
But I digress.
Upon returning home to the Northwest, I reconnected with my first crush, the darker the better, the way I like my coffee: like jet fuel, opaque ebony, rich and malty with a subtle caramel undertone, perhaps a trace of cappuccino, a balanced bitterness and barely perceptible hops. Age one of those suckers in a barrel, taking all these dark and stormy qualities and concentrating them to a syrupy, strong brew that may have a hint of currant; that beckons fond memories of the holidays, sweaters pulled down over our hands, gathered around the fire, the taste of cinnamon and nutmeg and anise on our tongues; and I will be forever beholden.
But a summer brewfest, naturally, is stocked to the gills with pale ales, pilsners, IPAs and various and sundry citrus-infused hoppy concoctions. Since my days in the desert, I have since come back to the middle, rediscovering an appreciation for a well-crafted brew on all ends of the spectrum, and making amends with IPAs. I tried and appreciated a few of the sunny beverages on tap at the West Seattle fest, but the weather remained stubbornly autumn-esque, so the mood was all wrong, and nothing impressed me much. I decided it was for the best that I wouldn't even come close to spending the obscene amount of drink tokens our admission had granted us (mistake #1, this one on the festival's part).
But then we stumbled into what we had originally thought was the VIP area. I'm still unclear on whether it actually was or not, but they let us in—and there, tucked in an unassuming corner of the fest, were the real gems: the barrel-aged, coal-black beauties I love so dearly. There were two stouts; one of them I didn't even note the name of, because something was clearly wrong with the line, or had gone bad along the way, since it had a truly awful funk. But the other. Oh, man.
The Rusty Nail from Fremont Brewing became the true and undying love of my friends and I that day. This syrupy stout packed a walloping punch at 14% ABV, but the flavor was so well-balanced, it lulled you unsuspectingly right into its intoxicating clutches. Just the right amount of subtle spiciness dances around your palate as you delicately sip: a hint of cinnamon, a fleeting glimpse of nutmeg, perhaps the essence of dried orange peel, the promise of happy holidays on the wind. The raisiny sweetness of alcohol, but not overpowering; enough bitterness to balance the flavor out and leave you with a toasty, warm feeling.
We were in love. We sat in the corner next to the keg, chatting up our new best friend behind the bar, and decided we weren't leaving until it ran dry.
There was another delightful aged concoction that we quickly tapped: the Bourbon Barrel-Aged Orange Giant, a 2017 barleywine from Ecliptic Brewing, which was a truly autumnal delight, robust and full-bodied with orange and cinnamon flair, boozy and malty and just sweet enough to be dangerous.
To lighten things up in our little corner, we also rotated in the occasional taste of a delicious, gin-barrel-aged saison from Pelican Brewing. The Queen of Hearts had a delightful richness of flavor, yet a crisp, clean finish, imbued with an herbal, piney essence from the gin barrels. It was the perfect complement to what were quickly becoming the Rusty Nails in our coffins.
Next year, I hope the West Seattle Beer & Music Festival will learn the lesson that they simply can't hand out 20+ drink tokens a pop to a crowd full of craft beer lovers—especially when they've got 14-percenters on tap. We also should have all known better than to knock those black beauties back all day without drinking almost any water, or eating a real meal (mistake #2, this one on us). We couldn't help ourselves: we were in the dreamy daze of a stout heaven, surrounded by the warmth of friends, and we stayed until the keg ran dry, and then we decided we needed to go sing karaoke.
Rookie mistakes were made on all sides. But it was all so good, and we had so much fun, it just might have been worth it.