It was not a great weekend for a beer festival. At least, traditional wisdom holds that the overcast skies which threatened Saturday, and pouring rain that hit Sunday, were not good conditions for The Great Arizona Beer Festival at Tempe Beach Park.
Really though, you can't gather that much beer in one place, give a couple thousand people tiny glasses, and not have a lot of things go wonderfully right. Here are some of the winners and losers, as witnessed when Jonathan "Arizona's Foremost Beer Reviewer" McNamara and I stopped by Sunday.
Winner: Dudes who just want to drink the beer. Seriuously, it's amazing what a little rain will do to crowds in this state. The weather left us the chance to try anything we wanted without any lines whatsoever. Good times.
Loser: Sun Sounds. The low attendance we saw Sunday breaks my heart since Sun Sounds -- an organization providing audio access to information to people in the Southwest who cannot read print because they have a disability -- is a wonderful charity. Maybe it's because I work in print media, and that my grandfather was blind, but I think it'd be nice to see people lined up for miles to hand the charity some money. What are we to do? Hit the Flagstaff and Tucson beer fests, that's what! You want to help, right? Then drink up!
Winner: Firestone Walker. We didn't get to try the California brewer's blue ribbon anniversary ale, which won the fest's judged competition but wasn't being tasted publicly, but the Nectar IPA blew my mind. Best beer of the day, by far.
Loser: Sleepy Dog Brewing. I really want to support the new Tempe brewery which just opened near the well-regarded Four Peaks. Unfortunately, everything I've had from them, at Strong Beer and yesterday, left me cold. I'm a hop-head, though, and that's not their thing, so maybe I'm biased.
Winner: VIPs. It sure was nice to be on a couch, under a tarp, with a plate of free food, when the rain hit.
Loser: You regular people sure did look cold when the rain poured down. Luckily, it was only for a few minutes, then it cleared up a bit.
Winner: Lagunitas, Firestone and other breweries who had a paid professional rep around to answer questions. Believe me, people appreciate that. The volunteers are great, but it's really nice to talk to someone with a little expertise while we're sampling. I understand Sunday at this particular venue wasn't necessarily the best time to send out the "A" team, but we appreciated it everywhere we got it.
Loser: Sierra Nevada, Dogfish Head and the other breweries who didn't send any truly unique beers out for sampling, and also didn't pay a field rep to talk beer with guys like us. Maybe these top-tier microbrewers are getting too big for their britches? The Sierra Nevada booth had a guy nearby who must have overheard me trying to talk to suds with the volunteer, but stayed in his conversation than walked away. Lame. Dogfish Head keeps sending out the cheap stuff to Arizona beer festivals -- no 120 Minute IPA, again -- which is going to leave connoisseurs looking for another company to bond with, and give $10 a bottle to.