Don't put it past craft brewers to do weird things to beer, given the invitation. Tacoma's first winter Big Beer Festival Saturday is all about big flavors, although a first glance at the pour list shows nothing sounds as weird as what you'll find at Port Townsend Strange Brewfest.
More than 60 beers will be poured by 20 brewers Saturday on the Foss Waterway. That is, if you got tickets - they're in short supply. Organizers reported this morning that first session door tickets have sold out. However, you might be in luck if you can get yourself - like right now - to an outlet that still has tickets. You should check here and here for a list of outlets selling tickets. The Big Beer Festival has two sessions - noon-4 p.m. and 4:30-8:30 p.m. Admission comes with a tasting glass and tokens for six tastes. Nine South Sound brewers will pour - 7 Seas, Dicks, Duo, Engine House No. 9, Harmon, M.T. Head, Silver City, Tacoma Brewing and Wingman. Also pouring are regional and national craft brewers (see the list below).
Take note: Among the big flavors at the festival will be some interesting Washington distillery collaborations with South Sound brewers.
Harmon Brewing partnered with Spokane distiller Dry Fly to barrel age three of its beers - a stout, winter ale and harvest ale. So what does barrel aging do to a beer? Explained Jeff Carlson, head brewer at Harmon Brewing, the barrels used at Harmon “were originally used to hold wheat whiskey. When you put a beer in there, you’ll pick up residual flavors of the whiskey … you’ll get flavors of vanilla with the oak.”
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Of the three, the harvest ale is expected to be the fullest flavored. “I used a bunch of spices as well. After the beer was done, we let it age. I wasn’t trying to make a pumpkin beer, just create some complexity. I did a great job at that, the flavors of the pumpkin, cinnamon and spices on the finish of the beer - that one is the best in the barrels, that beer is amazing,” said Carlson. Look for the barrel-aged beers on tap at Harmon restaurants and other locations after the festival.
Wingman Brewers in Tacoma also sought whiskey vessels for big-time flavor. Brewer Ken Thoburn said that he’ll be pouring beer served out of a cask from Parliament, a new distillery in Sumner. Wrote Thoburn in a message, “We will be serving our beer Heavy Date out of a Parliament Distillery whiskey cask at Tacoma Big Beer Festival. Heavy Date is a whiskey aged Wee Heavy. It’s 9.4% ABV.”
I checked in with Duo Brewing brewer Dan O’Leary, who confirmed he’s gone barrel crazy, too. He got his from Woodinville Whiskey. He described the beers, “Poles Apart Milk Stout aged in a bourbon barrel from Woodinville Whiskey and Chockablock Scotch Ale aged in a rye whiskey Barrel from Woodinville Whiskey.”
I'm expecting an email any minute from E9 brewer Shane Johns to see what he'll be pouring. I also checked in with brewer Morgan Alexander and found that bourbon will make an appearance in Tacoma Brewing’s beer. Wrote Alexander, “We'll have two taps going - one light, one dark. The dark tap will have Bourbon Stout ("only" 8.6%) and the light tap will have several different IPA ranging from 10% to 13% ABV - since it is the Big Beer Fest, right!?” Yes, that’s right.
Beer drinking friends - having attended one or 30 too many beer tasting events during my 15 years or so as a food journalist in the land of craft beer - some advice: Bring a designated driver (or call Aloha Cab), drink plenty of water and it helps if you keep both hands free for swigging from your buddy's tasting glass when he's not looking.
Tacoma Big Beer FestivalWhen: Saturday Feb. 16. Two sessions, Noon-4 p.m. and 4:30-8:30 p.m.Where: Foss Waterway Seaport, 705 Dock St., Tacoma (NOTE: This is a new location than previously announced)Contact: tacomacraftbeerfest.comCost: $25 buys six tasting tokens and a beer glass. NOTE: Door tickets are sold out for the first session and may sell out for the second, some tickets may be available at outlets. Check the website and Facebook page for updates. Designated drivers pay $5 admission.List of brewers: 7 Seas Brewing, 21st Amendment, American Brewing, Big Al's Brewing, Deschutes Brewery, Dicks Brewing, DUO Brewing, Engine House No. 9, Full Sail, Georgetown Brewing, Harmon Brewing, Hopworks Urban Brewery, Ninkasi Brewing Company, M. T. Head Brewing Co., New Belgium Brewery, Port Townsend, Silver City Brewing, Tacoma Brewing, Two Beers Brewing Co., Wingman BrewingProceeds: Benefiting YWCA Pierce County