This weekend three friends and I headed south to attend the World Beer Festival in Durham, North Carolina. As Frank, Jerry and I did last Spring when we attended the WBF in Raleigh, we made a weekend getaway of it.
Cris, Frank, Jerry and I started our trip on Friday afternoon. Our first stop in Durham was Sam's Quik Mart where we stocked up on beers we can't buy in Virginia. After checking into our hotel, the four of us headed over to Tyler's Tap Room. Tyler's was highly recommended due to it's extensive beer list and the beer list didn't disappoint. We enjoyed several "flights" of assorted beers before settling on standard servings of beer with dinner. After dinner we moved over to Tyler's Speakeasy to spend several hours playing pool and enjoying more good beers. A WBF brewer's reception was taking place on the outside patio. Though I wasn't on the guest list I did get to talk to many of the attendees as they walked in and out of the party. During the evening I also finally got to meet in person Stephanie Kerchner from Flying Dog Brewery. Stephanie is the kind person who regularly sends me samples of new Flying Dog beer. She's an enthusiastic promoter of Flying Dog beers and events.
Saturday it was time for the weekend's main event. We had tickets to the afternoon session, noon - 4:00PM. After a hearty breakfast we walked over to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park about an hour before the starting time. When we arrived there was no line yet, but that quickly changed as folks started arriving and the line quickly grew and wrapped around the stadium. About 30 minutes before opening WBF staff came out to check ID's and issue wristbands. (A note to wristband volunteers, the wristband should not cut into the wearer's circulation. A few of us had our overly tight bands replaced when we next saw an ID checker.) Before the gates opened our bar-coded tickets were scanned and we were issued green admission tickets. Both of these pre-opening procedures serve to speed getting through the gates at opening time. Hope for a fast entry process was a topic overheard in the line, and those hopes were fulfilled.
Once inside we funneled down the stadium steps onto the infield where the tents were set up. The entire festival ground was covered by interlocking plastic tiles. This "flooring" provided a clean and comfortable surface. I spoke with Julie Bradford, the festival co-producer, about these tiles. She told me they were new to the stadium, and in fact, when used short term, are actually good for the turf. The tiles aerate the turf and prevent it from being compressed by all the foot traffic.
We spent the next 4 hours trying out new beers, and revisiting old favorites. It was also a good time to talk with friends, both new and old. I'm sure there were as many picks for stand out beers as there were attendees. I won't even attempt to go in to all the good beers. I don't take many notes while enjoying a festival. I was pleased to see that Old Dominion Brewing was in attendance and had brought along some "specialty beers." I was told that the special tap would have three different beers throughout the afternoon, though I only managed to get by the booth once, for the Bourbon Barrel Aged Robust Porter. This porter had a bourbon aroma and a smooth, roasted flavor. The bourbon flavor was reserved and well-balanced. It's nice to know that the brewers at Old Dominion are still producing creative beers. Dominion brewery gets a lot of grief from local beer lovers, a lot of it based on internet hearsay and emotion. However, the talented brewers there are still producing unique and special beers.
A brewery I was surprised to see represented was New Belgium Brewing Company of Fort Collins, Colorado. They sent just one beer, their Fat Tire Amber Ale. New Belgium does not ship any of its beers east of the Mississippi. Fat Tire is the most well-known of the New Belgium beers, but I would have like to have seen some of their other beers as well. Folks on the east coast frequently lament the absence of New Belgium beers, and the booth at the festival was very busy, even with just the one beer. I asked the person pouring the Fat Tire about their presence at the festival even though the beers aren't distributed here, and was told simply "Wait 90 days."
I met up with Thomas Vincent, who writes the Geistbear Brewing Blog. Thomas and I had arranged via Twitter to meet up. Between his trademark fedora and the bright orange shirt I wore we found each other easily. It's always fun to meet fellow beer bloggers and Thomas and I had an enjoyable conversation. I also ran into bloggers Lew Bryson, Jay Brooks, and Rick Lyke, though we didn't get to chat much.
There were close to 150 breweries from all over the US and many other countries represented at the 13th Annual World Beer Festival. There were many North Carolina and other eastern breweries in attendance. Despite the "World" appellation, the local beer community provides the foundation for WBF. This year's event location was changed late in the game to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The organizers did an exceptional job in putting together a well-organized and well-laid out festival despite the last minute change in venue. I was speaking with a beer industry leader recently who told me that, after GABF, the World Beer Festival in Durham was perhaps the next best beer festival in the US. I've not been privileged to attend a lot of beer fests, but I can say that WBF is indeed exceptional. I'm looking forward to the next one.
Pictures often tell a better story than words. I've posted some pictures from the World Beer Festival here.