November 11, 2013
On Saturday we attended one of our favorite festivals in the Bay Area, The Bistro’s West Coast Barrel Aged Festival. Bistro proprietors Vic and Cynthia Kralj brought in 67 beers of many different styles that had one thing in common — they had spent some maturation time in a wood barrel. In general, the beers born of wine barrel aging tended to be sour ales inspired by the Belgian tradition, while a variety of clean strong ales had come through spirits barrels with rich results.
The beauty of this festival is in the incredible contrast between the beers. The panoply of intense flavors allows one to taste each beer without undue influence of the preceding beer. Sour beer reset the palate after a strong sweeter brew. Next, an oak-aged barleywine soothed the tang of a sour. The 41 participating breweries sent a wide range of flavorful concoctions. Bear Republic, for instance, brought five beers ranging from its wonderfully tart Tartare to a version of Big Bear Imperial Stout aged with prickly pear.
Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, from Denver, sent a Burgundy Sour Ale. Sierra Nevada sent special barrel-aged versions of three of its readily available beers, Narwhal (imperial stout), Ovila Dubbel and Audition, which is Ruthless Rye IPA dosed with whole cone Comet and East Kent Golding hops.
Several years ago, the Kraljs decided to dispense with the professional judging of this festival, believing it was difficult if not unfair to judge such divergent and emerging styles against each other for one award. However, festival-goers are still encouraged to vote for People’s Choice. For the second year in a row, tiny Sante Adairius Rustic Ales from Capitola won the award. Its West Ashley, a saison transformed by time in French Pinot Noir barrels with apricots and house souring organisms, was the only bottled beer served at the festival. Sierra Nevada’s bourbon barrel aged Narwhal finished second.
This fest is not for the weak livered. Only ten of the beers had an ABV under seven percent. 22 clocked in with double-digits. Despite the crowds, most of the beers in attendance left many wonderful flavors on the table — or in the kegs, if you will.
Fear not. The Bistro will put each of the remaining partial kegs back on tap in the coming weeks. It is most definitely worth a visit — or a return visit — to Hayward in November.
P.S.: Sierra Nevada opens their new taproom in Berkeley — the Torpedo Room — within about a week. Many of their small batch experimental brews will be coming to town. Sante Adairius is not an easy destination except by car, but a weekend getaway to Santa Cruz was already a pleasant idea before this great nanobrewery opened, so put it on your list. The tasting room is open Thursday-Sunday. Check: rusticales.com for exact times and location.