Brews & Blues '99
By Bobby Bush
"Stay small and make good quality product." That bit of brewing philosophy was but a small part of an interesting keynote address delivered by Stoudt Brewing Company owner and brewer Carol A. Stoudt at the Southeastern Microbrewers Conference. Held in Durham, NC on Friday, April 23, the opening day agenda began with the 1999 Blues Conference, effectively delivered by local musicians Paula Larke and Darrell Stover to an enthusiastic group of high school kids. This cultural, educational program was sponsored by St. Joseph's Historic Foundation and the Durham Dragons, a member of the Women's Pro Softball League.
With the teens back in class, gears shifted after lunch to beer. A panel discussion among five brewery owners, moderated by yours truly, followed Stoudt's captivating anecdotes of her 11 years in the industry. Mark Ruedrich, owner/brewmaster of North Coast in Fort Bragg, CA, and a North Carolina State graduate, instructed the eager audience in "The Art of Tasting Beer." Conference organizer Tyrone Irby concluded the session by discussing "The Three Tier Law: How to Make It Work For You."
That night, brewers and other industry insiders began pre-festival activities with the fourth rendition of Irby's private, formal Stout, Stogie and Single Malt Affair. Rare beers (including Sierra Nevada's Big Foot barleywine and North Coast's Old Rasputin Imperial Stout), strong whiskey and nauseating cigars, with food provided by Tobacco Roadhouse brewpub, made the event pleasing and relaxing, foreshadowing Saturday's tasting event.
The sixth edition of the Southeastern Microbrewers' Invitational began promptly at noon in the Marriott Civic Center. Thirty-two breweries, each represented by at least one brewery employee, poured beer during two four hour sessions. Keeping with the regional bent, 20 of the breweries hailed from the southeastern states, with the remainder domiciled in seven others, from New York to California. Speaking favorably for Southern brewers, as has been the case for the last three years, not a bad beer was found. Among the 93 choices, there were a few memorable ones. A gravity dispensed firkin of Boone, NC, Cottonwood Brewery's Endo IPA was smooth and flavorful.
From Asheville, NC, diminutive Green Man Brewing brewer Jonas Rembert recommended his sweet, six months old Belgian Abbey, while Ashburn, VA's sizable Old Dominion nearly ran out of their hop flowery and pleasantly bitter Tupper's Hop Pocket Ale. And from Charlotte's suburbs, Lake Norman Brewing made a fine showing with their seasonal Stout of This World. Oregon regional brewer Rogue presented the draft version of their aptly named Brutal Bitter, a sinus clearing brew of extreme bitterness. The newest exhibitor was Cross Creek Brewing Company. This Fayetteville, NC brewpub began business in December '98.
Following the Blues & Brews theme, musical entertainment was provided to festival goers by Skeeter Brandon & Highway 61 during the afternoon program. Deborah Coleman & The Thrill Seekers took the stage for the larger nighttime crowd. Food was sold by several local restaurants, as were homebrew supplies, cigars and sundry blues related items.
Though Irby may be trying to squeeze too much into just two days, this well attended festival is extremely popular among brewers and local beer drinkers.
"Americans need an excuse to party," a German brewer complained to me recently. "In Germany we party all the time with no reason." At the Southeastern Microbrewers' Invitational, the country's fifth longest running beer festival, there's a reason, or no-reason, to party for everyone: blues music, beer education, fun and, as Carol Stoudt described it, "good quality product."
Coming on May 15 in Knoxville, TN is the East Tennessee Brewers Jam. Hosted by New Knoxville Brewing, the festivities - including food, music and beer - will be held beneath the 1984 World's Fair hemisphere. Call New Knoxville at 423-521-7870 for details.
This article first appeared in Focus Magazine of Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush