Over 4,000 beer-lovers attended the ninth annual (Savor) An American Craft Beer & Food Experience in Washington D.C. With 76 unique, emerging, and passionate breweries offering their expertise of craft beer and, of course, their brews, this two-day festival is unlike any other.
An American craft-brewer is defined by the Brewers Association as, “small, independent and traditional.” Small: annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less; independent: less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not itself a craft-brewer; and traditional: a brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation.
Savor offers a national platform for these regional, lesser known breweries to expand past their usual breadth of influence. Out of the craft breweries pouring, 70 percent were not at the event last year and half had never participated in this event before. Each brewery had a booth in which they showcased two of their beers, along with paired with hors d’oeuvres for unlimited sampling.
Delicious bites included whipped bone marrow with shallot and sherry marmalade paired with imperial IPA; roast asparagus and leek tart paired with saison; lamb tartare with cocoa nibs paired with imperial stout; shrimp and grits paired with pale ale; and banana pudding paired with farmhouse ale. These are just several of the beer and food combos offered throughout the night. Also present was a grand charcuterie station and an artisan cheese buffet to enjoy.
During each night of the event, separate, intimate salons took place where attendees could interact, listen, and learn from the beer specialists themselves regarding various subjects. Hour-long salons offered featured topics such as fruit beers vs. fruit-flavored beers and indigenous American beers ― past and present.
Not surprisingly, the salon I chose to attend was beer as dessert, which had each participant taste “four unique beers that may remind you more of a dessert than a beer.” It was presented by Atwater Brewery’s Mark Reith, Big Storm Brewing Company’s Dan Sartin, and Insight Brewing Company’s Ilan Klages-Mundt
One of my favorite beers of the night was Insight Brewing Company’s sweet, fruity Blackberry Saison. Co-founder Ilan Klages-Mundt was awesome enough to answer some questions.
What gives you inspiration when embarking on a new flavor? Is there a favorite/ worst part of this process?
Ilan Klages-Mundt: The idea of making a new beer is entirely a creative one. Sometimes an idea can come from trying a new food. Sometimes you seek out local ingredients at a farmers market. Sometimes you’re walking by a juniper bush and the smell inspires a totally new beer idea. Once the idea is in mind for a beer, the science comes in to play, and recipe formulation begins. The longer you’ve brewed, the fewer test batches you need to do in order to make the best beer, but sometimes the test batching can get tiresome, as the process doesn’t always work as fast as the creative.
What makes a beer an “outstanding beer” in your opinion?
This might be an exceptionally basic answer, but I think it all comes down to flavor. If the beer tastes great, then it’s a great beer. Plain and simple. Not everyone will like the same beers, and that’s OK, but if you do like a beer, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
For beer beginners, what’s your advice on finding the types you like?
If you have a local brewery (which these days, you probably do), go for a visit and tell them what you are looking for. There’s a good chance that they make a beer that will be something that you will really enjoy, but there’s also a good chance they’ll challenge your taste buds and show you something you may have never known existed!
Another great way is to go to a good local beer shop and ask the sales person there to give you a few beer ideas that they would suggest for a beginner. Beer shops can have a huge selection of beers, so I’m going to guarantee that they will be able to find something for everyone.
Lastly, just as every year in the past, the Brewers Association has collaborated with both “small and independent farms, ranches and fish mongers to incorporate local and seasonal ingredients in as many menu items as possible.”