Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lions and Tigers and Beer!?!

This past Saturday B. James, McPaddy and myself went to "The Brew at the Zoo", a beer tasting event at the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium to support the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation. I had heard about it last year, and just had to try it out this year. Overall, I'd give it a rating of 6 out of 10.

Free Beer, free food, and monkeys throwing poo, how can you give it such a low rating, you ask? Well as much fun as it is to be drinking while watching lobsters battle stone fish for a perch or watching an ostrich try to mount a giraffe, I don't think the event was operated as efficiently as it could have been. I attribute this primarily to the fact that this is only the event's third year, and I don't think they were prepared to handle the crowds they got. I bet the setup was acceptable for the first 2 years, but now that the word is out on the event, and they sold out of tickets, I think they just got overwhelmed.

There were 6 beer zones setup throughout the zoo, each with a variety of different brews to choose from. Every time you approached one of these areas it turned in a complete cluster-fuck, because there was one or maybe two gigantic lines you had to wait in to sample...something. What exactly, you didn't know until you got there. And if you were at the wrong end of the sample table, you found yourself waiting in a 10 minute line for Blue Moon, when the McSorley's Black Lager was at the other end of the table...Fail.

I think They needed to spread things out more. If not each beer, they needed to give each brewery their own separate table to work off of, and they needed spaced away from each other a little more. Signs would've been good too. How hard is it to print all the Brewery Names on pieces of coroplast and stick them on poles, up high in the air, for all to see. There was also a map of the zoo which showed where each beer was located at. Unfortunately, they had only one sign and it was posted at the entrance of the zoo. So unless you had a photographic memory (or were smart enough to snap a picture with a decent digital camera, not a ghetto camera phone) it really served no purpose. They should have at least printed out fliers to pass out. Some of the beer locations also ran out about halfway through the event, leaving you at one end of the zoo with all the beer at the other end.

There were about 115 beers and other alcoholic beverages to sample, and I think I maybe tried 11 things over the course of the 3 hours I was there. Of those 11, maybe only half were new to me. My original goal was to have left the evening having sampled 20 or so NEW beers (mostly micro brews). Instead I sampled maybe 6, and the place was too much of a zoo (pardon the pun) for me to savor anything or to talk with the vendors. Don't get me wrong. I had a good time, but I didn't have the blast I was hoping for.

Of what I did get to sample, here is my opinion. Keep in mind that unlike M. Randolph, I will NOT be using any technical jargon what-so-ever. I'm a layman. I drink it, I even brew it...a little, but I won't even begin to consider myself an expert. My taste buds are the only critic. They either like the taste or don't.

Brooklyn Brewery

Brooklyn Brown Ale is an American style Brown Ale. I've had it before but it has been a while. If falls a little in between your typical American Brown Ales and your English Browns. The hops is there but it doesn't provide the bitterness we Americans are obsessed over. That actually makes it a decent beer in my eyes. I like my hops, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, something many American Micro brewers forget.

I tried their Brooklyn Pumpkin Ale, but wasn't too thrilled with it. I appreciate what they were trying to achieve, and it seems like every fall more and more Pumpkin Ales pop up, but I don't think they pulled it off quite right. It tasted like pumpkin flavored cardboard dipped in beer.

Lindeman's Framboise

The sample glasses we received were only 3oz. So when the vendor dispensing the beer keeps telling everyone to chug it and he'll top you off again real quick, by golly you do it. When he starts screaming "chug chug chug", and the his manager has to tell him "this isn't the place for such antics" you begin to wonder if he wasn't sucking on the end of the tap when people weren't looking. Anyways, this was probably the most memorable of the beers I sampled that night. I've also had this one before, but the mixture of the hops bitters with the raspberry tart n' sweet taste makes for an very enjoyable experience.

Pabst Brewing Company

McSorley's is from another local PA Brewery. What was once the Wilkes-Barre Brewery, and is now known as Lion Brewery, the McSorley's line was bought out at some point by Pabst. From what I know, they still make it in Wilkes-Barre though. Their Irish Pale Ale was definitely worth waiting in line for. It had a nice amber hew and a hoppy bite that didn't linger in your mouth.

I also sampled McSorley's Irish Black lager. I really don't know what to compare it to since I think it was my first black lager. It reminded me of a Porter or a Stout, with a nice malt flavor. Doesn't matter to me how it's made, it tastes good.

Diageo (Über Booze Gods)

Red Stripe

Imported from Jamaica, I really can't say that this is a good beer or a bad beer. It's a pale straw colored light lager with a hint of a citrus bitterness that lends to an interesting aftertaste. Either you like it or you don't. The decision is up to you. I like it because it reminds me of the island I've grown to love. Frank Zappa once said, "You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline - it helps if you have some kind of football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer."

Smithwick's Ale

Another brew from one of my favorite Alcohol conglomerates. Smithwick's is an Irish Pale Ale with a slightly reddish brown body and the simple well defined flavor of the red malt. Not the best example to represent this particular style of beer, but definitely one I have no problem drink. Another one of the beers I've had plenty of times before this event.

Smirnoff Ice

Yes, the festival did have a handful of malt beverages and ciders to sample as well. Since there was no line at all for these beverages, I had no problem with taking what I could get. I tried two of their new flavors, Passion Fruit and Mango. Smirnoff Ice beverages have always been loaded with enough sugar to turn an elephant into a diabetic, but these two new flavors were definitely an exception to the rule. Though the Passion Fruit was still a little too sweet for my taste, it was far from being the super sweet sugar kick that typically makes my lips pucker tighter that a prison inmate's ass when they hear the words "fresh fish". The Mango flavor actually had a very pleasant and lightly sweet taste to it. I'm sure it was loaded down with about 2 cups of sugar still, but at least it was drinkable.

Magic Hat Brewing Co.

Everybody seems to love #9, but not everybody has tried some of their other craft brews. I tried some Lucky Kat, which is advertised as an IPA (Irresistible Pale Ale) and has a nice hoppiness to it without being overwhelming. Whether you like Magic Hat or not, I really appreciate that they don't give two shits about conforming to accepted standards. They made a beer that tastes good and called it an IPA. It didn't taste anything like what I'd expect from an IPA, but it did taste good. It seems that most of their beers follow a similar fashion. The only thing they seem to consistently conform to is a resistance to conform. Way to rock the boat Magic Hat.

Yuengling Beer Company

I'm from Pittsburgh, which means I am required by law to have Yuengling Lager in my house at all time, but they do make other beer as well. At the zoo I got a change to sample their Porter. I loved the roasted maltiness of this one. It was nice and dark and went down smooth with just a hint of hops. I might have to pick up some of this. I hope my parents and friends will forgive me for buying something other than Lager.

So of the 11 beers I tried, 6 were new to me and two of the new ones weren't even beer. Not quite what I hoped for in a beer tasting. It left me wanting, but you take what you can get. Will I do it next year? Not sure. Though a cool concept, I think I can dedicate my efforts to exploring the zoo or I can dedicate my efforts to sampling the beer. If they don't change how they run and operate things, I'm not sure if I can pull off both.