Over the course of 3 consecutive Saturdays, I (Matt) attended 3 separate beer festivals in the US. Ratebeer Best in Santa Rosa, Extreme Beer Fest in Boston, and Carnival of Caffeination in San Diego. In this series, I recount my experiences of the 3, some pros and cons, and, of course, some of my favourite beers.
What is the best IPA in the world? Best new brewery? Best beer region? If you wanted to find out, you might turn to Ratebeer, one of the largest beer rating websites in the world. Ratebeer is often used as the defacto ‘scoring’ system for beers (you might even see a score advertised at some stores), as they have a wide community of dedicated beer tasters contributing to their ratings every day. With those ratings comes results, and with those results comes… Ratebeer Best: a combination of awards ceremony and beer festival.
The weekend is split into two major parts. The ‘point’ of the weekend is the award ceremony, where Ratebeer celebrates the beers, breweries, raters, and places that topped their ranks for the year prior. As such, many of the best breweries in the world are in attendance. That lends itself nicely to the other major part of the weekend, which is a massive, one day festival.
Ratebeer Best has been growing exponentially in popularity over the last few years for one key reason: the quality of the beer. To give you an idea of the quality of the festival, take a look at this years invited brewers list. Beers from all of those breweries were available to sample at the festival. So, without further ado, let’s jump into some details.
For this festival, I was relatively late in buying a ticket, so I missed out on the VIP option that granted you an extra hour of drinking time before the rest of the attendees were allowed in. I knew this would mean I’d miss out on some beers I really wanted to try (more on that later), but I was still confident the overall beer quality was so high that I’d be very, very happy. Tickets included all of your drinks, so you didn’t need to worry about stocking up on tokens.
I arrived around 45 minutes before the event. As with many hyped beer related events, this was pretty late, and we were waaaaay back in line (800th? Maybe?). I’m not unfamiliar with long beer lines, so it wasn’t a big deal. What was surprising at the time was that nobody was coming down the line to check our IDs or scan our tickets in advance, which seemed like a no-brainer to me. That said, the line ended up moving at a decent pace, and we were in the venue about 20 minutes after it officially opened.
Once I got in, got my glass (a nice, unstemmed, round-bottomed taster), and went on the hunt for that sweet grain juice. I was dead set on getting straight to Side Project brewing, which is one of my favourite breweries in the US. Specifically, I was hoping to land a taste of a very special beer, but was pretty sure it would have been completely polished off by VIPs. Sure enough, when I got there, Double Barrel Derivation was tapped out. That, along with Toppling Goliath’s KBBS and Prairie’s Pirate Paradise (along with a couple others) were all gone by the time we got in (though the third of those was also reserved just for VIPs). Toppling Goliath went on to pour Assassin, but seeing as the line was almost as long as the one outside, I passed on that and stuck with the more attainable brews.
The lines for the more sought-after beers were decently long, and slow moving, but as long as you had a full beer in your hand while you jumped into a longer line, you were good; almost all of the socializing we did at the festival was while queuing for a beer. A lot like the beer lines, but a lot less fun, was the bathroom lines. The wait was pretty long, especially later in the day. So there was a lot of held pee going on. Food wise, there were a few trucks in the back, and a made-to-order mac and cheese stand. Didn’t try any, but it seemed legit. Waits didn’t seem too long there either.
This list could be very, very, very long, but I’ll break it down to a few that were exceptional in some way or another.
Side Project / Casey: Jammy
While I was pretty sad to miss out on Double Barrel Derivation, I was more than happy to try Jammy: a farmhouse ale fermented with a blend of cultures from Missouri and Colorado (the breweries’ respective states) and aged on Blackberries. The result was a complex, tart, funky, and, accurately, jammy beer. The fruit hid behind an initial intense sour punch, but balanced it out beautifully in the end.
De Garde / Sante Adarius / Jester King: Elements of Composition
I was really lucky to get a chance to try this one. I wandered over to the De Garde booth just to see what they had available, as they were staggering their bottle-pours throughout the day. When I got there, it was their amazing collab with Sante Adarius and Jester King. This blend featured a De Garde portion brewed in 2013, a Jester King portion brewed in 2014, and a Sante Adarius portion brewed in 2015, then blended and aged for 10 more months. The result was incredible. Barnyard funk (almost cheesy), citrus, stonefruit, oak, tartness, and… frankly… magic.
Superstition: Berry White Grand Cru Aged in a Fundamental Observation Barrel
I adore melomels (aka, fruit meads), and Superstition out of Arizona makes some of the best in the world. Their Berry White series (made up raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, and blueberry versions) are some of the best things I’ve ever put in my body. Then, last summer, I was lucky enough to try the Berry White Grand Cru, which is an equal blend of all 4 versions. At Ratebeer Best, the decided to bring something new. Instead of aging the mead in their usual oak barrels, they used a barrel that was previously used to age Bottle Logic’s Fundamental Observation (an imperial stout with Madagascar vanilla beans). The result was the BWGC I knew and loved, but with a huge vanilla kick. It was extremely fun to try, though I preferred the non-vanilla version for sure.
Treehouse: Double Shot (Costa Rica Montes De Oro)
While known heavily for their (amazing) hoppy beers, Treehouse also makes some of the world’s best stouts. One of those is Double Shot, a coffee stout with tonnes of chocolatey flavour and a touch of vanilla. This version uses a single origin coffee: Costa Rica Montes De Oro, from the Tarrazú Valley. It’s known for its vanilla, nutmeg, and apple cider characters, which meld beautifully with the subtle vanilla characters in the base beer. All in all, this beer is rich, creamy, loaded with bitter-sweet chocolate, and packs a perfectly balanced coffee punch.
- American Solera’s Foeder Cerise
- Superstition’s Peanut Butter Jelly Crime
- Treehouse’s Very Green
- Other Half’s Double Dry Hopped Mylar Bags
- Jester King’s Fen Tao
- Hoppin Frog’s Barrel Aged D.O.R.I.S
- Cycle’s Palette #1
- Russian River’s 2009 Consecration
- Rare Barrel’s Quite Something
- Sante Adarius Appreciation (Batch 5)
- Trillium’s Mosaic Cutting Tiles.
So, in conclusion…
This was a festival focused first and fore-most on getting the best beers possible in your glass. In that respect, I’d say it succeeded pretty strongly. The lines were a bit much sometimes, but moreso for the bathrooms than the beers, and it got really crowded really quick. I’m not sure I’ll ever get a chance to try some of these beers again, so I’m really glad I attended. Plus, being in Santa Rosa, you’re not far from Russian River brewing (which is amazing, by the way), and Beercraft (an excellent bottle shop and tap room).
If you’re into trying the best of the best, and can put up with the lines and crowds, you should go to this festival at least once in your life.