Alabama,  craft beer

Recapping the 2018 Von Brewski Festival

Over the past two years I have been to Huntsville five times with my wife to enjoy the city’s craft beer scene.  During my trips to Huntsville, we’ve visited every brewery and a variety of craft beer stores and restaurants.  However, last weekend Katie and I visited the Rocket City to attend the Second Annual Von Brewski Beer Festival at the Von Braun Center, which is the first time we’ve attended this event.  In advance of my trip, I previewed the breweries on tap at the beer festival and the setup of the event (read it here).  So instead of rehashing the breweries at the event, I’m going to focus on my experience at the festival and will touch on some of the beers I sampled.

Katie and I arrived at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Huntsville Hotel & Spa, which in partnership with the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Von Braun Center, hosted us for the weekend.  The room was the standard room you expect to find at an Embassy Suites by Hilton hotel with a bedroom and separate living space that has a pull-out sofa.  You can see some of the pictures of the room and awesome welcome package we received on my Twitter and Instagram accounts (and below).

Arriving on the night before the beer festival allowed us to visit some of our usual spots in town.  We had dinner at Straight to Ale Brewing at Campus 805, and stopped at Liquor Express and Craft Beer Store for the kickoff event to Huntsville Beer Week.  Fast forwarding to the next afternoon following a delicious lunch at Bandito Burrito, we walked across from the Embassy Suites to the Von Braun Center using the second-floor skywalk.

Von Brewski Beer Festival is a bit different from other beer festivals I have attended because the doors open thirty minutes before volunteers are allowed to start pouring beer.  In most cases the doors open at people are immediately allowed to start drinking beer.  It was really different experience for Katie and I, but one that we both enjoyed because we didn’t have to wait in a long line or lose time figuring out where each brewery was located.  Instead, we casually strolled into the South Hall of the Von Braun Center around 1:45 p.m. and got to survey where each brewery was setup and decide how we wanted to proceed.

Another difference was that instead of charging for pretzel necklaces like many festivals do, at Von Brewski you get to build your own to wear or you can scoop some into a bowl and take that with you.

The beer festival is inside the convention center, so there is a concession stand serving food at the event.  Additionally, there are vendors selling goods and a full bar for attendees who don’t drink craft beer.  Von Brewski also provides live music.  45 Surprise played at this year’s event with a mix of country music and a little bit of bluegrass.

One of the best parts about the setup at Von Brewski is that each brewery has a banner hanging above its location.  So if you’re searching for a specific brewer you can easily find it.  Additionally, the breweries are relatively organized by geography.  You know I loved that!  The Huntsville are breweries were along the back wall, so you visitors could easily sample every beer from the city’s nine breweries.  The Birmingham breweries were a farther down the back wall with a pair on the left side of the hall.  The two international breweries at the festival, Chilero and Einstök, were right next to each other.  There was also a dedicated and label area for ciders and meads.

The other beer festivals I have attended produce a beer list, but it’s usually a PDF you have to print out on your own or even worse is in HTML on a website.  Von Brewski does the nicest thing I’ve seen at a beer festival, which is to provide a printed pamphlet that allows attendees to rate the beers they drank at the event.

The beer guide allows festival goers to mark how much they loved each beer.

So speaking of beers, what did I think of the brews I sampled?  If you’re an Untappd user, you saw my timeline blow up last Saturday afternoon.  You may have also seen my Twitter timeline explode, too.  I won’t recap every beer I sampled because I use Untappd to do that, instead I’m going to highlight my five favorite beers from the festival.

  • Rocket Republic Cosmic Cookie Oatmeal Brown Ale
  • Straight to Ale Bourbon Barrel-Aged Double Oatmeal Stout
  • TrimTab Language of Thunder
  • TrimTab Cherry Apricot Berliner Weisse
  • Yellowhammer Los Robles Coffee Imperial Stout

I rated all five beers a 4.25 out of 5 on Untappd, so I can objectively say that they are all equally great beers.  However, they are also five very different beers.  Among the quintet there are three stouts, a Berliner Weisse, and a brown ale.

Rocket Republic Brewing Co.’s Cosmic Cookie is middle of the road on alcohol, checking in at 5.8% ABV.  It has an outstanding spice blend and tastes like a slightly alcoholic oatmeal cookie.  It’s a very non-traditional brown ale, but a great illustration that craft breweries can make beer that doesn’t have the typical bitter taste.  I wouldn’t start a non-craft beer drinker off with this brew, but for people who espouse that they don’t like beer it might be a great starter brew.

Straight to Ale’s Bourbon Barrel-Aged Double Oatmeal Stout is a boozier beer, as you’d imagine it would be from the barrel-aging process, and checks in at 10.0% ABV.  As Matt Cooper from STA explained to me, it is designed to be a beer that is in between their Velvet Evil and Stout at the Devil.  I enjoy both those beers, but the biggest difference is that this brew sneaks up on you with the booziness.  I didn’t at first notice the bourbon, but it hit my taste buds about middle of the way through my sample.

TrimTab Brewing Co.’s Language of Thunder and Cherry Apricot Berliner Weisse are two very different beers, which is a great illustration of the skills of the brewers.  Language of Thunder is a barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout that checks in at 9.7% ABV.  It is a little boozy, but very smooth.  In contrast, Cherry Apricot Berliner Weisse checks in at 5.0% ABV.  It’s less sour than your typical Berliner Weisse that can be mouth-puckering for some people.  According to Luke, the head brewer at TrimTab, they worked to cut down on the acid levels to reduce the tartness of the beer.

Yellowhammer Brewing’s Los Robles Coffee Imperial Stout checks in at 10.0% ABV, and was one of the most unique beers at the festival.  It is an imperial stout steeped on coffee from Los Robles Coffee Project, which is a non-profit organization that partners with coffee growers in Los Robles, Nicaragua, to export coffee to the United States and use the profits to invest a community health program called Nicaragua Community Health Connection (NCHC).  It tasted like most coffee imperial stouts except that there was a little added heat and spice from some peppers.  I couldn’t find out what specific peppers were utilized in the brew, but the spiciness made it different enough from other coffee imperial stouts.

Besides my favorite beers, people attending the festival got to vote for their favorite brewery.  So with about fifteen minutes remaining in the festival, the four finalists were called to the stage.  The finalists were Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co., Blake’s Hard Cider Co., Green Bus Brewing, and Rocket Republic Brewing Co.  It was really cool seeing the variety of breweries people liked because the finalists included two from the Huntsville area, a cidery, and an out-of-state brewery known for bourbon-barrel-aged beers.  The winner of the People’s Choice Award was …

… Rocket Republic Brewing Company, which is located in the Huntsville suburb of Madison.

Following the announcement of the People’s Choice winner, I visited the Rocket Republic booth and ordered another beer from them because I felt like it was an appropriate way to cap my time at the festival.  To conclude the Von Brewski Beer Festival I ordered Dark Matter.

Reflecting on the festival it was a great time, but then again I find most beer festivals enjoyable.  There are a lot of things that made the 2018 Von Brewski Beer Festival particularly enjoyable.  Among the things that made the festival so enjoyable was staying at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Huntsville Hotel & Spa because Katie and I were able to walk to the Von Braun Center and not have to deal with parking or driving after the event or the weather.  I especially enjoyed being able to enter the VBC South Hall before the event started to get a feel for the setup.  The breweries at the event were great because all nine operating breweries in the Huntsville area participated along with some of the bigger brands in the state.  Additionally, a lot of regional and national breweries were pouring beers at the festival, too.

The beers were great, too.  Not just because I got to sample a lot of beers, but because it was a great blend of breweries pouring their year-round staples and some unique one-off beers.  Naturally there was an emphasis on darker, heavier beers that you tend to be more popular during winter, but there were also lighter brews to suit the tastes of just about everybody in attendance.

I haven’t really started planning my travels for 2019, but I expect to put the Third Annual Von Brewski Beer Festival on my schedule and make another visit to the Rocket City.  Prost y’all!

Disclosure: My admission to the 2018 Von Brewski Beer Festival and two-night hotel stay at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Huntsville Hotel & Spa were provided by the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau.  Be assured that all words and opinions contained here, are 100% my own.

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