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Beer Festival Visit - USA / Canada

San Luis Obispo, California:
California Festival of Beers, Main Beer Festival

Saturday 26th May 2012

California FoB Main 1Bob Thompson

And so it happened that I was waiting for an advertised shuttle bus from downtown San Luis Obispo (SLO) to take me to the main session of the California Festival of Beers. Trouble was it wasn't a bus, but nothing more than a people carrier. I, and others couldn't squash in, yet we needn't have worried as another turned up almost immediately and we all managed to get in with a little room to spare.

This was the 26th year of the festival, which is operated by the Hospice of San Luis Obispo to raise funds for their very worthy organisation. The tickets had sold out a long time previously. I had visited the prelude the day before and noticed there was now much more beer on offer for this day of the event. The other thing I noticed that would have been funny, if it wasn't so tragic, was that the glasses were smaller than the previous day.

California FoB Main 2Following the 11.00 opening time the site filled up quickly. Unfortunately the weather was very moody; the wind still blew, it was overcast and cold. It was truly difficult to comprehend that I was in Southern California.

I tried to have a beer from as of the breweries as was possible in the time I had available, which was just over two hours. So here we go, along with my tasting notes. From the far-away north was Alaskan (Juneau, AK) Summer Ale, a 5.3% beer in the Kölsch style. It had a little more bitterness than the real thing, nothing wrong with that.

Next up was Sprecher (Milwaukee, WI) Black Bavarian (5.9%), a Bock beer in the Kulmbacher style. I couldn't really get the German connection as it tasted like a Black American IPA to me. The same brewery produced Mai Bock (6.0%). This, I thought, was really good, having the right Mai Bock body taste but a more assertive bitter finish, lovely.

Einhorn (San Luis Obispo, CA) Blond (5.6%) was another good beer made with German malt and hops with the only US input being the yeast. It was a very passable imitation of a Helles.

The next beer was definitely from south of the border as it came from Ceveza Pacifico Clara of Mazatlán in Sinaloa province in Mexico. I thought it was "So light as to be almost tasteless" according my notes. It wasn't until I started to write this piece that I discovered the brewery was 50% owned by AB-InBev. That explains everything.

California FoB Main 3The antidote was Speakeasy (San Francisco, CA) Untouchable Pale Ale (5.5%) which was lovely with a medium bitterness and a full flavour.

This was followed by Anchor (San Francisco) Liberty Ale (5.9%). I suppose I was influenced by the previous beer but my notes read "smooth and malty, only just OK".

The beer after that was Dogfish Head (Milton, DE) Indian Brown Ale (7.2%) which had a very brown malty taste with a hint of bitterness.

Mendicino Brewery of Ukiah, CA supplied my next beer, Eye of the Hawk. I described it as a straightforward bitter in my notes and was so surprised to see later it was an American Strong Ale at 8.0% abv. It just proves how much I know! I must be getting acclimatised to these strong US beers!

California FoB Main 4After that I had Steelhead Extra Pale Ale (5.6%). I thought it was from Steelhead Brewing, which I was destined to visit later on my brewery odyssey, but no, it comes from Mad River Brewing of Blue Lake, CA. The steelhead is a fish so two breweries use the same name. I thought it was like a lager in taste, yet it was all right.

Next landing on my voyage across the sea of beers was on Pyramid No 9. This company has many breweries, the nearest being at Berkeley, CA.

I thought it was strange but good. It had a smoky aroma and a melon / citrus finish. This was followed by Widmer (Portland, OR) Pilsner, which I thought was rather innocuous.

California FoB Main 5Then a complete change; Bristol's Cider from Paso Robles, CA. They had three on offer, all sadly pressurised. Firstly I tried the medium and thought it was fine. I then had the dry which was very dry. Although they use local Californian orchard apples this tasted as if there were Bramleys in the mix. Finally I tried something really odd - Hoppy Cider, where I presume they use beer yeast to ferment cider. It was a bit weird but wasn't horrible or anything.

Slowing down a bit now, my next beer was Firestone Walker (Paso Robles) 805. My notes say that I thought that this was just a souped-up domestic-style lager. I thought that it wasn't a very good product from an otherwise impeccable brewery. I moved over to the Figueroa Mountain (Buellton, CA) stall and tried Hoppy Poppy IPA (6.5%). This got me standing up straight again, it was absolutely wonderful! I noted "the real deal, very dry, not too many citrus hops". Well, that says it all! Final recorded beer was from The Brew House of Santa Barbara, CA. It was Black IPA and I really liked it. It had an intense taste that was dark but also very dry.

I never did have a beer from every brewery but I was more than satisfied. It was a good festival.

The event is held annually, please see: for more details.