Sunday, May 17, 2015

North Texas Firkin Fest 2015

On April 25th, New Main Brewing traveled a whopping 4.7 miles to the North Texas Firkin Festival a few weeks ago. Let me begin our review with a Public Service Announcement for the fine folks in charge of event scheduling in Arlington, Texas:

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WHY CAN’T WE HAVE MORE BEER FESTIVALS IN ARLINGTON?! Arlington is a great centrally located city with multiple large venues, a great downtown district that is only getting better, and parks coming out of their ears. Everyone and their mom knows where Six Flags and AT&T Stadium is! Why wouldn’t it make sense to have beer festivals here on at least a monthly basis?

Whew, that feels better. Sorry to yell, but this festival had to have been the most fun we have attended to date, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why most festivals choose their locations at polar ends of DFW. We used a ride sharing app and spent a grand total of $20 getting to and from the venue, being Arlington residents. The NTXFF had several things going for it: it was relatively small, it had amazing rare offerings, and many of the brewers were on hand to chat with.

Even though this festival was smaller than some well-known and well-loved annual celebrations, there were plenty of beer enthusiasts on hand to sample the bevy of brews. With most of DFW’s best loved breweries represented, a tourist passing through the Metroplex would have walked away from the event with an excellent sample of the leaps and bounds we have made as a brewing and craft beer loving community.

Each brewery brought two “firkins” to offer thirsty patrons. For those who are not familiar, a firkin is a rare version of a commercially available beer that usually has a unique flavoring or aging agent added for complexity. Firkins began primarily as real ale,and rather than being infused with CO2 for carbonation, the beer is allowed to naturally ferment in the serving vessel (a small keg or cask, about 10 gallons) without filtering. This does a few things. It makes the beer a little less carbonated than its normal version. Since it is served straight from the cask, it is also unfiltered and typically a little cloudy. These and a few other factors contribute a very smooth mouthfeel, almost a chewiness to the beer. Normally serving at or just below room temperature also allows more flavor to come through.

Most pubs and breweries add things like fruit, liquor, or coffee to their firkins to accentuate the flavors in the base beer. For example, Rahr & Sons brought one of their most popular firkins - Iron Joe, a coffee bean infused version of their Scottish Ale called Iron Thistle. It’s not uncommon to see vanilla, bourbon soaked oak chips, cherries, or even candy in a firkin.

Others also take the opportunity to go back to the roots of cask ale by offering a true English style real ale. Community Beer Co.’s already stellar Public Ale was placed in a firkin with a variety of UK hops for the true British drinking experience. With many folks screaming for the most extreme this or the hoppiest that, it is refreshing to return to a simple and eloquently executed example of the original cask offerings.

Not that we aren’t interested in the extreme or weird beers out there. On the extreme end, it’s tough to beat Peticolas Brewing’s Sledge Hammer. Let me tell you, it is aptly named. A big honkin’ version of their already potent crowd favorite Velvet Hammer, this TRIPLE Imperial Red Ale boasts 11.5% alcohol by volume and enough bitterness to balance out the massive amount of malt required to hit double digit ABV. This beer was amazing from start to finish. And then 3 more times.

Now, we are not here to tell you what you should or shouldn’t drink. We were fortunate enough to be gifted extra tasting tickets, so we were able to try nearly every one of the 30 offerings served up. While we didn’t care for some and others blew our socks off, our tastes are our own and I’m sure nothing like yours. This is why beer festivals are great. There is so much variety that you are bound to stumble upon something great that you would never have thought you would like. Enter the Collective Brewing Project from Fort Worth.

We visited The Collective several months ago, and we were charmed by their great old building, giant Jenga, contagious smiles, and great sour/funky ales. When we saw them on the list of breweries for NTFF, we thought we should definitely stop by and see what they brought. They had a Brett & Citra dry-hopped version of their tasty and refreshing Petite Golden Sour that was puckering enough to cleanse the palate after some other heavy hitters. But then we tasted what I’m certain is being served in heaven at this moment. Their American Sour Red is a special take on a Flanders Red that was aged in cabernet barrels and finished off in the firkin with Brett lambicus bacteria to further sour & funk the beer up. This…was…perfection. I will admit I’m not the biggest fan of sours, but weeks after drinking this beer I still find myself daydreaming about the perfect balance of wine-like flavors, subtle but solid malt backbone, tart and dry finish, and what I assume drinking silk would feel like.

As I mentioned before, we were able to grab many different beers to taste at this festival, but we kept coming back to this beer as our clear favorite. With Sledge Hammer a close second and many other great offerings ranking shortly thereafter, we have to tip our hats to the relative youngsters on the DFW beer scene. The Collective Brewing Project’s American Sour Red was the best-in-show in our minds. We will seek this beer out wherever we can find it. If well-balanced funky sours are up your alley, we think you should too.

Today's Main Break: Sours are becoming very popular here in the states. A common misconception is that brettanomyces is the bacteria souring the beers, but that honor belongs to lactobacillus, pediococcus, and a variety of other beer critters. Once you get comfortable with the idea of sour beer, a whole new and amazingly diverse world of beer is at your disposal!

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