Blue Palms Brewhouse, considered one of the finest craft beer pubs in Los Angeles, added a 4th event to their seasonal festival line up. For Spring, the Farmers Market FestivALE joins the Summer Flip-Flop Fest, the Autumn Pumpkin Palooza, and the Winter Jingle Bell Jubilee events that celebrate seasonal beers from around the country, and it focuses on beers made with fruits, vegetables, spices, or herbs. Beer of Tomorrow was there to sample as many of the 19 taps dedicated to the festivALE beers as possible.
Blue Palms Brewhouse
Located adjacent to the Music Box theater on Hollywood Blvd, Blue Palms generally runs 23 draught taps plus one cask, and they boast a seriously major league bottle list. For the Farmers Markets Fest 19 of the 24 taps were dedicated to the seasonal beers, and there was no admission or cover-charge to enjoy them! You could simply head to the pub and order a glass, or as we did, a flight of tasters. Several flights.
The festival beers ranged from the expected Belgian saisons with fruit to barrel aged sour beers and even a traditional Gruit (a beer that uses herbs instead of hops). There was also a handful of specialty menu items for the event, though we did not sample any food. The ability to order a flight of four 4oz tasters is really great for an event like this, and we split three tasters between myself and my wife/editor/photographer Julie.
Here are the beers we sampled, and some brief notes on our thoughts on the beers:
We chose beers that we were most interested in trying, and that we thought we might want to order a full glass of after trying:
- Stone Brewing – Mixtape #1: This crazy blend of Stone’s Levitation Ale, Smoked Porter, Imperial Russian Stout, Belgo Anise Imperial Russian Stout, and Sublimely Self righteous also include sage ,chili peppers,and lemon thyme. Needless to say there was a lot going on in that beer. The herbs were much more at the forefront that I’d expected, with the chilis lending an interesting pique without any actual burn. Unfortunately it was more of a novelty than a beer I’d seek-out again, and I was glad to only have a small taster glass of the concoction.
- Ballast Point Brewing – Ginger Big Eye IPA: I love ginger in beer, and I had high hopes for this IPA. The ginger was very subtle, nearly imperceptible until the beer warmed up a little. It may have been light on the ginger, but it managed to stay a nicely balanced and drinkable IPA, and it was something that I wouldn’t hesitate to order a pint of.
- Surf Brewing – Strawberry Wahine: More strawberry in the nose than in the flavor, but a nice crisp wheat ale. Very refreshing and not overwhelmingly berry-flavored.
- Epic Brewing – Sour Apple Saison: Tart and heavy with spices. Ginger, cardamom, and grains of paradise dominate and the sourness overcomes the usual dry finish of a saison. Pick of the Flight for both myself and Julie.
This flight rounded out the beers that we’d been looking forward to trying after watching the tap-list grow over the week:
- Almanac Beer Co. – Spring 2012 Biere de Mars: Expecting something saison-like I was surprised with the malt sweetness and lighter yeast character of this farmhouse ale brewed with fennel. I love fennel but could not pick any out in the beer’s flavor. Disappointing.
- Ballast Point Brewing – Habanero Sculpin IPA: Their Sculpin IPA is one of my favorite IPAs, and this version was very interesting. It was spicy in a big way, both on the tongue and lingering in the finish. unfortunately the habanero kick seemed to drown-out the delicate tropical fruit hop flavors that the standard Sculpin is known for, but the beers was still pretty damn delicious, even if it was a novelty. Another one I was glad to not have a whole pint to deal with.
- New Belgium Brewing – XOXO Valentine’s Saison: This saison with oranges, rasberries, and rose hips poured a foamy pink and was very similar in taste to the Golden Road / Hangar 24 Valentin Blood Orange Saison, though this beer was more tart that dry. Lively in the nose and on the tongue. I would be happy to drink a pint of this, especially on a warm spring day.
- Russian River Brewing – Supplication: A beer that has been on my “to try” list for quite a while, this sour wild ale did not disappoint. It is a brown ale aged with wild cherries in pinot noir barrels and inoculated with brewer’s bacteria to give it a distinct and puckering tartness. The beer smells slightly like cherry cough syrup, but the cheery flavor is bold and fresh with a hint of tannic quality from the pinot barrels. My favorite of the FestivALE, and the whole weekend.
We had a little more time before we had to leave the festival, so we decided to try one last flight. I already wanted more of the Supplication, but settled on a couple other sour beers on offer to compare.
- Dogfish Head – Aprihop: This spring seasonal IPA brewed with apricots was fairly underwhelming. It wasn’t bad in any way, but the apricot flavor was very subdued (or my palate was just exhausted), and the hop flavor was similarly underwhelming.
- Magnolia Brewpub – Weekapaug Gruit: A Gruit is an ale traditionally brewed with a mix of herbs and barks instead of hops, and this was my first experience with the style. It was porter-black and medium bodied with a fine tan head. It tasted of malt, anise, and unidentifiable herbs, and I found it quite enjoyable. A great contrast to the sour beers that I’d been focusing on for the afternoon, and something that I would order a pint of, especially to pair with grilled food.
- New Belgium Brewing – Lips of Faith Tart Lychee: Another wild ale that I’d been wanting to try, this was much lighter in body and flavor than the Supplication. I didn’t pick-up the cinnamon sticks, but the lychee added a tropical sweetness that mellowed out the tartness of the beer enough to make it really quaffable.
- The Lost Abby – Framboise de Amorosa: A soured version of their Lost and Found Belgian-style ale with raspberries added thrice while it is aged in red wine barrels, this beer was bold complex. Deliciously raspberry-y, the tartness easily overwhelmed the sweetness while the funky oak backbone held up the lighter flavors. Next time someone grouses about putting fruit in a beer, this will be what I pour for them to change their minds. Easily my second favorite of the day.
Post Flight Debrief
We had a great afternoon sitting at the bar and sampling taster-after-taster of deliciously odd beers! But it became evident somewhere near the end of Flight #2 that our palates my not have been as up to the task as we’d have liked. Some food or other palate cleansers would probably have been prudent, and I fear that a few of the beer didn’t get a fair shake. Even so, there were no obvious dogs, and it was very interesting to try so many beers that five or ten years ago could probably never have gotten made.
The surging popularity of craft beer has really given the brewmasters of the country the ability to be creative and experiment with ingredients that wouldn’t normally be taken seriously by brewers. The number of expertly crafted sour beers and saisons show that the craft beer movement is about more than hop-bombs, double IPAs, and imperial stouts. And while we don’t think that fruit and veggie beers are going to take over pale ale and stouts as the most popular craft beers anytime soon, a critical factor in the success of the craft beer movement is variety and these beers highlighted all the creativity and variety available to beer fans today.
Blue Palms is one of our favorite spots for a beer in our neighborhood, and Brian and the whole crew know and love beer and enjoy nothing more than sharing that love with their customers. The tap-takeover style format of the festival worked great, and we are looking forward to July’s Flip Flop Fest!