Originally published June 16, 2010
Last week I attended SAVOR, in Washington, D.C., an event which is part of an effort to showcase craft beer and artisanal food together in a setting more elegant or sophisticated than the average beer festival.
The event, subtitled “an American craft beer and food experience,” has grown wildly popular and this year — the third annual — sold out in 10 minutes. Of course, there were only 2,000 tickets available. This, again, is an effort to set it apart from other festivals, where too many people can often spoil the experience.
SAVOR was held in the spacious National Building Museum, a beautiful late 19th-century building modeled after Michelangelo’s Palazzo Farnese in Rome. Inside, massive Corinthian columns are on either side of a great hall. In the hall, there were 15 tables and a total of 70 breweries on hand to represent various areas of the country. Bay Area breweries participating were Anchor, Lagunitas, Magnolia, North Coast and Sierra Nevada, along with seven others from around the state.
To show beer’s versatility as a beverage to drink with food, there were nearly 20 dishes, including Buffalo chili, pecan crusted chicken with garlic mashed potatoes and gnocchi with pork and wild mushroom ragout. A cheese table offered a variety of artisanal cheese from around the U.S., including our own Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk. Chocolate truffles, dips, spreads and a Choptank oyster bar rounded out the offerings.
Some even dressed up for the event. Perhaps paying more (tickets were $95) made it seem appropriate. We act differently depending upon how we’re dressed so in a sense it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Whatever the reason, it worked. I’ve rarely seen such an orderly beer festival.
Upstairs during the festival there were also nine private one-hour tastings in three salon rooms that required an additional ticket. I was asked to host one of these salons and 30 lucky people were treated to several special beers and foods made for the occasion. In one of my salons, two breweries poured four beers, each paired with a specific cheese. In another, the four beers were paired with various charcuterie — locally cured meats made with each beer.
By the time SAVOR ended four hours later, the group had consumed a total of 10,000 bottles of beer, 300 pounds of cheese, 1,500 oysters, 37,450 savory plates and 9,800 chocolates.
Is this the future of beer festivals?
The other thing that stood out at SAVOR was there were no drunken frat boys making spectacles of themselves, and no one threw their glass on the ground to break it at the end of the night.
I’m convinced that having as much food as beer is a big reason why that was the case. While there will always be a place for the “traditional” festival that offers a good opportunity to sample a variety of beers, I’d like to see more of this type. As craft beer matures into a stable segment of the total beer industry, it only makes sense.
Just as craft beer matured through the last three decades, so have artisanal foods, and it makes sense that the audiences would be similar. People who eat good food drink good beer.
The idea behind SAVOR is not new. The Santa Rosa Beerfest has been doing something similar for nearly 20 years Its 19th annual festival took place the same weekend as SAVOR, and there were as many food tables as beer stands. That’s why it’s often called “the good one.” And we’re seeing an explosion of smaller beer and food events, especially beer dinners.
That suggests that craft beer and artisanal food are growing closer and closer together. I do hope that means more beer festivals will consider this trend and offer as many food choices as they have breweries pouring beer. Not only will that mean more people at their festival — foodies as well as beer lovers — but it would also mean fewer free-for-alls, which in turn would mean even more people would be willing to come. That would be something to, well, SAVOR.