My extremely biased review of the Decatur Craft Beer Festival

I live in a condo in downtown Decatur.  I love beer.  I am a beer nerd, not a beer snob.  There is a difference — each to their own.  I will admit then when faced with a lame InBev lager beer selection at a restaurant, I will just choose a Bud Light Lime-A-Rita instead (which really isn’t a beer).

So people just assume I go to the Decatur Beer Festival (DBF) each year.  Or any beer festival.  Reality — I have never been been to a beer fest.  I HATE crowds.  To be Decatur specific, I’ve seen large drunken crowds at the beer fest – why should I pay $40 when I can walk to one of 20 or so local bars whenever I want?  I know when the $3 happy hour are, and most of the good bars will give me 1 oz. samples anyway.

So I went this year.  DBF was offering $100 VIP tickets.  What does that get you?  1) unique portapotties 2) food and 3) tastings of harder to find limited release beers.

I went today.  My thoughts?

1) Is VIP worth it?  Yes and no.  There were about 20 or so beers in the VIP area.  Most were limited releases.  Too many were bourbon barrel aged – craft brewers – stop it!  It’s an overused fad by now.  I thought it would have died last year. Even one of my favorites – Terrapin’s Wake-n-Bake Stout – fell prey to the bourbon barrel temptation. I don’t like bourbon. Can you tell?  The VIP selection was heavily local, and a good set of beers.

Almost no beer reps were at the VIP area (at most booths, there exists a rep or two besides the pouring volunteers).  Who buys VIP tickets? The volunteers are not usually knowledgeable about the beers that they pour. I think the VIP crowd would appreciate

The VIP only bathrooms weren’t necessary  – while I was there (11-2), there were plenty of rest rooms in and out of the VIP area not being used.  UPDATE: By 3-4pm, they were necessary.

I hate crowds.  Have I said that?  The VIP area was a nice wide open area to get away from the crowds.  Lots of seating, and also good food provided by Oakhurst Market:  Ban Mi’s, wings, spiced peanuts, and lime popcorn.

VIP peeps get in at 11am, as compared to noon.  In hindsight, this was awesome (see below).  For me that hour made a huge difference.

In summary, the VIP area provided decent and ample food, space to chill out, distinct rest rooms that really were not needed, and a lot of unique (heavily but not totally local) limited releases to try.  I expected more in terms of the selection of limited-release beers.

Would I buy it again?  See my summary at the end of this article.

2) The Beer festival as a whole.  It was great until 130-2pm. I loved getting in at 11am (though many booths were not setup until 1130 or later).  Until then, no line for a pour was longer than 5 minutes.  Then the crowds started packing in.  I was somewhat disappointed with some of the larger craft breweries there.  Lots of their usual fare — nothing exciting, nor experimental, nor side projects.  I can buy that stuff anytime.  I guess this is to be expected – these festivals are trying to convert the interested masses, not existing beer snobs.  Kudos to two of my favorite west coast breweries — Lagunitas and Stone – for bringing interesting newer stuff to try.

3) Georgia represent!  The thing that made me the most excited was the phenomenal representation by Georgia breweries. The number has exploded in the past few years, to the extent that I can’t keep track of them all.  Also, the Georgia (and nearby SC) breweries were a lot more willing to experiment and push novel beers on the masses.  They were all pushing, an organization dedicated to changing the 19th century blue-law era laws in Georgia that hamper the growth of small brewers.  In my favorites list below, many Georgia breweries feature prominently.

4) My favorites.  I am a beer nerd, and I am biased.  So here are my biases — take that into account!  I don’t like bourbon-barrel aged anything.  I think hops are over-rated, and I don’t like most strong IPAs.  I do like strong ales, and complex balanced beers like Belgian triples and quads, as well as stouts and porters.  I love sours, if balanced. I like a malty beer over a hoppy one.  I’m not anti-hop (I like Terrapin Rye, for example), I just don’t like it to dominate.  My favorites surprised me — nearly all from Georgia. And many were lighter than the kind of beer I usually like.  I put at * after those that were in the VIP area.

  • Orpheous Sycophantes*.  It’s a fig sour.  Not a full-on sour, but definitely a sour, with some complexy and fruity flavors.  Orpheus is one to watch out for.
  • Brass Monkey Nuts* by Yes Face beer.  An Atlanta brewery I had not heard of. A great british style nut brown, brewed with hazelnuts.  A cask. It works well.  When I walk back later today, I need to find their stout in the general admission area.
  • Second Self Thai Wheat.  For me, wheat beers are the lagers of craft beer. They work on a hot day, and quench thirst.  I don’t seek them out, but will drink one. This does more.  I love ginger.  This is a wheat beer with lemongrass and ginger. All the flavors are there, complementary, and well blended.  I could drink this all day.  Second Self is a relatively new Atlanta brewery – I had not even heard of them until I went out to Pint-n-Plate with some students from my lab just a few days ago.
  • Creature Comforts Cucumber and Lime Tritonia.  Like the Thai Wheat above, my instinct was not to like this.  But I love sours. And this is one. And the subtle hints of cukes and lime work well with a sour.  I had never heard of this Athens-based brewery, and all their beers were creative and intriguing.  I look forward to more.
  • Cherry Street Brewing Co-op Chief Sawnee’s Stash Coconut Porter. The name sounded like a gimmick (there are a lot of flavor-added porters I don’t like), but I tried it and loved it.  A porter with subtle flavors of coconut, dates, and vanilla.  Barely tasted any, but they were there and it made the porter really drinkable.  This Cumming, GA based brewery is really a brew pub selling at Rick Tanner’s Grille and Bar in Cumming, GA. All their beers were creative.
  • McKenzie’s Seasonal Reserve Hard Cider.  A few cider breweries were present – Woodchuck, Crispin. This cider, from Buffalo, NY, had a spiciness that made cider a lot more interesting to me.

So — would I buy VIP next year?  Maybe.  I think my first choice would be to volunteer!  I live a 5 minute walk away.  In earlier years, one had to earn volunteer points for the privilege of volunteering at the Decatur Beer fest. From talking with a co-worker who was pouring beer at one of the tents, this has all changed. They need over 500 volunteers now. It sounds like becoming a volunteer is not hard nor a privilege anymore (and some of them need pouring lessons!)  I would volunteer a late afternoon shift if I could have 11 (or 12) until 2 to drink.  Otherwise, I’d buy the VIP again.  I am on the fence on whether or not the special VIP beers by themselves are worth it (DBF – step up the game next year — did you notice the VIP tix did not sell out?) but the quality food, the open space for crowd-haters like me, and the fact that the dollars go to local organizations that benefit my immediate family, make this an option I would consider again. UPDATE: and see John’s comment about where the VIP dollars go.

It’s 330pm.  I’m going to walk back at 4pm and see what I think of the crowds.  And I need to find YesBeer’s tent in the open area. UPDATE: way too crowded. Waiting in line for 10-15 minutes for 2 oz of beer I can try anyway on another day. Next year, I’m going to volunteer 2-5 and drink beforehand …

Finally, I had many other good beers I’m not mentioning. These were my favorites based on my criteria of “if I really liked it I snapped a photo”

Overall, other than the crowds, a fun, well-run time.  Even when it got too crowded for me, it was not a crazy, misbehaving crowd.  Just, well, a dense crowd!






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2 Responses to My extremely biased review of the Decatur Craft Beer Festival

  1. John Cochran says:

    Rob, Thanks for being part of the VIP. The funds from the VIP tickets are being donated directly to the GA Craft Brewers Guild to help with lobbying efforts to modernize GA’s beer laws which will lead to more jobs and economic development in the state. GA is one of only 5 states that do not allow breweries to sell any beer to the public. All the states surrounding GA do so.

  2. Decatur Wine Pirate says:

    Nice review – you’ve given me some ideas for new breweries to track down. And I guess I’ll be hiking up to Cumming in the near future – which is difficult since I break out in hives when I leave the perimeter. Cheers.

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