Walk on the Wild Side – Baytowne’s Beer Fest

By Joni Williams


Bug off Bud, move over Miller, and pack it in PBR. It’s time to break out of your golden rut, for the Baytowne Wharf Beer Fest cometh. Beginning on the eve of the 14th, you’ll have dozens of brews to choose from.


This isn’t beer snobbery—we’ve been known to ding a pitcher of Miller Lite or drain a few two-buck PBRs, that’s for sure. But if you visit what is sure to be a piece of beer heaven with literally dozens of interesting brews flowing freely, why wouldn’t you shake things up? And Baytowne’s event offers up the perfect time, place and price ($35 and up for all-you can-sample) to research some suds.


You don’t need to get too hung up on types of beers. Basically, there are ales and lagers. Most mass produced daily drinkers like Bud, Coors, etc. are lagers because they’re typically light, both in color and taste, and easy to knock back. Pretty much everything else is an ale, ranging from pale ales that aren’t too bitey or dense—Sierra Nevada’s easy-to-drink PA is a perfect example—to the hopped-up goodness of the Double and Triple IPAs.


And what is an IPA? An India Pale Ale is decidedly hoppy and typically has a bitter finish, though it might be subtle, with an IBU (International Bitterness Units) somewhere between 40 and 70. Double and Triple IPAs have more hops, more malts and so too, a higher ABV—the measure of buzz inducing alcohol by volume. Then we have the dark, sweetish, malty porters like Pensacola Bay’s Lighthouse, and the even deeper, darker Stouts—dense, bread-in-a-glass brews like McGuire’s dark are often stouts—usually packing an ABV around 7 to 8 percent. Some, like the Imperial Russians, rank as high as 10 or more. If you’re looking for a fast buzz, go for a stout.


If you’d rather walk on the mild side when gatewaying into the world of crafts, play it safe by assessing beers you currently like, then choosing something similar. For example, is Miller Lite—a type of lager known as a pilsner—your best bud come happy hour? Then try Oskar Blues’ Mama’s Lil Yella Pils, a Czech pilsner that’s similarly styled but is more distinctly (and deliciously) infused with flavor. Yet it’s not so over-the-top that it’ll freak out your all-American taste buds.


Maybe your favorite bud is actually none other than Bud itself. If so, try trading one lager for another and go with something like Cigar City’s Tampa Style Lager, packed with traditional go-down-easy flavor plus a hint of the brewer’s signature citrusy twist.  Or if you spy any of the new California-style steam brews—like Pensacola Bay’s 5th Anniversary Panhandle Steamer—rest assured these are lagers.  And a hot trend right now, too.


If trendy isn’t your thing, go traditional. Rogue’s Dead Guy, technically an ale, is a dead ringer for traditional lager, taste-wise nonetheless, and can deliciously pinch hit for just about any mass marketed classic American beer like Bud, Busch or PBR. Highly drinkable yet infused with hoppy goodness, the difference between it and mainstream brews is like comparing the taste of homemade to store-bought bread. Despite its funny, morbid name, this beer is alive and kicking with flavor.


All you Blue Moon fans might want to give Cigar City’s Florida Cracker a whirl (or swirl). Both are witbiers with a citrusy twist, but the Cracker is more pronounced and way more delish. Likewise, though it ventures into spice a teensy bit, Bell’s slightly citrusy Two Hearted Ale is hard not to love and makes for an easy gateway into IPAs, even for newbs.


But sometimes the best thing to do is just throw caution to the wind and try brews because they’re irresistibly interesting. Like Rogue’s dry-hopped, slightly floral Morimoto, a soba ale that’s perfect for washing down seafood. Or maybe the ever-so-slightly smoky Nutella-in-a-glass that is Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown will strike your fancy. No? Well, then get figgy with it and slurp up some of Oskar Blues’ Old Chub, a Scotch Ale heaping with malt, toffee and—you guessed it—fig. Or score some wheat, like Bell’s Oberon spicy, citrusy wheat beer, before flowing some oats with the brown-sugary Oatsmobile.


These are but a handful of brewers—Rogue, Bell’s, Oskar Blues and Cigar City—of the dozens we’ve confirmed will be at Baytowne’s big beer bonanza. But even if you wind up with a Bud, Miller or PBR in your hand, who cares? If it makes you hoppy, you should drink it.

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