The smartest beer nerds in town: Life inside a Brewmasters beer booth
Maybe it's the insufferable heat or the 12-hour days that feel like weeks, but if you've ever been on the pouring end of the table at even one beer festival, you automatically feel like a seasoned pro.
So when Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co. founder Rassul Zarinfar invited me to help man his booth at the third annual BrewMasters Craft Beer Festival in Galveston, I scoffed at his pre-event coaching. Especially because the BrewHaHa, the tasting portion of the festival, was being held inside the air-conditioned Moody Gardens Convention Center, away from the sweltering heat and humidity of the island.
As soon as Zarinfar ended an interview on Michael Garfield’s radio show, he began smoothing over last-minute problems — CO2 tank, pump tap checks and other unexpected setbacks. Within minutes of a successful setup, Zarinfar was bombarded with guests asking us to fill their souvenir pint glasses and discuss the finer points of the brewing process.
While I'm reasonably well-versed in this craft and almost fluent in beer-speak, when refined palates and microbrew aficionados started asking about plato and discussing IBUs, I handed them off to Zarinfar, who proved that carrying on three conversations at once is possible — even with craft beer connoisseurs.
While I'm almost fluent in beer-speak, when refined palates and microbrew aficionados started asking about plato and discussing IBUs, I handed them off to Zarinfar, who proved that carrying on three conversations at once is possible — even with craft beer connoisseurs.
"So is the Gingerbread a stout or a porter?" asked a guest about the popular seasonal.
"That's the kind of crowd we’re going to see today: Really smart people," said Zarinfar, as if to brace me for the onslaught of questions and fans that, no doubt, came in droves. These really smart people were beer nerds, beer nerd aspirants and the abandoned spouses of craft beer devotees, affectionately dubbed "beer widows" or “beer widowers.”
New to the crew, Gustavo Vincenti poured each of the four brews into Belgian pint glasses so that patrons could take in the aromatics before actually tasting. With the kegs having been prepared just a few days before the festival, guests were able to appreciate the smoky cedar on the head of the wood-aged 1836. This attention to detail attracted a seemingly endless line of guests, most of whom were ready to sample something new, and some who were merely drawn by the tent’s popularity.
“Honestly, I don’t know the brewery, but if all of these people who know more about beer than I do are willing to stand in this line, I figure it has to be worth it,” one enthusiast sheepishly confessed.
Guests tasted and experimented with cheese and cured meat pairings, occasionally picking at their pretzel-strung necklaces to reset their palates, while the vendors remembered to mind the retailers who frequented the tents, fostering relationships and placing orders.
“Where’s the fucking coconut? The black IPA with that jaggery sugar? And the double IPA— More Cowbell? I’ve been dying to try it!” asked Troy Witherspoon as he bypassed the winding line to sample the new small batch for his bar, Petrol Station.
Retailers and guests alike favored the Texas booths to the bigger national brands. “The Texas breweries have great representation, but the national stuff I like, like from the West Coast, those reps didn’t know anything about their beer,” Witherspoon said.
Apart from the impressive Texas representation, this state’s breweries also brought along their exclusive, harder-to-find kegs and casks that aren’t readily available at local bars. Those exclusive batches coupled with the accessibility to company insiders drew large large crowds and targeted questions.
The festival ended with the obligatory over-imbibed attendant who went on an angry (but hilarious) tirade against Bud Light’s Lime-A-Rita
Eager fans tasted Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co.’s newest IPA, a hoppy collaboration with the USBG of Houston, while Zarinfar explained how it was brewed. “We kept tasting the double IPA and asking, ‘What’s missing? It needs more more more!’ So we named it More Cowbell,” Zarinfar said.
While the festival ended with the obligatory over-imbibed attendant who went on an angry (but hilarious) tirade against Bud Light’s Lime-A-Rita, most guests ended up returning to their favorite breweries to ask in-depth questions, purchase merchandise and connect with owners and representatives.
At the end of the day we were exhausted, smiling and completely sober. Zarinfar lamented, “I didn’t have one drop of beer today, which sucks because I wanted to support others.”
For the passionate beer nerd, a full day of talking about brews is almost as satisfying as drinking them.