Tuesday, March 20, 2012

2012 Toronado Barleywine Festival Recap

The weekend I recently spent in Oakland happened to coincide with the final days of San Francisco's annual SF Beer Week. That was why Beer Revolution had an L.A. brewery takeover when I was there, and it's also why I was able to partake of some lip-puckering Cantillon drafts -- Mamouche and 2010 Iris -- that Saturday evening at The Trappist.

Another legendary SF Beer Week event is the Toronado Barleywine Festival, and on Sunday morning I couldn't resist heading into the City on BART for that, especially since I knew I was going to have to miss the Lucky Lab Barleywine Festival in my own hometown. Publicity for the event said it would begin at 10 AM, and following the "arrive early" rule of thumb for festivals, I walked past Toronado a little before 10 while searching for some pre-barleywine breakfast. There was already a line of perhaps a dozen people waiting out front.

Now, 10 AM is pretty early to start with the big beers like that, so I was a little relieved when I came back at 10:30 and found that the place hadn't opened yet.  I took my place at the back of the line, and waited until the doors finally opened a little after 11.  My notes say that I tried about 14 of the beers that day though some of those were little sips generously shared by my neighbors at the end of the bar.  My three favorites of the day were:
  • Speakeasy Old Godfather 2009
  • Emelisse Barleywine
  • Stone Old Guardian 2009
All three had that brown sugar note that tastes so good in a big barleywine, with the characteristic alcohol heat.  If you're not familiar with Emelisse, it's a Dutch brewery that is starting to show up more often over here, though I'm more used to seeing their Imperial Stout than their Barleywine.  I'm a little surprised at how much I liked the 2009 vintage barleywines at the festival -- that's pushing the envelope on how long a beer should be aged, in my opinion.  Maybe I need to be more flexible about that.  At the other end of the spectrum, here were three I didn't like:
  • Alaskan Rough Draft 2011 -- fruity, too sweet, "tootsie roll"
  • Shipyard Double Old Thumper -- too sweet
  • Triple Rock Dragonaut -- weak
Getting to the festival early was definitely a good idea.  Sitting at the bar, I was treated very well by the notoriously touchy Toronado staff, who did a good job keeping the samples flowing.  There were two sizes:  small (3 oz.) and medium (6.5 oz.), $3 and $5 respectively, though sometimes the smalls seemed to be as full as the mediums.  Apparently there was a large serving in years past, but experience had proven that to be a bad idea. 

If you go to the fest, remember this trick that Ezra told me about:  bring an empty six-pack holder to carry your samples back to your table, since you'll want to order a few at a time.  It ended up not mattering for me since I found a seat at the bar, but the people with six-packs were definitely having a nicer time of it.

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