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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Preview: the Lucky Lab's Annual Barleywine Fest

Lucky Lab Barleywine and Big Beer Tastival
Fri, March 4 - Sat March 5, noon-10 pm
Lucky Lab Beer Hall, 1945 NW Quimby

Details: Free admission. Fest glasses (required) are $9 and come with two tokens. Additional tokens $2. Cash only. Kids kosher until 9pm. Commemorative t-shirts available. List of beers here.

The thing that makes a good pub/brewery is vision. No good pub ever came out of a lowest-common-denominator approach. I offer the Lucky Lab as exhibit A for the prosecution: note the dogs roaming the patio, bask in the industrial ambiance, calm yourself in a lupulin haze. You may find a lot of this objectionable, but if you don't you probably love it. Count me among the lovers, and let the record show that if I get hit by a bus, please have my wake at the Lab--one of my favorite spaces in the city. (Particularly the original location, though the replication of mood and ambiance extends to the two northerly outposts as well.)

Ah, but there are downsides. A strong vision usually means blind spots, and for the Lab, promotion is a major issue. In three days, one of the year's most interesting little fests arrives, and this is what the Lucky Lab's website says: "It's another year for some of the biggest and baddest beers around. As usual, we will have about 40 different beers on tap. More details to follow." Let's see if we can expand on that just a smidge.

Now in it's thirteenth year (twelth?), the barleywine fest is a classic Lucky Lab affair: huge beers, many of them nuclearly hoppy, most of them barleywines. (In recent years, the Lab has expanded the fest to "big beers" in a spirit of ecumenicalism, but now regard this as mission creep. As both brewer Ben Flerchinger and owner Gary Geist mentioned, they like barleywines. Nothing against other styles, but....) It is perhaps virtue enough to hold a barleywine fest, but what distinguishes this one is the vintages of the beers, ranging from one to four years. A few beers have multiple vintages, so you can compare/contrast, or you can just bomb through and see how many you can taste and still make it back on the bus. (Rule of thumb: never drive to a barleywine fest.)

Ben and Gary invited a few bloggers over to sample from the bounty, and here are the ones that wowed me:
  • '07 Old Yeller (Lucky Lab). I shudder to think what this beer tasted like green, because it's still vivid with piney hops. Now in perfect balance, it is the definition of a great American barleywine.
  • '08 Old Crustacean (Rogue). Surprisingly lively for a three-year-old beer, and still fairly hoppy. Very rich and creamy, with a burnished, aged quality.
  • '08 Festivale (Terminal Gravity). An old ale and a nice palate-rester. No sharp edges here--it's malty but spicy and smooth and gentle.
  • '08 Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout (Rock Bottom). One of the remaining Van Havig-brewed beers left from Rock Bottom, this is an amazing beer with lots of depth, a lush bourbon note, and excellent balance. Van was purported to have said, "it's dark and black, like my soul."
  • '09 Collaborator CXI Pumpernickel. A beer using bread loaves in the grist, and perhaps the best Collaborator beer ever to come from the Brew Crew-Widmer project. Minty-peppery, earthy, herbal, rustic, lovely.
  • '08 Papa Noel (Alameda). Another nice old ale and another good palate-rester, this is a beautiful beer--candyish malt and light, spicy hopping.
  • '08 Russian Imperial Stout (Rogue). Another amazingly complex stout--this one smoky and peaty.
  • '08 Alpha Dog (Laughing Dog). If this looks like a long list, bear in mind that it is a small fraction of the beers we tried. By the time I took notes on this, they were crude: "bright, lemony, hoppy, fresh, great!" Sorry I can't offer more.
Even though I don't need to say it, I will: all of these beers are one-of-a-kind, but some are more than that. With the Havig beer and the Collaborator, we have a few extinct dinosaurs come back to visit one last time. Almost certainly this will be the last chance for those beers.

A couple other notes. Not all the beers will be pouring at any given time--they rotate in and out (roughly two dozen on at a time). So keep your wits about you and monitor things. Finally, I have created a handy pdf of the beer list, which you can find here (link doesn't take you immediately to the pdf).


  1. Jeff,

    Are you attempting to get a jump on the considerable competition? The Lab website shows this event taking place Friday and Saturday, not Sat & Sun. (Although I'd be happier with a straight weekend shot at this festival)

    P.S. I have to agree with the Collaborator - too bad it was allegedly sooooooo painful to brew.

  2. Yowza. This is why I don't have a calendar on the blog. I have fixed the dates to reflect, you know, the days the event will actually happen.