Drinking Brews at the 2016 PA BrewersFest
Imbibing a delectable pour has become a delightful pastime of mine. Whether it’s at the end of a tedious and trying day, the start to a night of over-consumption, or an invigorating fuel after hard fought hockey game, drinking beer has become more than just a forced facade. So much so, in fact, that I recently attended the PA Brewersfest at Cooper’s Lake Campground.
Contrary to other beer festivals, the 2016 PA Brewersfest at Cooper’s Lake Campground featured only home brewers and their refined skills. There were no big brands or recognizable labels. Instead, the beer itself was the focus, completely relinquished from bias or prejudice. With taps running free, the purity of the beverage itself could be savored for the sweet nectar it truly is.
Beer had to be brewed on site during a three day stretch, posing quite a challenge for brewers separated from their pimped out home brewing stations. In the end, dozens of brewers accepted this challenge, concocting over 160 different brews for patrons to sample and peruse.
We arrived on a Saturday morning. While the event officially began at 10 that morning, we didn’t pull in to our overnight camping spot until around 11. With the whole day ahead of us to imbibe, there seemed to be no need to rush. Enjoying the glowing warmth of the morning sun, we leisurely arranged our tent and air mattress in our spot just a few hundred feet away from the lake. The organizers of PA Brewersfest had planned well, for an overnight camping site was included in the $30 admission fee. There would be no need to cease our celebratory sampling early.
Eventually, we made our way up the hill to begin perusing the brewer’s tents. They had all set up near the entrance in a formation that made it easy to stroll from booth to booth. While handing out samples at PA Brewersfest wasn’t compulsory, every vendor we approached graciously offered us a taste of their liquid refreshments.
It was interesting to note just how prepared some brewers were for the event. Many vendors simply had canopy tents set up with small kegs or five gallon containers to dispense their liquids. This is what I expected. However, many others took it a step further with portable bars, complete with multiple taps and bar stools. This form of presentation greatly increased the overall authenticity and feel of the beer, but in many cases, did not increase the taste. And in the end, taste is all that matters.
We had expected to try all of the beers and relax for a few hours during the hot afternoon sun. But before we knew it, most of the afternoon had already passed away. We stopped our sampling for a few minutes in order to nourish ourselves with a sandwich, but then quickly got back on track with our quest. Sampling beer was hard work and required a certain finesse that took time to attain. After a few more beers, we were quite well attained.
One memorable event during the day was the keg toss. Both Drew and I entered in the hopes of proving our might and valor. Unfortunately, Drew was ousted by several larger men who spent far too much time in the gym. I made it to the finals, but ultimately fell to the heavy pressure of the competition. Many of my challengers had seemingly trained in the keg tossing technique for years, perfectly hurling the small mass with an expertly executed spin. Surprisingly, however, my underdog effort was noted by several members of the audience, garnering me a small fan club and celebrity status for the rest of the night.
Towards the end of the day, it was time to vote for our favorite beer of the day. It was a seemingly impossible task. After trying so many different styles and types of beer, some good, some great, some not so worthy, it was difficult to even begin narrowing it down. Eventually, we were able to ascertain our favorite selections, and walked around to sample them each one more time. For me, it came down to two delicious choices: a ginger ale that was nearly clear but had a sweet yet refreshing bite, and a lemon ginger ale that had much more of a lemon flavor and a slightly sweeter touch. In the end, I went with the lemon ginger ale, and so did Drew. Our votes helped to elevate the beer to fourth place overall. Conveniently, the other beer I had been considering lending my vote to won second place, helping to alleviate some of my guilt.
The overall winner of the night was a coffee stout made from a rare type of beans. Unfortunately, even its prize-winning status could not tempt me to pass the vile beverage between my lips. Coffee is a foul and unpalatable sludge that I refuse to drink.
With the competition officially over, we passed from booth to booth, supplementing our stomachs with ales, stouts, IPAs, and lagers. Eventually, the evening began to wind down, with “Bon Fire” being lit when the sun disappeared behind the trees. The giant blazed warmed our skin, creating a fitting end to a fine day of drinking. All around us, people chattered and sipped their last samples, happily mingling in the lurid glow of the flames. We stayed at the fire longer than most, until the flames died down and the day officially drew to a close.