Friday, 12 June 2009 13:47

Salute! Finely Crafted Beer & Food Festival

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Salute is to express commendation of or praise; to address with expressions of kind wishes, courtesy, or honor - to give a sign of respect, courtesy, or goodwill to greet. Yeah, that about sums it up.

The Salute! finely crafted beer & food festival is the brainchild of the owner of Ojai Beverage Company, Joby M. Yobe.  Renowned for more than 750 craft beers and other alcoholic beverages, Joby longed to create an unprecedented annual beer festival for Ventura County that would feature the best craft brews and food available anywhere.

Might I say, bravo Mr. Yobe.  Bravo.  This was the only festival I’ve attended where I was almost as excited about the food, as I was about the beer.  This wasn’t your average festival accompanied by burgers and dogs (don’t get me wrong, I adore a good cheese burger and beer – but this was something more).  Behold a diverse, flavorful, remarkably decedent collaboration of beer and food held at the San Buenaventura State Beach in Ventura.  

With the help of Thirty-Three Productions, Inc. and President & CEO Christine Hansen, who is recognized for her mission to merge the power of music, art, and media to unite the world; together they formed this festival of festivals, which also supports FOOD Share.  That’s right, this savory gathering was also for a great cause.  A major food bank distributing millions of pounds of food each year to those in need throughout Ventura County, FOOD Share collects and receives food year-round, distributing to more than 150 partner agencies throughout Ventura County, including Camarillo, Fillmore, Moorpark, Oak View, Ojai, Oxnard, Santa Paula, Simi Valley, Somis, Thousand Oaks and Ventura.  I’ll drink to that!

This festival also stood out to those in the craft brewing industry.  Starting at 11am (two hours before the gate opened), brewers, brewery employees, journalists and musicians alike were lucky enough to enjoy beer and food pairings, guest speakers like Dr. Bill Sysak and a private showing from roots guitarist Davy Knowles.   Imagine a 22-year old British guy who sounds like a 45-50 year old blues guitarist from Chicago or New York.  Really cool.  Speaker, Bill Sysak (or “Dr. Bill,” as he’s known in the inner circle of craft-beerdom) is a beer virtuoso. A Certified Cicerone and collector of rare beers, his personal cellar currently houses more than 1,000 bottles.  He now works at Stone Brewing Company as the Beverage Supervisor for Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, where he puts on unparalleled beer & food pairing events.

Saison and biere de garde are some of the most food-friendly beer styles.  Perhaps that’s why they chose a Saison to be part of the first VIP pairing.  Well, not just some Saison.  This Saison was brewed by the “Three Brewers of the Apocalypse”. Dogfish Head, Victory and Stone collaborated to create Saison du BUFF, a 6% alc/vol Saison brewed with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.  Simon & Garfunkel fans, perhaps. Purveyors of great craft beer with flavor, definitely. Standing for Brewers United for Freedom of Flavor, this first tasting of the day seemed to be the perfect pairing for the Salute! concept.  Flavor.  It bears repeating – flavor. Paired with a seared scallop and wild mushroom ragu and spinach; this was officially the best start to a beer festival I had ever experienced.   

In the main park, for everyone to enjoy, tents of brewers, bistros, restaurants, caterers and grills were strategically placed in a way where you didn’t have to stroll far to get food like a chocolate covered strawberry or an ale from Westmalle Trappist.  That same anticipation the breweries bring at a festival was delightfully experienced with the food tents, as well.  Brophy Bros. Restaurant & Clam bar (Ventura, Ca.) was serving bite size portions of their clams on the half shell and crab cakes.  Bistro 13 (Ventura, Ca.) was serving portions of their caprese salad, salciccia (spicy Italian sausage, hint of basil, fresh tomatoes and garlic) and caesar salad.   

Back in the VIP tent, the pulled pork sandwiches paired wonderfully with Lost Coast’s Fog Cutter Barleywine. While I don’t know if this was one of the official pairings, I enjoyed it – a couple times.  Fully malted with butterscotch and molasses notes, Fog Cutter is a very balanced beer, however, it comes with a big alcohol level right around 10% ABV.  

This is where I have to mention VIP actually felt, well, very important.  Sure, there was the great food without the heavy lines, the ability to talk to some great brewers and the couches placed on the outskirts of the tent in front of several tv’s.  The U.S. was after all, still in the World Cup at that time. But the beers they served were all fairly new and very well chosen to pair with the food.  To have never tasted any of the beers and then pair it with delectable dishes was a huge breath of fresh Ventura ocean air.  All too often, I attend festivals only to think to myself, ‘Do I really need to go to this booth?  I drink their beer all the time.  Anything new?’  This was not one of those festivals.

Another refreshing addition to the festival was the (the nerd in me is coming out here) well-organized and extensive Salute handbook and directory.  The 34 page, 5 ½ x 8 ½ “ handbook featured explanations on all the breweries, restaurants and cafes, write ups on the performing artists and something that is - amazingly - far too often missing from other festivals; a map and directory.  You mean I can just look up where my favorite brewery (at the moment) is and then go directly to Smokey’s House of BBQ or Anacapa Brewing?  Awesome.

This event featured not just one usual cover band, but six bands – ranging from a roots blues-man guitarist from the Isle of Man to a band that can be described as 311 meets Kanye West (yeah, you read correctly), to a So Cal indie rock band.  One of the feature artists was Davy Knowles, a 22-year old phenom that scorches with intensity and spirituality.  I instantly became a fan.  But I digress, this is about the beer – right?  

The point is, everything went together beautifully – the music, the food and of course, the beer. The flavor and character of the variety of fine beer styles offered was remarkable.  With over 800 different beers (not to mention 1000 unique wines), there were plenty to choose from.

Here’s several that I tried:
1.    Ladyface Amber (Located in Agours Hills, the first and only microbrewery and gastro-pub in the Conejo Valley.)
2.    BJ’s Wit
3.    Bootleggers Wildfire Wheat (Hailing out of Fullerton, Ca., it’s a small artisan brewery.)
4.    Buckbean Brewing – Black Noddy Lager (Opened in 2008 out of Reno, Nv.)
5.    Bayhawk – Chocolate Porter (Orange County’s largest microbrewery began operation in late 1994.)
6.    Angel City – CHE (Specializing in German brewing out of Los Angeles, Ca.)

The increasing popularity in beer and food pairings is proof that beer is more than just liquid drunk for the football game. Todays craft brew is not only culinary, but has become an art form. Salute! created a symbiotic pairing of  music, beer and food that rivaled the most froo froo wine and food pairings – but still had the feel of the best backyard bbq you’ve ever been to.

Bon appetit, cheers and Salute!

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