We started off with the Schlafly black lager which to me was just ok. I'm normally a big fan of this St. Louis brewery, but this beer didn't do much for me. Steve (who knows all things beer) said that it was smooth and black and all things that a dark lager should be. I would trust his opinion on beer more than mine. My second beer was the Leinenkugel Snowdrift Vanilla Porter. Porters are more my style and I loved this beer. You could really taste the vanilla and it reminded me of an ice cream float. I love dessert beer!
I was pretty surprised by the BBQ portion of the festival. First of all, the BBQ was not included in the door price. With BBQ in the title, I was expecting the opportunity to sample different types of pulled pork from multiple vendors. Nope. Food was extra $$ and there were only three BBQ vendors (Low and Slow, Jim 'N Nicks, and Whitts). In a city that has a growing BBQ culture, they needed more BBQ vendors and more local (non-chain) shops. I was hoping for Edley's or Peg Leg Porker.Since our options were so small we went with Slow and Low because neither of us had tried their food before. We went with the standard pork platter with their vinegar dressing, with cole slaw and mac & cheese for sides. The pork was good, tender and not dry at all. The mac & cheese was slightly disappointing. After having Edley's mac & cheese I feel like everything else will be an uphill battle. Steve and I both agreed that their peppery version of cole slaw was AMAZING. It's rare to say that about slaw, but it was just that good.
Cabin Fever whisky is made in New Hampshire and infused with maple syrup. I instantly fell in love with their take on whisky- it was sweet but not so much that it burns your teeth, and it was deceptively easy to drink. It went down smooth and I'm pretty sure I could get in trouble with this stuff. I can only imagine how winter-time hot toddies would taste with some Cabin Fever.
Sticking with liquor, we tried the offerings from Filibuster. Their bourbon was just weird to me but I very much enjoyed their rye. I found the rye much smoother and easier to drink. Perhaps I'm becoming more of a rye girl these days. Who knew?
High West is from Park City, Utah and have a variety of blended whiskeys. On the company rep's recommendation we sampled the Rendezvous Rye- a blend of 6 year and 16 year rye whiskeys. The addition of the older spirit really elevates this rye. It went down very smoothly. I could imagine myself sipping this after a long day of work.
We tried both the bourbon and the the rye from Charred Oak. Their rye wasn't a spicy as what I had previously. It was mild and had a simple flavor. The bourbon on the other hand, was quite good with a complex sweetness. It went down smooth but left a spicy aftertaste.
After all that liquor it was time to slow down with some beer. I sampled the Wells banana bread beer which just wasn't my thing. I couldn't even finish a tasting glass. I'm not a fan of hefeweizens that taste like banana, so I'm not surprised that I didn't like a purposefully banana flavored beer. I followed that up with Young's double chocolate stout which I had enjoyed many times before. It continues to be delicious and rich.
We sampled the BBC bourbon barrel stout which was solid, but was missing the Oak and vanilla flavor that we love about Kentucky Ale's bourbon barrel ale. We then tried the Ommegang Game of Thrones Art of Darkness Belgian style beer. It reminded me of one of my local favorites, Calfkiller. It was a classic dark, fruity Belgian Abbey ale. It also left my mouth feeling very dry!
Steve then sampled some hoppy beers that I wanted nothing to do with. No matter how hard he tries, I doubt I will ever be converted into a strong hop drinker. Steve tried the Schlafly T IPA, which is a Tasmanian style pale ale. This was a special release beer, much like Yazoo's hop project. Steve said that the Australian hops had an herbal, earthy note. It had a fantastic aroma, but flavor wise it was a little too bitter, throwing it out of balance.
Steve then tried the Unita Hop Notch because I insisted. Why did I insist? The label was so well designed! I guess I'm that girl who judges beer based on the label. Steve liked this better than the Schlafly T IPA. He said it was solid, but nothing much stood out about it.
Back to liquor! We sampled both offerings from Red River, based in Texas. The Rye was really sweet and not that smooth. It tasted a lot like granny smith apples to me, giving the rye an overwhelming flavor reminiscent of cider. The bourbon was smooth and a lot less sweet.
We sampled Belle Meade Bourbon, which is made right here in Tennessee. This bourbon was smooth, but lacked much flavor. It was super mild compared to everything else I tasted. I feel like this bourbon would be good in a mixed drink but because it doesn't have any strong flavors, probably won't be worth drinking by itself.
By this time we were hungry again so we stopped by Jim 'N Nicks from some baby back ribs. Despite being a chain, Jim 'N Nicks make some pretty good BBQ. I really enjoyed these ribs. They were super tender and very saucy. The people were even nice enough to give me extra pickles! I have a feeling I'll be headed to Jim 'N Nicks in the near future just for the ribs.
We then attended a whiskey tasting with Robert Kennedy of Charred Oak. This wasn't the most informative talk I've been to. He talked a lot about the joy of drinking and not at all about how to go about tasting his product. I wanted to learn what to look for when drinking bourbon and rye and instead I got an infomercial. I guess I was looking for something more substantial.
Overall, we had a really good time. But I would be remiss if I didn't mention a few things.
- There was a notable absence of local products. Favorites like Yazoo, Jackalope, Calfkiller, Black Abbey and Corsair were missing completely. Perhaps because this a touring festival and not a local one, they focused more on the national brands. I totally understand that, but I think next year they should have a tasting station dedicated to Tennessee beers and spirits.
- I overheard people in the bathroom complaining about the lanyard situation. Apparently last year you got a free glass holder lanyard with your ticket, but this year you had to pay $7 for them. People never like it when you give them something for free and then ask them to pay for it later.
- I said it before, but more local BBQ and actual BBQ tastings for which you don't have to pay extra would be nice.
With all that being said, we still had an awesome time. I loved having the opportunity to try so many whiskeys back to back. It helped me actually get a better handle on what I liked, what I didn't like, and what makes a whiskey good. The crowd itself was fun, lively and overall very polite.
I'll definitely be making a return appearance next year.