Last weekend (okay two weeks ago) I got a chance to hit the left coast for a few days and attend the Mammoth Blues and Brews festival in Mammoth Lakes, California. It’s a real treat to attend these event outside of the East Coast area as it offers a chance to explore new, exciting brews that the locals often take for granted. Blues and Brews delivered on this and more with top notch music, great food and – of course – some excellent beers.
Held in a fenced off, shaded lot some 8000+ feet above sea level, beer and blues lovers lined up hours in advanced to get into the festival, get their prime lawn chair spots, and post up early on lines for world renowned breweries such as Russian River, Lost Abbey/Pizza Port, Ballast Point and The Bruery. Over 60 breweries attended in total to round out world class blues that included Los Lonely Boys and a bevy of local food providers.
What stood out most about the festival – aside from the amazing back drop of the Sierra Nevada mountains – was the overall quality of the event. Many of the breweries offered four or five different lines to taste rather than the traditional festival duo and while big name breweries definitely drew lines, great beer was never more than an arms-length away. Even the longest wait was only a few minutes unlike New York’s Brewfest a few month’s back. Finally, it’s worth noting that the Mammoth Lakes residents were awesome, accommodating and some of the nicest people I’ve had a chance to share a drink with in a long time.
Standout brews from the festival clearly were the limited, time-released pours that all seemed to happen concurrently. From about 2:30 onwards it was a mad dash to try some amazing, limited beers. It all started with Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River popping two of the biggest Supplication bottles I have ever seen. The sour, funky treat did not disappoint and quickly turned the Mammoth Blues and Brews Festival from your standard fare into a standout affair. From there it was a mad dash over to Ballast Point or some Barrel Aged Sea Monster which is a beast of stout with tons of coffee, chocolate and black currant flavors.
Following Ballast Point it was a short walk over to Firestone Walker to try some of their fabled Parabola; another serious barrel aged stout. This one went like wildfire and I could not discern much from my 1 oz. pour although the crowds loved it. Rounding out the damn-good-beer marathon was a trip over to The Bruery for ultra-rare 100% Brett Termented Autumn Maple. The Autumn Maple is already a spicy, complicated fall beer and the addition of wild yeast resulted in a cacophony of funky, earthy, vegetative, spiced flavors. It could take days to discern all the layers of flavor here and it I wish I had some to take home for proper review rather than this spur-of-the-moment taste on my already-destroyed palate. From what I could gather from all the big flavors, though, is that this is definitely one to hunt down. Other notable offerings were the Port Brewing Revelations, a citrus-twisted tripel, and the new Sierra Nevada Tumbler, a slightly smokey malt beer which was a refreshing departure for the brewery.
Like all good beer festivals, the party did not stop just because the taps did and Mammoth Blues and Brews continued with meaty treats (a giant smoked turkey leg) and after-hours beers with in the company of the Sudwerk Brewery boys and the ladies of Port Brewing. A few hundred good people of Mammoth Lakes also joined it. It was great to see everyone out in good spirits even after the gates closed as brewery often pack up and head home right after last call. Overall, this is one of the best beer festivals I attended all year and – if Jet Blue can keep those flight prices down – I’m sure to return in 2011.