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Such Small Portions: A SAVOR 2019 Wrap Up

SAVOR 2019 may be the last one. Our staff reached out to some of the attendees to get their opinions on what worked, what didn’t, and what a potential SAVOR replacement might look like.

The SAVOR 2019 food was not… anything.

Hats off to the Brewers Association for pulling off this event year after year. There are a lot of moving parts, and it can’t be easy. That being said, there was an overwhelming consensus that the food took a huge step back this year. The food aspect of SAVOR is always tricky because the beer — some of it world class — arrives as a finished product, whereas the food is coming from the makeshift kitchen of the event space. But even by those standards, the food ran out early, often before 9:30 pm, and what was available wasn’t up to par.

Bruce Webster, DC Beer writer, longtime SAVOR volunteer: The complaint I heard the most and heard more than in the last few years was that there was not enough food. The people that did get the food who talked to me about it generally had nice things to say about it, and the few bites that were mostly brought to me by other volunteers were enjoyable, but when I could make the rounds, I didn’t see a lot on the tables. I typically recommend people don’t show up with an empty stomach as a matter of beer festival principle, but I don’t understand what went wrong with the food this year.

Aaron Morrissey, former editor of DCist, occasional Washington City Paper columnist: The food was, frankly, a complete disaster. Honestly, it felt like they forgot to cater until the day before and had to call someone to do something the morning of the event. I also felt tremendously bad for the food runners, who were ducking in and out of lines of hungry drunk people and never even getting to their various stands. The funny thing is that I saw the Red Apron people on the second floor and they had tons of sausage and a huge line once people realized that was where they could get something to actually nosh on. It’s almost as if they should’ve put the two dedicated food stands somewhere that people would actually go eat.

John Fleury, DCist beer writer: There may have been pairings that worked or were good, but so many trays were empty, I wouldn’t know…. I love the potential of this event but if this is how they treat it, maybe it should be going away.

Jake Berg, DC Beer co-editor: Indeed, when we put it out there in twitter, a number of people who bought VIP tickets were not impressed with the organization of the event, as at 7pm there were still some brewery stations setting up, even though general admission opened at 7:30. Check out the replies to that tweet.

But nobody goes to SAVOR for the food.

SAVOR 2019 Beer

Mike Stein, DC Beer senior writer: Lagers stood out, particularly the Zwicky P Pilsner from 4 Noses Brewing, which was excellent, as was Daredevil’s First Noel Rauch Bock. On smoked beers, Switchback out of Vermont had a fantastic smoked IPA which was rivaled only by their smoked saison and dark ale.

AM: 2nd Shift’s Grapevines was stellar, the beer of the night for me. I also really enjoyed Wallace’s 1910 Black Lager, which was not only delicious but felt like a taste of SAVORs past: getting to try a beer from places like the Idaho panhandle, as heaven knows I won’t be visiting anytime soon, if ever.

JB: To Aaron’s point about what SAVOR is all about, getting to try beers you wouldn’t ordinarily see, I thought Fernson out of South Dakota was fantastic. I started mainlining their American adjunct lager, Plains Beer, at about 10 pm. Of all the “normal IPAs,” I thought theirs, Gallivant, was the best; the most attenuated of the hazies. I also can’t say enough good things about Switchback. Bringing three smoked beers is a daring move, but it really paid off. I know there’s no demand for rauchbier here, or anywhere, but seeing a line for their beers made me happy. Speaking of lines, the word is now out about Fremont. They’re just an excellent brewery. Also, thanks to the folks who told me to try Madtree’s hoppy amber and the Gearhouse beers. I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

BW: I generally enjoyed the beers I did try, but my standout breweries were Switchback, Madtree, Lost Abbey, Fernson, Gearhouse, Rare Barrel, Societe, Deschutes, and Country Boy (I guess if I had this many standouts it means I had an okay night). Switchback for me was number one by itself, I made sure to try all three beers, and ended up having a second pour of all of them. I also got to try the two pairings and thought they were nice as well. Madtree’s Joon is the only other sample I repeated (at least according to my notes), and it was one of the more interesting beers I had, and Madtree’s Happy Amber was fantastic. I ended up pouring for Lost Abbey for a bit, so I got to try both of their sours and then talked them up. Fernson was definitely my big surprise of the night – the Plains Beer especially hit the spot for me at that point in the night, and I liked the small sample I had of the Gallivant IPA as well. Gearhouse was the brewery that was most recommended to me (and one of my wife’s favorites), as I had multiple people ask me about them and tell me to try either the quad or the vermouth saison.

Consider the IPA

Jake Berg: I thought “the monoculture of the hazy” made for some pretty boring hoppy beers. Note that across DC Beer’s top beer and top pairing lists we only mentioned two IPAs, and one of them was smoked.

MS: Most of the haze all melded together in a very “meh” showing.

JF: Nothing that was interesting other than the Ommegang Brut IPA which I feel is the only brut I’ve had that I enjoy for what it is and is supposed to be.

BW: Besides the Switchback smoked IPA, my favorite “hoppy” beers were Madtree’s Happy Amber (definitely an amber with dry hopping) and Legal Draft’s Ginned Up Charges (started as an IPA but the gin-barrel pushed it straight into gin and tonic flavors). The typical IPAs I enjoyed were Societe’s The Pupil (though I still preferred their other two beers to that one) and the Fernson I already mentioned. I had some IPAs highlighted in my planning that I wanted to try and didn’t make it to, so maybe that colors my judgment, but I will also say that as I checked with random attendees who might need assistance, I would ask for their highlights, and I was not getting IPAs in their responses.

SAVOR 2019 Hill Climb

We got the sense from the beer professionals we talked to that there isn’t a desire to do a Hill climb without a beer event attached to it. Will that beer event be SAVOR again, held at the National Building Museum, or will it be a smaller, more exclusive — and expensive — affair? Or something completely different? The Brewers Association has a few months to figure it out, so watch this space.

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