The red flier is your friend.
That's what I kept telling myself during Green Bench Brewing Co.'s favorite event of the year, Foeder (food-er, get it?) for Thought. Now in its fourth year, the Tampa Bay Beer Week beer festival and beer-ducation series — limited to 400 people — occupied the St. Petersburg brewery's tasting room and beer garden on Friday, spilling into the middle of Baum Avenue, block party-style, with its top-notch selection from 30-plus breweries near and far.
As someone who's never been, I figured out the format while sampling away. The event's handy red flier lists the featured beers for attendees, but also alerts them of what's tapping when. Names and times of these scheduled releases are advertised on signs hanging above the two outdoor beer stations, too, where they're poured throughout the evening.
Sometime after 6 p.m., I start off inside at Station #1 with Prelude, a tasty 4 Hands Brewing Co. mixed culture sour ale aged in bourbon barrels, then make my way out to #2 where Cantillon Fou Foune, a lovely apricot lambic I went back for more than once, is set to tap next door to #3's Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze. (You can tell when a timed tapping is coming up, as the crowd hangs around the stations, lurking, as one guy put it, and huddling in packs.) A blend of three lambics aged in oak, Oude Geuze is this craft beer admirer's first gueuze and the most interesting beer I've tasted — tart, crisp, dry, refreshing, you name it.
Unlimited, nuanced goodness kept on coming.
Modern Times Aztec Mummy, a gose aged in tequila barrels with mango and guava. An Odd Breed Baltic porter aged for 16 months in cabernet barrels with house culture. Wiseacre Symphonic with blackberry and raspberry, an oak-fermented wild ale. Cascade's blend of sour blond and quad aged in wine and bourbon barrels for 18 months with Oregon blueberries called Shrieking Violet, which I really dig. Sun King Marguerite, a sour sale fermented in mezcal barrels with lime and salt that's margarita-esque like Aztec Mummy. Transient Foeder #2: Electric Boogaloo with De Chaunac grapes. Green Bench Florida Poster Girls, a foeder-fermented and chardonnay barrel-aged Brett farmhouse. Black Project's spontaneously inoculated Cygnus refermented with blackberries. And on and on.
The beer-ducation portion of Foeder comes in the form of intimate 45-minute Q&A sessions with brewers and brewery owners, whose wares were represented at the celebration. Green Bench curated a living room-style setting on its stage, shag rug and all, where the minds behind Jester King Brewery, Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, Blackberry Farm Brewery and Sun King Brewery shared their beer and stories on the lawn.
"Foeder for Thought is specifically an education-forward festival," Green Bench head brewer Khris Johnson told the crowd. "I know you guys are sick and tired of hearing me talk about beer every year throughout the year, so this is really about bringing people in, friends of mine, around the industry and world who make phenomenal beers, and just [trying] to supply them for you guys."
First came Andrew Hood of Sun King, then CFO (that's Chief Fermentation Officer) Roy Milner of Blackberry Farm, located on 9,200 acres in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Milner touched on topics like the brewery's philosophy when pairing beer with food (which the farm is primarily known for alongside wine) and how the serendipity behind King of Falling Fruit (a farmhouse ale aged in red wine barrels with Brettanomyces, peaches and plums) is an ode to late Blackberry Farm founder Sam Beall.
After Black Project founder James Howat and around 10 p.m., Jester King founder Jeffrey Stuffings took the stage to discuss everything from SPON Méthode Gueuze (the farmhouse brewery's spontaneous beer brewed in the method of authentic Belgian gueuze) to how Jester King, in the Texas Hill Country just outside Austin, is growing its own ingredients and breathing more life into the question, "What is a farmhouse ale?"
Jester King and Green Bench released bottles of their collaboration beer, Sleeping Dragon, an American fruited sour, earlier in the night as well.
"This is such a spectacular event. I hope everyone appreciates really the caliber of beer from brewers that are here tonight. I mean, it's super special," Stuffings said. "I think Green Bench does a phenomenal job of fostering that community of artisan beer and beers that are often very much driven by place and time, which is really kind of the philosophy behind what we do at Jester King. Ultimately, we're trying to make beer that's very unique to our natural surroundings."
By 11 p.m., Foeder was calling it a night. But attendees set on not wasting open bottles of beer brought them inside the tasting room — where Ja Rule was bumping — to share. After all, it's like Green Bench's Johnson said: "The best thing for all of us is for all of us to drink 'em together."