When I was given the opportunity to attend the Explore Your Craft event I jumped at the chance. I was intrigued with the idea of mixing the art of beer with, well, other art. Looking back over the trajectory of public opinion and acceptance of beer one may discern, and likely conclude, beer has not always been understood as craft. Yet it is well documented that Kurt and Rob Widmer were on the front wave of influence as the renaissance of craft beer in America slowly emerged in the mid eighties. So it is only fitting the Widmer Bros throw this party as they too once gave pause and took time to explore their craft.
Standing in the short line to receive my glass and bracelet I began to hear a faint saxophone from above. The somewhat holy vibrations of sound became a siren luring me up the elevator and onto deck of the EcoTrust Veranda. The hooks were in as I scanned the entire space noting table after table of decadence. A guitar emerged pairing with the saxophone’s subtle smoothness, and then, a voice. It would be the voice of singer-songwriter Sami Rouissi dressing the music with his vocals. The man is blessed with a tone so smooth you could pour it into a glass and have seconds. I stood and watched as the sun danced in time off the instruments. The number ended—it was time for beer.
There were four stations each with food designed and prepared by Chef Brian Stafford of Whole Foods in the Pearl. Additionally there was one station exclusively anchored by cheese wiz Steve Jones, founder and owner of Cheese Bar. Each station also consisted of more than one Widmer Brothers beer to enhance, support and marry every indulgence. Hefeweizen, Shaddock IPA, Nelson Imperial IPA, Citra Blonde Summer Brew, Drifter Pale Ale, Drop Top Amber Ale, Pitch Black IPA, Marionberry Hibiscus Gose, Raspberry Russian Imperial Stout, Kill Devil Brown Ale and finally, the first beer ever brewed by Rob and Kurt, Alt. My work was cut out for me.
I worked my way to the less-crowded north end of the veranda to Station 4 “Artisan Cheese from Cheese Bar with Dessert and Assorted Passed Hors D’Oeuvres from Whole Foods”. The music continued as Sami took on one of my favorite Tracy Chapman tunes. The sun was setting and I was knee-deep in bliss as I took in a Dark Chocolate Brownie with Herbed Raspberry Aspic with a Raspberry Russian Imperial Stout. I needed a moment to gather myself and just like that, I understood.
During my self-induced time-out I took time to watch another craftsman with craft, Samuel Robinette. A man of many hats this evening a bandanna wrapped around his head as he brought to life a magnificent painting before our eyes. Locked into a zone he made broad strokes of the brush allowing paint to drip and drizzle down the canvas like sweat to bandana. When not painting Samuel dabbles in such leisurely pleasures as “children’s picture books, the mating rituals of fruit bats, Bigfoot research, analog lo-fi sounds, Chinese poetry, as well as theories of Adam Weishaupt and Big Daddy Kane”. The painting was as interesting as the man creating it.
As I settled in at a table I enjoyed a plate of Goat Cheese, Hazelnut Arugala Salad coupled with a Marrionberry Hibiscus Gose. Only feet away from me were two young brewers from Widmer crafting beer. The system used was designed by one of the men and the smell of “home brew” excited my digestive enzymes. Next to me a man and his date were working through their Gorgonzola Port Dip on Pear with a Pitch Black IPA to boot. They both encouraged me to abandon my vegetarian ways and sample the Ancho Molasses Rubbed Buffalo Sirloin. He said Drop Top she said Kill Devil Brown. I said no thank you and moved on.
With the sun tucking below the west hills I set my clock and planned an escape. It would be all too easy to get locked into this environment and while the glove does fit, I needed to wrap things up. I’d take one more before the long walk so I chose the Altbeir as my last dance. I would end the evening where Kurt and Rob began. This craft beer balanced the bitterness with a roasty finish. I sat by the fire in a lone chair noting the absence of sun in the saxophone. This didn’t affect the sound but reminded me all things must come to an end. If you weren’t holding one of the 150 tickets sold this year you can catch this event in the cities of Minneapolis, San Francisco, San Diego, D.C. or Boston. For the more patient and budget-minded individuals sit tight and pray this comes back around next year. There will always be more beer to celebrate and other crafts to enjoy. But nights like this are few, magical and always end on the perfect note.