Please welcome Charles Bockway of CraftBeerRestaurant.com as he uses years of expertise in brew to review some of this year’s beer selections from the Epcot Food & Wine Festival.
15 Beers and the winner is…
Because I’m sort of a beer geek and craft beer advocate, I’m visiting the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival to take a close look at the beer landscape. I found the 15 Beers for 15 Years kiosk in World Showcase to be a nice addition at this year’s festival. That’s one beer for each of the festival’s 15-year history. Sounded like it might be fun to select the best beer of the 15.
Criteria and Round 1
To get started, I devised a selection criteria:
- The beer should be refreshing and taste good when it is just served from a very cold 38 degree F. tap.
- Because the Florida days are quite warm, a 12-oz. beer in a thin plastic cup will warm quickly, so the beer must also taste good when warmed up into the mid-40s.
- The beer should of course represent its listed style very well, be technically sound, have some definite character, without serious style flaws, and should be able to be appreciated by experienced craft beer aficionados.
- Because there are literally hundreds of thousands of potential customers walking by the beer kiosk, the beer should also have broad popular taste appeal and fit well into the setting.
With these criteria in mind, the fifteen were narrowed down. Those with less character for their specific style, too rich or too sweet flavored for warm-day quaffing, or too bitter for wide customer appeal were eliminated.
After the first cut, the remaining beers included Full Sail Amber, Key West Sunset Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Abita Amber, B.B. Burgerbrau, Florida Lager, Sessions Lager and Viru Pilsner. These were the best right out of the cold tap, were well made and fit the setting well.
In the next round, the amber beers were eliminated because they picked up too much flavor or malty sweetness as they warmed, which made less quaffing friendly for warm-day drinking. These included the Sunset Ale, Abita Amber and the Full Sail Amber. Likewise, the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale became more richly malty, hoppy and bitter as it warmed. This is certainly not a flaw, but limits it from being appreciated by many Disney World visitors with varied craft beer experience.
This left us with four lagers as finalists. For this type of venue, lagers might be expected to shine. Good ones are clean, crisp, flavorful and quaffable at cold temperatures but actually improve as they warm a bit in the cup—conditions found in the Disney World environment.
Here’s the rundown of the finalists:
Viru Pilsner — This beer is sparkling clean and refreshing and would appeal to a broad range of popular-brand beer drinkers on a warm day. When cold, its taste was quite thin, but improved as it warmed slightly. Overall, this beer is a pretty typical Euro-pils style; however, nothing really stands out to provide it the character needed to win a challenge.
Sessions Lager — Got better as it warmed, but a bit watery and light tasting right out of the cold tap. A pleasant, quaffable beer, but overall the thinnest tasting of the lagers. This beer might appeal well to those used to drinking popular-priced light beers and to beer geeks looking for a truly quenching brew on a hot day. Best to let it warm up for five minutes or so before drinking.
B.B. Burgerbrau — Right out of the cold tap, the flavors and aromas of this Czech pilsner were subdued, but it tasted good if a bit sweet. As it warmed, the flavors bloomed and a pleasant hop flavor was released to balance its maltiness. Clean, refreshing, but overall a bit average for its style.
Florida Lager — This was the surprise of the group. It has very good taste both right out of the cold tap and as it warmed in the cup. It is extremely well balanced and has a very appealing hop flavor and bitterness to balance a nice malt profile. A touch of caramel. Not too bitter, not too sweet, but this beer still has flavor. It hits the sweet spot with the quality to be enjoyed by both the experienced craft beer drinker and the novice alike. It would also be a good choice for introducing generic light beer drinkers to a better craft-style lager.
So the clear winner is Florida Lager. It’s nice to see a local beer (produced by Florida Brewing Company in Melbourne, FL) be so competitive when stacked up against a range of beers from the US and Europe. This is a brand new beer that was just recently released, and the EPCOT festival is one of only a couple places at which it is currently available. Let’s hope it finds a home in the brewery’s regular line up.
Other 15 Beers Notes
Beer kiosk cast members reported that the most popular beer by sales volume was probably Key West Sunset Ale. They also said the Smithwick’s Irish Red Ale was a fast seller. As I stood at the kiosk, I also noticed quite a few orders for Abita Amber, which is a well-known beer in the South. This shows that many festival visitors prefer a more malt-forward style with low bitterness.
Cast Members also reported that they thought the 15 Beers kiosk was a big hit at the festival, doing great business every day and generating tons of positive comments from patrons. Speaking as a beer lover, this is so good to see at this wine-centric festival.