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Guest Review: 15 Beers for 15 Years Kiosk at Epcot Food & Wine Festival

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 for 15 Years Booth

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.

Overall Beer Menu -- click for larger version

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.

Abita

Round 2
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.

Round 3
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.

Florida Lager Tap

The Winner
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.

Florida Lager

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.

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9 Comments

  1. Brenda says:

    Great review and insights – thanks for sharing!

    We were thrilled to see this booth … really good, interesting beer options have been thin on the ground during past F&W Festivals. And we were also thrilled that we could finally get our hands on Unibroue outside of a restaurant … we luvs us some Unibroue!

  2. Tom says:

    I would take a Yuengling Lager any day which is made only 15 minutes from my house at America’s oldest brewery. I am glad when I come to WDW I can find it at most resorts.

  3. Bill from Philly says:

    Very nice review indeed. The 15 Beers Kiosk was pleasant addition this year. While I didn’t try all fifteen beers during my visit the few I did try were excellent each in their own way. Anticipating the heat, and its affect on the contents of a disposable plastic cup, I purchased a thermal travel mug and carried that with me. It gave me a little more time to enjoy each beer. I enjoy my beers very cold so I have little appetite for a warm beer. My favorites were Widmer Hefeweizen, Viru Pilsner, Smithwick’s Irish Red Ale and Key West Sunset Ale. Hopefully the addition of craft beers will become a permanent fixture at the Food & Wine Festival.

  4. Sue S says:

    What a fantastic review! I’m not much of a drinker, but we do enjoy the occassional beer or glass of wine when on vacation. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. You do such a great job of keeping us informed!

  5. Josh says:

    Great review Charles!

    My guess is that the most beer sales are the beers that people know the best because it may be hard for some to go with something they have never tried before.

    I like how you stacked up the criteria and that the items had to meet the criteria.

  6. Edmoe says:

    As a beer geek I was happy to see so much real estate devoted to beer. Between the ’15 Beers’ booth, the Beer Garden, and Belgium there were a lot of new beers to choose from. My personal favorites were Leffe and Hoegarden from Belgium.

    @Brenda
    We also love Unibroue. Where did you find it outside of Le Cellier?

  7. Brenda says:

    Edmoe … the 15 beers for 15 years booth was selling La Fin du Monde; not my favorite Unibroue (much prefer Tres Pistoles or Maudite) but since they had it for sale we had to buy some (at least twice!). It paired really well with New Zealand’s lamb slider.

  8. Edmoe says:

    @Brenda
    LOL, I can’t believe I missed it! When I visited the ’15 Beers’ booth I was so excited to try new beers (specifically Viru and BB Burgerbrau, neither of which I had ever heard of before). I guess I had blinders on for familiar names:)

  9. Rich T. says:

    I was really excited about this booth initially, but I found the menu disappointing in reality. There was very little variation in style. Most of the beers were weak, thin, or more malty than I usually prefer.

    For me, the winner of the festival was the Schlosser Alt at the Brewer’s Collection. This beer beat the socks off of an altbier I actually had in Dusseldorf, although it doesn’t meet Uerige levels of awesomeness. An altbier is an unusual style that most people are not aware of, and that is the kind of thing we should be exploring at an event like this. I don’t want to go to an international festival to drink beers I can buy at the grocery store.

    Plus, environment counts. I’d much rather sit in a shady garten enjoying a pretzel with my beer while listening to oompah music than standing in a crowd near a garbage can.

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