Saturday, October 3rd, 2015

Field of Beers – Inland Northwest Craft Beer Festival

Ron Swarner

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It wasn’t just the biggest comeback of the week, the month or the year. Warren G. Harding’s come-from-behind win Friday night was the largest in his Craft Beer Fan League history, as he overcame a nine-beer deficit with late pumpkin ale and cider rallies en route to earning an 15-14 victory over his league-rival Magic Realism, the name he goes by in league play, at the Washington Beer Commission‘s Inland Northwest Craft Beer Festival in Avista Stadium, Spokane.

For the second year, Inland Northwest Craft Beer Festival is taking the field at Avista Stadium, the home of the Spokane Indians minor league baseball team of the Northwest League, a Class A short-season affiliate of the Texas Rangers, for a celebration of the greater Spokane’s brewing industry Oct. 2-3. Presented by the Washington Beer Commission, the beer festival welcomes 30 craft breweries pouring more than 100 types of beer, all from Washington state.

Warren G. Harding’s largest comeback prior to this was an eight-beer jaunt in 2011, also against Magic Realism, when the Inland Northwest Craft Beer Festival was known as the Spokane Oktoberfest. And though lots has transpired between the two drinkers over the past years, one thing hasn’t changed: Warren G. Harding still regards any victory over Magic Realism as a blessing, especially during Friday’s night session, with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the lower 70s. Magic Realism really enjoys Oktoberfest beers in the evening hours.

“I really enjoy this beer festival,” said Hayden Campbell, marketing manager for the Washington Beer Commission, standing on the lush green outfield at Avista Stadium. “The combination of fresh hops, pumpkin and a preview of winter warmers, not in extreme heat, really makes the Inland Northwest Craft Beer Festival one of my favorites.”

To Warren G. Harding and Magic Realism, the beer festival wasn’t a pastime, but rather a shootout at the OK Corral … at Avista Stadium.

Warren G. Harding and Magic Realism battled beers back and forth. Badass Backyard Brewing out of Millwood delivered a smooth 7 percent ABV Black Stout that they could drink all day. Spokane Valley’s Hopped Up Brewing’s Autumn Smash Sour was a brown ale infused with apricots for a lightly sour sipper. Cool kids Twelve String Brewing, also from Spokane Valley, rolled out their smooth Woodford Reserve Bourbon Barrel Aged Volume 3 Anniversary Red Imperial IPA, aged for six weeks in a Dry Fly whiskey barrel, with hints of sweet vanilla. After Magic Realism took the last sip of Two Beers Brewing Co.’s Pilchuck Pilsner hopped with Saaz and Perle hops, he knew he had this beer festival in the bag.

Magic Realism capped a lengthy charge when he pulled out his Washington Beer Lovers membership card that allowed him to drink from WABL’s members-only keg, a Scotch Lager from Orlison Brewing Co. Still riding high from their recent addition of a taproom in downtown Spokane, this lager tasted like an Islay peaty scotch from the Inner Hebridean Islands off the west coast of Scotland. Warren G. Harding kicked dirt with his head low.

A win seemed unlikely enough at one point that Warren G. Harding began hitting the fresh hop beers. Spokane’s Black Label Brewing Company’s Pink Grapefruit Fresh Hopped Session IPA tasted like, well, grapefruit, with a medium piney hop finish and worthy bitterness. River City Brewing, one of the newest names on Spokane’s tap lists — and brewed by veterans of the Coeur d’Alene Brewing Company — poured their fantastic Funkadelicious Freshop Hop Ale brewed with fresh Mosiac with Citra and Palisades added to the firkin. Spokane darlings Iron Goat Brewing Co. poured an easy drinking, Simcoe-Citra fresh hop IPA. Pullman’s Paradise Creek Brewery dry-hopped their Alpha Madness Fresh Hop IPA with fresh Equinox that you could smell from third base. Magic Realism laughed as Warren G. Harding fresh hop hop around the field, sipping the Three Magnets Brewing Co. Dry Hopped Grisette — a modern spin on a Wallonian Grisette with barley, oat, wheat, rye and fermented with the Olympia brewery’s house Saison and Brett strains and dry-hopped with Brewers Gold and Santiam. Magic Realism knew the lemon-y, spicy Grisette was a winner.

Washington Beer Commission Executive Director Eric Radovich kept one eye on the competition as he went about his duties — chatting with brewers, checking in with the band, picking up litter, pitching plastic softballs to interested beer drinkers — the man never stops moving.

Warren G. Harding trailed by seven beers when the sun disappeared and Moses Lake band Dimestore Prophets cranked up their Sublime-ish sound. Munching on a wood-fired slice from Veraci Pizza, Warren G. Harding had a self-check. Gazing at Magic Realism work his, er, magic with a Pike Brewing Company Alba IPA, you could see Warren G. Harding’s posture improve as he picked pepperoni off his shirt. You could see him channeling his inner Georgetown Brewing Company Johnny Utah. You could see the Republic Brewing Company Wildfire Rauchbier in his eye.

Warren G. Harding hit the pumpkins. He hit them hard. NoLi Brewhouse’s Barrel-Aged Pumpkin Pie Spice Rise & Grind went down as easy as caramel, vanilla and oak notes do. Steam Plant Brewing Co. & Pub‘s Pumpkin Ale was pumpkin pie with whipped cream in a glass. Elysian Brewing‘s Night Owl Pumpkin Ale, their original pumpkin ale, was, you know, 7 pounds of pumpkin per barrel. You could hear a murmur when Warren G. Harding pounded his last sip of Night Owl before asking Schooner Exact Brewing Co. to pour him a Whiskey Dick Cantwell Imperial Pumpkin. Warren G. Harding wiped the whiskey-soaked beer off his lips with his sleeve then pointed to centerfield.

Warren G. Harding broke that skid — and consigned it to ancient history — while drinking a Spire Mountain Dark & Dry Cider from Fish Brewing Company while walking down the third-base line. Brett Thompson of Two Beers turned to Three Magnets co-owner Sara Reilly and wished he said, “The one constant through all the years, Sara, has been beer festivals. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But beer festivals have marked the time. This field, this festival: it’s a part of our past, Sara. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh … people will come Sara. People will most definitely come.”

That’s right, Brett Thompson, people will definitely come to the Inland Northwest Craft Beer Festival in Avista Stadium today, as day two of the beer festival runs noon to 8 p.m. And while Warren G. Harding might not be in attendance today, his spirit will be. And so will be 100 beers.