Confessional time: I’ve been to more beer festivals than I care to admit. Few are fantastic, a large percentage just border on mediocrity, and some are just plain bad. Profit seems to be the motive rather than spreading the craft brew gospel in the worst examples. To be honest, rarely am I impressed by a suds centric event anymore.
On Saturday, May 18th the 2nd annual Red, White, and Craft Brews Fest was held at the Armed Forces History Museum in Largo, FL. JJ Taylor’s patriotic sounding and looking event was the cap to American Craft Beer Week. My better half, Lisa, and I decided to go on a whim and caught the last half.
Located just a few blocks off of Ulmerton Road, it wasn’t the easiest to find. Thankfully signs pointed the way and Lisa was more than happy to help navigate. Outside we were greeted by a cool helicopter and other military armament along with a nice lady who welcomed us and rung up the reasonably priced ($25) tickets.
As we walked inside, there were a couple of rooms with military uniforms, guns, bayonets, old infantry hats and the like. All of the displays were professionally done and genuinely interesting. Some pieces went all the way back to Revolutionary War, along with plenty from the Civil War, and from wars thereafter. When valuable drinking time is sacrificed to look at anything, particularly educational, it’s a testament to quality and coolness.
Down a darkened hall was the entrance to the tasting and as we walked toward the door it felt like we were in a war zone. Combat sounds filled the air and along with more gnarly displays-it was reminiscent of a scene out of Platoon. Halloween would be a great time to visit; I would imagine as it would be a little eerie.
Oftentimes, beer events are held in a big cavernous room or an open outdoor area. Merely on a hunch, we figured that we had pretty much seen the extent of the museum and that the tasting room would be just a large generic room without a great deal of character. Surprisingly, the exhibits continued and served as a backdrop for the brewery serving tables. To see a military tank above the beer rep while they’re pouring that sweet nectar is memorable.
So, yeah-we really dug the locale but an awesome setting is nothing without remarkable beer. Many of my favorite breweries made an appearance including Oscar Blues, Lagunitas, and Sierra Nevada. Local celebrities Cigar City and Saint Somewhere made the trek as well. Special edition offerings are always big hits: Stone Brewing Co.’s Espresso Russian Imperial Stout was a rock star and Brooklyn Brewery’s Silver Anniversary Lager really grabbed my attention.
Other event details like parking and plenty of restrooms were more than adequate. Lines were short, possibly because of limited tickets or perhaps the local beer geeks were just too burned out or at least mildly hung over from American Craft Beer Week. People can often add (and sadly detract) to these parties. Ryan, a member of the Brandon Bootleggers Homebrew Club that I belong to attended and it was nice to talk shop with him (Ryan’s also a contributing author this this site — Ed.). Sam Adams had a beer rep that was dynamite and really displayed phenomenal customer service while the Left Hand rep was beyond entertaining.
Red, White and Brews really did it right and I couldn’t recommend it more. History buffs should explore the museum sans suds and beer aficionados will not want to miss next year. I am impressed.