Summer Festivals: Tis the Season

June 13 Monterey Beer Festival

June 13 Monterey Beer Festival

Tis the season of outdoor festivals—music, beer, bacon, etc. No kidding, Baconfest is up next in our neck of the woods, but on Saturday, craft beer ruled at the Monterey County Fairgrounds. Mother Nature got on board with a gorgeous sunny afternoon and temperatures in the high 60s. Most attendees appeared in their twenties and thirties, noteworthy in an area that’s increasingly a retirement community due to the high cost of housing and scarcity of well-paying professional jobs.

As expected, the local breweries, the nearbys and the larger regional players all joined the party. Even some not-so-near representatives came bearing beery gifts. A $45 ticket got you four and a half hours of free beer and live music. If you arrived early, you could even find free parking. Food options were a little limited and expensive ($9 for a brat), and lines were long.

Beer Geek Chris Nelson

Beer Geek Chris Nelson at Drake’s booth

The beers, poured into your commemorative plastic 4-oz. mug ranged from great to unusual. With apologies to Omission Brewing, I don’t think I’ll ever be a fan of gluten-free beer, although, I do admire anyone who can make a passable beer without barley or wheat, and I expect GF folks love Omission.

Knowing most of the offerings from larger brewers at festivals, I tend to forego their booths. My husband Hugo and I did stop by Drake’s, partly because I really enjoy their IPA, and because local radio beer personality and Drake’s rep Chris Nelson ( was behind the jockey box. Working fast, but all smiles, Chris told us that he and Merideth Canham-Nelson (Teachings from the Tap), his wife and companion in beer adventures, were leaving at 6:00 a.m. the next morning for another European beer trip.

Shawn Groundwater of Tap It Brewing

Leslie with Shawn Groundwater of Tap It Brewing

One of the best beers I had was a terrifically balanced IPA from Tap It Brewing out of San Luis Obispo. I congratulated brewer Shawn Groundwater and asked what hops he’d used. “Magna, Centennial, Citra, Cascade and Simcoe,” he reeled off. “I use 37 kilos (81.4 pounds) in each brew.” Kudos to the folks at Craft Artisan Ales, also.

IPAs were the darlings of the ball, with almost every brewery offering one. They came in gold, white, red and black and ranged from delicious to that weird category, most often for their harshness. Hugo summed up one beer up as tasting like biting into a hop pellet. Currently trending all over the U.S., sour and farmhouse ales were popular. Ciders had a presence. Dark beers—stouts and porters—were conspicuously almost absent.

Craft Artisan Ales booth

Craft Artisan Ales booth

The largest and best known breweries—Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada, Ninkasi—generally had the longest lines. Sure they have more money to sink into advertising, but customers know they also produce consistently good products. I wondered aloud to Hugo if the unceasing quest for new and different might be creating an increase in mediocre beers. It’s popular to say that everyone’s palate is different and the beer that one person doesn’t like, someone else will love. At the same time, some guidelines are in order. Think’s beer styles descriptors or the Cicerone Certification Program. I love a good hopped-up IPA, but at the Monterey festival, I sampled too many where the hops, or a particular variety, overwhelmed everything. Those beers reminded me of a one-off ginger habanero brew I sampled recently where the habanero killed everything else—and I’m a chili lover.

Hugo shrugged. “It’s a summer festival. They’re always packed.” Indeed, throw a festival this time of year and they will come.


  1. Hi Leslie,
    My partner was up in Monterrey this weekend and he read your blog.

    Wondering if you can make mention of our Southern California Craft Brew, Wine and Food Festivals.

    Please review: and to see more of what we are up to.


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