While other, less fortunate drinkers were watching beer-pong tournaments and passing out from heat-stroke, I spent Saturday in the cool, blessedly beer-pong-free environs of the Odd Fellows Lodge in the Heights. I was there for Camp Beer VII: The Golden Beers.
It was my first Camp Beer experience, and I wasn't sure what to expect. An email from Cathy Clark Rascoe, Camp Beer organizer and President of Live it BIG, had provided some suggestions for camper preparedness. With capitalized sincerity, Clark reminded campers to "PLEASE EAT A HEAVY MEAL BEFORE YOU COME AND ARRANGE FOR ALTERNATIVE TRANSPORTATION." This camp means business.
Of course, being the ridiculously unprepared individual that I am, I had done neither. The morning was spent arranging alternative transportation, but for my kids, who had a conflicting engagement that day, and would not be missing it so their dad could go drink beer. Don't mess with a third-grade pool party.
After dropping the kids off and reminding my mom (alternative transportation) not to let them drown, we raced toward the Heights. The week prior, blissfully unaware of the conflict, I had entertained somewhat grandiose notions of taking my wife out for a nice lunch before heading to Camp. I was thinking of Feast, which is both delicious and perfectly capable of delivering the recommended heavy meal. Instead, I crammed a quesadilla in my face as I drove, hoping the combo of greasy cheese and tortilla would be enough to soak up the impending onslaught of beer, and not turn our lack of alternative transportation into an issue.
As we walked up what is certainly the creakiest staircase in Houston, there was a sense of excitement in the air. The room was small and packed, with cafeteria-style folding tables and chairs flanking the space. At one end, Kevin Floyd, the beer brain behind Anvil and Hay Merchant, went over his notes one last time. A few minutes after three, Clark Rascoe moved to the front of the room and welcomed us all to Camp Beer.
A brief introduction gave the history of the Camp, and of Cathy's charitable organization. "We really are a 501(c)(3)," she assured us, eliciting a knowing chuckle from the crowd. One camper, I think it may have been Kyle Nielsen, chimed in "I checked," getting another round of giggles. That was it for the fun and games, though, as we were quickly on to the beer. Kevin Floyd stepped to the front, wearing a microphone so as to actually be heard over the inevitable din of 60 or so people working their way through more than 20 beers.
We started off the session with a succession of IPAs, Kevin providing history and insight into the style's origins and the often serpentine and ambiguous paths it has taken in modern brewing history. I didn't much care for the stridently hoppy and one-note bitterness of a Ninkasi Total Domination IPA, finding it more interesting than enjoyable. I much preferred the Firestone Walker Double Jack Imperial IPA up next. Rather than simply focusing on the bittering aspect of hops, this beer's languid, round malt profile was enhanced by the fruity, spicy, and floral qualities of its hops. It was boozy but balanced, and very enjoyable.
Next up came a collaborative offering from Brew Dog and Mikkeler (the "Gypsy Brewer," as Floyd put it). While the collaboration and its respective brewers were praised for their unflinching experimentation, Floyd noted that a lot of their beers are really, really terrible. A lot are great, too, but you have to expect some flops when you produce something on the order of 70 new beers in a year, as Mikkeler did in 2010. This one, the I Hardcore You Double IPA, was pretty good. With a nose redolent of caramel, coriander, and just a bit of funk, this barely carbonated beer seemed like it was going to be the anti-IPA of the bunch. A sip, though, proved the hops lurking in the background, with plenty of floral, slightly citrusy spiciness rushing in alongside the heavily malted sweetness. It was dusky, peppery, heady, and delicious.