I used to ask only one question while buying beer: How much does it cost?
There is more to a beer than its price, I knew, but a younger version of me who just turned 21 was not interested in such nuances.
Now several years separated from my first drink, I felt it was time to revisit how I think about beer. So I went to North Miami BrewFest, where local master brewers served more than 200 types of craft beer. The annual festival—started by FIU—benefits the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management and its brewing science program.
When I arrived at MOCA Plaza, I found myself surrounded by dozens of tents serving craft beers and gourmet food samples. A jazz band was jamming and people were playing cornhole, Jenga and giant beer pong.
The format at BrewFest was simple: Step right up and ask for a sample. To begin, I approached the Concrete Beach Brewery tent and sampled their Havana Lager.
“Ooo, that’s good!” I said. The master brewer returned my simple review with a polite smile. At BrewFest, nobody judged me for my basic level of beverage knowledge. They were happy to teach me, though.
At the Islamorada Beer Company tent, I sipped a blueberry beer while chatting with their master brewer. The flavor was so crisp compared to what I usually drink, like fresh fruit to frozen fruit. I asked the brewer how he accomplished this. The blueberry flavor was added in during the cooling process, he explained.
Soon I was hungry. Luckily, the Festival had everything from ceviche (and a lager to pair it with) and deluxe deli sandwiches to tuna crackers, ice cream and more.
Beer, music, food and perfect weather came together to make everyone cheery. While I was sampling at the Chihuahua Cerveza tent, a woman came dancing over and sang, “I’m an FIU alumni!” I raised my glass and we shared a toast.
Learning and drinking
After eating and schmoozing my way around the Festival, I headed inside for a seminar about why beers taste the way they do. BrewFest places an emphasis on education.
Beverage experts Ami Parrino and Kristen Lorow taught me about how beer develops off-flavors—tastes that develop due to chemical interactions between the beer and its surroundings. We were each handed different off-flavors to compare against a control beer.
The relationship between chemistry and taste is fascinating. One beer that I sampled had not been brewed for long enough, and, therefore, it tasted like butterscotch. Another was overly oxidized and tasted like paper. If a beer is exposed to light, it will take on a different flavor. Before breweries opened up in the United States, almost everyone was drinking beer that had been lightstruck as it was transported across the Atlantic ocean.
I closed my eyes and tried to guess which off-flavors I was tasting. It was like a mindfulness meditation for the tongue.
Overall, BrewFest was more than just a good time. I was reintroduced to beer at BrewFest. It is no longer a beverage that I consume just to achieve a feeling.
The way I see it: Craft beer is a lot like writing. The best stories are not created quickly; instead, they are made slowly, purposefully and loaded with colorful details.