DJ Sam Calagione at Vail Big Beers 2012

Pearl Jam beer paired with Pearl Jam's music

You should listen to The Mekon's on while you read this post...

I look forward to it now every year, and somehow the Vail Big Beers Festival has already come and gone and it continues to be my very favoritist beer festival. Perhaps one of the most seductive parts of the festival is the night we all get to spend with Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head. Each year he gives a presentation at the festival, last year he lead us on a visual journey of all the places he visited to create the brewery's set of historical ales, and this year we had more of a sensory experience as he led us through beer and music pairings. The event was relatively intimate, a large group sat in a small room complete with candles, bean bag chairs, and a large display of glassware and beer.

Sam began the night with a story from his youth, when driving through his hometown he used to look forward to that precise moment when he could pick up a particular radio station that played good music not found elsewhere on the sound waves. He knew exactly when the station would come in and it was a beautiful moment of anticipation. He made connections between the record industry and the beer industry, mainly that the majority of music that we hear on the radio is owned by large record companies and lacks authenticity just as the majority of the beer that is served in the US is owned by large beer companies and lacks flavor and authenticity. Even though this continuous dissing can get a little old to me, the event was  all in all pretty great and had a somewhat magical feel to it. The remainder of the night was spent sipping beer while listening to different bands that had had some kind of impact in Sam's life - "songs with a story" as he put it.

DJ Sam Calagione

I don't need to give you all the details of all the beers and songs and how well or not-so-well they all paired up but I'll give you some general information so you can try it on your own. The first and perhaps best pairing was the Burton Baton ale, which is a mix of an English Old Ale and a Double IPA, along with music from the Mekon's, a punk band from the 70's. We also tried some Hellhound, a beer with massive amounts Centennial hops, dried lemon flesh and peel, marking the 100th birthday of blues musician Robert Johnson, a man who sold his soul for his music. We got to try the famous Bitches Brew, modeled after Miles Davis' album and rebrewed due to popularity. I thought Bitches Brew was a great pairing. Lastly we sampled Pearl Jam, brewed for Pearl Jam's 20th Anniversary, while listening to their cover of Faithful. Sam said when he asked them what they like to drink on stage they said 'NW fruit forward Pinots and a shit ton of Coronas.'

It was over too quickly. I had never experienced anything like this and I wished the audience had been quieter during the musical components...this is something maybe we could try with a group of friends in our own living room? Perhaps it can be done with beers you've made on your own, with music that has impacted your own life?

The guy with the headlamp was dubbed 'The Beer Unicorn.'
I like the idea of formalizing a drinking session around some sort of theme, whether it be beer and food, beer and music, or beer and walking ;) Ultimately this was more pleasing than beer and food pairing because it actually felt a bit like a performance (the way it would feel at a local music show) and it expanded my idea of how we can engage in lateral thinking and lateral drinking (Hey, I like that!). Additionally as an artist who is interested in finding beauty in the mundanity of things, I very much appreciated Sam's final thoughts on 'The Story.' He said that authentic beer is good beer that has a good story. I believe this is true, to a degree. My favorite beers, the ones that I go back to regularly, are ones that I usually associate with a story, like drinking Jubelale out in the Oregon hot springs on a winter night, or having a Session at Full Sail in what was my first brewery tour, or drinking a Heather Ale in Scotland and reading about the history of the beer. And there are those special beers which I won't be able to try very often that have great stories, like the beers from Beers Made By Walking, like Buddha Nuvo, Venetucci Pumpkin Ale, or a beer that a buddy brings home after a trip to another part of the country. Thank you Sam and Vail Big Beers for what was truly an inspiring event.

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BeerEric Steen