The third annual Top of the Hops Beer Festival took place last Saturday, September 22, and a record crowd descended on the Downtown Mall, packing the walkways and breaking a new record by selling out the Ntelos Wireless Pavilion.
Lines wrapped around the mall, heading east and west trying to get everyone inside the door. Once inside, festival goers were greeted by rollicking blues coming from the stage, as well as craft beers by the dozen served from draft jockeyboxes. In the northern streetside in front of City Hall, there was a Cider Garden, an Import Beer Garden, and a Cask Garden, providing a diverse variety of ciders, Belgian beers, and warmer, less carbonated beers on cask. These gardens provided a lot of interesting commentary to be overheard, as people (perhaps per this blog’s suggestion?) wandered well outside their comfort zones. Monk’s Café, a sour Flemish red ale, provided some of the most colorful feedback.
Four columns of beer vendors branched from the stage toward the lawn, with over 50 different brewery booths providing at least two offerings each. Onstage, VIP ticket holders were treated to special limited-access beers, plentiful seating, and food provided by local sponsor Boylan Heights. This stage setting also made for a good vantage point from which to observe the photo booth, in which ticket holders could receive a complimentary photo of their group.
Additional features included educational sessions provided by Devil’s Backbone and Fifth Season Gardening Company, and food vendors such as Mellow Mushroom and The Lunchbox. On the lawn, a bracket-based cornhole tournament took place, with the winners taking home prizes. The crowd rejoiced when they were informed that tasting would be graciously extended from 7 to 7:30 PM, which was perhaps an olive branch extension after wait times were a little longer than expected. There were lots of choices to enjoy, but some jumped out in particular.
Crabbie’s: An alcoholic ginger-flavored malt beverage, served at the festival on ice with lime wedge. Super refreshing; an absolute hangover assassin.
Brew Ridge Trail Collaboration Black Tripel: Local bias notwithstanding, this was a solid beer with roasty malt flavors and Belgian yeast characteristics.
Goose Island Sofie: Refreshing farmhouse beer with a pleasantly wild side. Light hop bouquet and a quick finish.
Heavy Seas Plank II: Doppelbock aged on poplar and eucalyptus planks, with a distinct malt sweetness and herbaceous flavor profile. Firmly experimental.
Samuel Adams Octoberfest: Amber colored and malty without being sticky sweet. A pleasant revisit with an old college friend of mine.
Please let us know what your favorites were below. With the festival selling out completely for the first time, it looks like a safe bet that we’ll continue to enjoy this day full of great beer for years to come!