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Beer connoisseurs unite at the California Brewers Festival

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The 15th annual California Brewers Festival descended on Discovery Park on Saturday. The venue was perfect for brewers and beer lovers to share a variety of microbrews. Against a picturesque backdrop of the Sacramento and American rivers, more than 3,500 people enjoyed a day of plentiful beer, barbecued oysters, Mexican food, garlic fries, tri-tip sandwiches, and the thumping beat of popular cover songs by local bands Utz! & the Shuttlecocks and Velvet Tongue.

"We ‘heart’ Brewfest!" proclaimed friends Kerry Alires, Cassandra Ramsey and Luke Poffenberger, two-year veterans of the festival that’s put on by Point West Rotary Club. "The music, the beer, and getting to try a variety of brews is awesome," said Alires.

The festival featured award-winning, handcrafted beers from eight distributors, including Markstein Beverage Co., DBI Beverage and Saccani Distributing Co., and 56 brewers who offered samples of more than 150 beers.

"There are a plethora of brewers represented, both local and international," said Don Levin, Point West Rotary member. "Many breweries return to the event every year. We treat them well, so they continue to come back."

Returning brewers included Full Sail Brewing Co., Kona Brewing Co., Redhook Ale Brewery and Widmer Brother’s Brewery. There also were many breweries that were new to the festival, including Magner’s Irish Cider, Primator Premium Lager, Primo Brewing & Malting Co. and Victory Brewing Co.

"I am excited about visiting the Alaskan Brewing Company booth," said Cori Badgley, publicity manager of the festival. "I am from Juneau so I want to show my support to my hometown brewery. I am also excited about all the cider companies in attendance."

With so many ales to choose from, many patrons had a hard time deciding what their favorite brew was.

"All of them," Levin said. "I like a variety of beer. No particular variety or brand stands out to me. For me, it’s all about beer. If it ain’t beer, it ain’t good."

Mike Centro, festival co-chairman, agreed. "I don’t have a favorite beer. I taste different beers every year. I try to get around and really expand my beer-tasting palate."

But for some, loyalty to their favorite brewery ran deep. Brian Smith and Jeff Fletcher pronounced Mendicino Brewing Co. in Ukiah, the festival’s best brewer. "I like all their brews, but Eye of the Hawk is the best," Smith said.

"My favorite is the Red Tail Ale," Fletcher countered. "I am slightly disappointed that they didn’t bring it to this event for others to try."

It was Tera Mackey’s first Brewers Festival. "The Hefeweizen was really good," said the Sudwerk fan. "But it’s the atmosphere of the event that is great. I love the freedom of trying so many new things."

Many festivalgoers came looking for niche or craft beers and foreign brews that are difficult to purchase locally. "People gravitate towards unique beers," Levin said.

Tickets to the event were $25 in advance, $30 at the gate. The price included 10 tokens, each one good for a 4-ounce sample. Additional tokens cost $1.

The Brewers Festival also featured a professional beer judging competition. Sponsored by the Gold Country Brewers Association, it included 13 categories and best of show. The judging was done on August 15 by judges trained through the Beer Judge Certification Program. Categories included amber ales, light ales, specialty beers, American pale ales, English pale ales, India pale ales, stouts, porters, lagers, wheat beers, brown ales, fruit beers and strong ales.

Central California breweries were overall crowd-pleasers in the competition. Sudwerk of Davis took first place in best of show with its Helles European light lager. Other best of show winners included Firestone Walker Brewing Co.’s Pale 31 American pale ale and Sacramento Brewing Co.’s India pale ale.

The California Brewers Festival is the Point West Rotary Club’s largest fundraiser and most of the proceeds go to local charities, with a focus on children’s charities. For the past several years, The Assistance League of Sacramento has been the primary beneficiary of this event. The Assistance League of Sacramento is a volunteer organization that focuses on community service. The funds support the philanthropic program Operation School Bell, a project that addresses the need for new school clothing and supplies for economically disadvantaged children. The program, which started in Sacramento in 1995, serves 34 schools in four districts.

Last year’s festival raised more than $30,000.

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