Every summer in Phoenix, AZ there’s a craft beer festival with a stupid name that’s held at the downtown convention center. It’s known as Real, Wild & Woody and that terrible name is just one of the reasons I’ve avoided attending for years now. Another is the fact that beer festivals take place in public and around people and I’m the kind of guy who prefers to do his heavy drinking in private so I can drunk-cry alone onto the hair weave my ex-girlfriend Rosario left in my apartment after she walked out on me. So beer festivals are the last place I should be getting stupid hammered…‘cause nobody likes a drunk crier.
But ever since The Classy Alcoholic became a statewide celebrity I’ve run into people offering to host me at beer festivals all throughout Arizona. I consistently turned them down because the last time I got hosted at a public event I was on the Family Feud TV set getting stabbed in the gut by the coked-out Mexican dude that I tried to pass off as my uncle.
Anyhoozle, as luck would have it I ran into a young man named James at a craft beer bar who told me he was my biggest fan and that he would be honored if I would join him at the Real, Wild & Woody fest. I told him to go to hell because I didn’t trust anyone that offered me free beer after that one time Rosario drenched me in Coors Light after sex. But James convinced me that he was legit when he told me he worked for a company called Quail Distributing. Apparently this company was a relatively small, family-owned business that brought several out-of-state craft beer, wine and spirit brands into Arizona and sold those brands to bars throughout the state.
I’ve been writing about Arizona’s microbreweries for almost two years now and I’ve been lucky enough to reach a certain legit status among the state’s beer industry in that short amount of time. But when James told me I could meet representatives from breweries that came from outside of Arizona I realized it was the best way to spread The Classy Alcoholic’s name to the next level. So I told him I would accept his offer to host me at the stupidly named beer fest as long as he promised to call my ex-girlfriend Rosario and tell her that I was granted VIP status at the event and that I was getting buried under a huge mountain of panties for it ‘cause I wanted her to be super jelly.
As mentioned, the beer festival was held at the Phoenix Convention Center…indoors! I was pretty happy to be drinking under the loving embrace of the air conditioning because the weather in Phoenix this day could easily be described as, “Like in that shitty 90s movie Volcano starring Tommy Lee Jones but worse.” There were over 60 breweries in attendance and most of them were Arizona-based. But there were also bigger names like Ballast Point and Firestone Walker pouring at the event. When you walk into the convention center you get handed a souvenir tasting glass and 20 beer sampling tickets. The brewery booths were organized alphabetically and Quail Distributing was hosting four out-of-state breweries that set up shop there. My new buddy James took me down the line to met Quail’s accounts.
We started at Almanac Beer Co.; a brewery from San Francisco that was founded in 2010 and only found its way to Arizona (thanks to Quail Distributing) in the past year or so. Almanac is known for producing high quality sour beers that are pricey as shit, compared to local beers. A 375ml bottle of Almanac can hover around the $11 range. I tasted their Vanilla Cherry Dogpatch, a somewhat amber-colored sour ale aged in wine barrels that lived up to its name. It had a very tart flavor that was offset by the mixture of sweet cherry and a vanilla finish. There were a lot of layers to this beer and I realized that it was absolutely worth its price tag.
James was describing the Almanac beers to the festival attendees and I snuck away from him to try another sample. The Hoppy Sour Mandarina was a light colored beer with a strong citrusy and lemon taste that ended with a slightly bitter hoppy finish. Like the last Alamanac beer, this one also had a lot of layers that took me a second to fully appreciate.
Once I felt the delicious tartness of these new beers hit my tongue I felt myself reverting into the lonely drunk who sat on his couch getting blasted and yelling at the CSPAN on his TV at 3AM. I was about to spend the entire 18 beer sample tickets I had left on Alamanac beer when James put his hand on my shoulder.
“Yo, Classy, you gotta come to the Black Market booth.” he said.
I snapped out of my desperate need to chug the beer straight from the keg like I was siphoning gas from a car. I remembered that I was only at the festival thanks to the good graces of Quail Distributing. I told myself to keep my shit together and to not let James or the other Quail employees realize that I had some serious impulse control issues and that I couldn’t be trusted in this sea of beer taps. This was my chance to make The Classy Alcoholic persona seem more legit and I had to do everything I could to avoid fucking it up.
James and I went to visit the Black Market Brewing Co. booth. This was a brewery from the city of Temecula in California. They also had a couple of sour beers on tap because sours are becoming the new big thing in the craft beer scene. I have to say; I’m completely enthusiastic about this because I’m hoping it means that the goddamn IPA bubble is about ready to burst if it hasn’t already.
Black Market brought to the festival a cherry sour and a sour wheat ale. I tried both of these delicious beers and felt them go to my head. I felt a flurry of emotions. The name of the brewery stirred up strong memories of my ex-girlfriend Rosario because she used to make tons of batches of toilet whiskey and sell them in the black market down in Tucson. She always tried to teach me her ancestors’ whiskey recipes but I never really listened or even wanted to learn. I just wanted to drink everything she made without making an effort to understand the effort she put into her concoctions.
That’s when I realized I was doing the same thing at this beer festival. I had been blogging for almost two years now but I didn’t make enough of an effort to understand the process, the effort, the work and the passion that went into the beer that I loved. I felt like a fraud. I felt like I shouldn’t be trying to attach my name to Arizona’s microbreweries or Quail’s accounts. I felt like my attempts to “review” beers and breweries weren’t legitimate. I was about to leave the festival and grab a six pack of Miller High Life on the way home when James caught up with me and told me to check out another one of Quail’s accounts.
I could see the enthusiasm in James’ eyes. He was extremely excited to have me try the beer that his company brought to Arizona. He had the passion for craft beer that I used to have before I realized that my blog project devolved into an excuse for me to drink myself into a stupor so I could offset the unbearable sadness that came from merely being alive.
But I didn’t want him to know that. James believed in me. He believed in me enough to host me at this beer festival. So I did my best to hide my self-loathing and insecurities. I let him lead me to another one of Quail’s accounts: Destihl Brewery, which was established in 2013 in Bloomington, IL. In keeping with the theme of Quail’s breweries at the fest Destihl brought a couple of beers from their Wild Sour series. The first was their Blueberry Gose, a very tart brew with a strong fruity taste and some slightly spicy notes thanks to the coriander and sea salt added to the beer. The other was called Syncopathic and it was a dry-hopped sour ale with a nice grapefruit undertone that had a mild bitter finish.
James watched me drink down these beers and could tell there was something wrong with me.
“What’s going on, Classy?” he asked. “Why are your hands shaking every time you take a sip of a new beer? I’ve been watching you do that since we got here.”
“I’m sorry, James,” I said. “I’m just finding it really hard to control myself. I lied to you. I’m not really a part of Arizona’s beer industry. I’ve been blogging for almost two years but I don’t actually know what I’m talking about. I don’t know enough about beer to review it honestly. I write ridiculous dick joke stories on my blog that nobody reads. I faked my way into the local beer scene because I’m charming enough to hide the fact that I’m just a sloppy drunk who’s trying to numb himself after getting dumped by his ex-girlfriend Rosario. I’m not the person you want to spread the word about Quail and the breweries you brought to Arizona.”
“You must be joking, Classy. Do you have any idea how often your name has come up while I’ve been out trying to sell my beer accounts to local bars? You realize you’re the only asshole who walks into Arizona’s craft beer bars wearing a suit, tie and pocket square, right? There’s nobody like you, dude! I didn’t invite you to this beer fest with the stupid name because I needed a popular mouthpiece to spread the word about my company’s beers. I personally have a deep love of the beers that Quail Distributing has brought to Arizona and I invited you here because I really thought you’d love them too. I don’t care if you spread the word about us on your blog or not. I just want you to expand your palate and expand your writing. You’re not here for me. I’m here for you.”
I didn’t know what to say. All the writing I had done over the past couple of years highlighting Arizona’s microbreweries was an attempt to spread the word about my local craft beer scene. And I knew that the bigger I got, the more likely I was to be co-opted by major corporations who wanted me to be their drunken Mexican mascot now that that shitty “The Most Interesting Man In The World” asshole was retired from the Dos Equis campaign. But after spending a day at this beer festival I realized that James and his Quail coworkers didn’t want to use me. They wanted to share their successes with me.
I walked up to the Ironfire Brewing Company booth (another one of Quail’s accounts that they brought in to Arizona). It was also a brewery from Temecula, CA and they had an Amber Sour on tap. The woman behind the booth poured the beer into my tasting glass. I was about to drink it down when I realized my hand was shaking violently. I had been sipping a few beers from my tasting glass for a while but now my body was telling me to shoot the beer down my throat in one fell swoop.
James put his hand on my shoulder again.
“Relax, Classy,” he said. “You don’t have to chug every single beer at this festival. Take your time and really enjoy it.”
I took his advice to heart. I sipped the tart beer that had a bit of a caramely finish and I enjoyed every second of it. Before I got to this festival I told myself to drink as much as I could, as fast as I could. But after spending time with James I felt more at ease. I grabbed another beer from Ironfire called Last Rites. It was a bourbon barrel aged stout with a very strong chocolate flavor. I sipped it as I talked to James and his Quail coworkers. I was amazed at how they treated me as if they had known me for years.
That’s when I realized that my Arizona beer family was a lot larger than I had previously imagined. I had spent the past couple of years writing about breweries based solely in this state. But after roaming through this beer festival I discovered that Arizona’s craft beer scene was elevated by the presence of out-of-state breweries like Almanac, Black Market, Destihl and Ironfire.
I thanked the entire Quail team for hosting The Classy Alcoholic at the Real, Wild & Woody Beer Festival 2016 and I thanked them for helping to foster growth in my state’s beer scene. Because the one thing our local beer industry will always need is more good-ass beer.