Eat Real Festival: The Food Trucks Take Over

The Eat Real Festival used to be one of my favorite beer festivals. It claimed to have a wider mission of highlighting enivronmetally sustainable street food, but its first edition in 2009 could be best described as a great beer festival in Oakland’s Jack London Square with a bunch of funky taco trucks parked around it. The beer shed would always be chock full of all sorts of special brews from Northern California’s finest breweries, and every hour on the hour, a different brewer would be on hand at the Meet the Brewers Table to pour his beer and chat away about it. It was a great way to connect the beer you were drinking from where it came from and how it was made.

So perhaps it is a sign of the festival’s success that this year’s Eat Real Festival was no longer a great beer festival with a lot of interesting food, but a great food festival where you can still get a pretty good beer. The beer shed was still there pouring plenty of good selections from area breweries but ones most beer geeks are quite familiar with, and there seemed to be fewer specials and hard to find brews compared to years past. The Meet the Brewers Table was an unfortunate casulty of this new emphasis.
So the rightful stars of this years Eat Real Festival all the brightly colored food trucks. For five bucks, you could get a decent bite of street food inspired by the cuisines of The Philippines, The African Continent, India, Korea, Viet Nam, Argentina, Mexico, and good ol’ American Barbecue. I tried lots of it, and am not a food critic, so don’t expect any culinary insights, but let’s just say all the unique street foods tasted good. Especially with a good local beer.

We all know about the modern American beer resolution, but is there anything more American than the food truck revolution? It’s a revolution of small scale entrepreneurs serving up food from America’s melting pot as they quickly maneuver their mobile restaurants to follow the ever changing mob of customers, all the while broadcasting their location to the world via the Internet so just in case they happen to be just down the street, you can run down and get a delicious Chorizo Egg Roll.

So I can’t wait until next year’s Eat Real Festival, even if the beer part of it won’t be what it used to be. But can we get the Meet the Brewers Table back?

Eat Real Festival this Weekend

The East Real Festival has always been one of the more novel ones. You never know exactly what you’ll find there, and I’ll never forget the time a couple years ago when I saw a huge tattoo of a beet on a man’s muscular arm, which pretty much sums up the overall spirit of the festival.

There seems to be less of an emphasis on local breweries this year, with no mention of the “Meet the Brewer” table where brewers told turns pouring their beers at a table for an hour at a time, answering questions and chatting away about there beers, or whatever. There’s still going to be an impressive list of breweries. My weekend plans are still a little up in the air, but hope to see you there.

The Session #43: The craft brewing industry is indeed welcoming. How long will that last?

For this month’s Session, Carla Companion, The Beer Babe has asked us to write about welcoming the new kids, the new breweries, into the craft brewing community. Here’s what I have to say about that.

Social Kitchen & Brewery opened in San Francisco this year, and I finally got to sample some of their beer at last weekend’s Eat Real Festival in Oakland. Social Kitchen Brewmaster Rich Higgins is well known in the Bay Area, having organized this year’s SF Beer Week , and has received plenty of outward support from the close knit Bay Area brewing fraternity. One of the great things about beer festivals is you can actually talk to the brewers about their beer, and Rich Higgins poured some of his L’Enfant Terrible, which he describes as a table Belgian Ale. I found it to be a great mix of slightly chocolaty roasted malt, a little fig, and a clove-like finish. It checks in at only 4.5% abv, proving once again, there’s some really flavorful, complex, yet drinkable session beers out there.

How should the craft brewing community welcome Rich Higgins and his brewpub Social Kitchen? I’m afraid I do not have any particular deep insights into that, but a wild guess is that if members of the craft brewing community actually actually purchased Rich Higgins’s beer, he’d probably feel pretty welcome.

What strikes me about this month’s topic about the craft beer community welcoming new breweries is very much in the spirit of the extremely chummy craft beer industry. In virtually every other industry, new entrants are rarely welcomed, and often scorned. But when new craft breweries open, there’s often plenty of support from the regional craft brewing industry, who seemingly do not view this new entrant as a competitor.

There’s always room for new players with the craft beer pie growing robustly despite a deep recession and glacial economic recovery. And since the craft beer community seems unified against the global mega brewers, the enemy of my enemy is my friend seems to apply here. But how many new breweries can the industry sustain before the craft brewing fraternity no longer considers the new guy a fellow craft beer evangelist, but another guy trying to take their money?

The success of craft brewing has inevitably and unavoidably created larger and more corporate entities entering into the business, especially as the older brewing pioneers ride off into the sunset of retirement. And while many of these corporation organizations seem committed to continuing the legacy and quality of craft brewing, they do have investors to answer to, who are not as driven by concepts like “support your local brewer”, as they are on things like “return on investment”, and it’s hard not to conclude this warm fuzzy feeling of “we’re all in this craft brewing thing together” will invariably end.

When will all these feel good vibes within the craft brewing industry be lost? Who knows. The current levels of growth may be sustainable for a long time to allow new breweries plenty of elbow room. And maybe there is something about brewing great beer that minimizes a sense of cut throat competition. But craft brewing is a business. And there are plenty of brewers who are demonstrably true to their craft, while also being shrewd, ambitious, and in some cases, ego-driven businessmen working hard to grow their small empires, and delivering a few bruises as they fight for tap handles, shelf space, and mindshare comes with that territory. I’ve already heard of a few grumblings from smaller craft breweries about strong arm sales tactics of the larger craft beer players. Call me a pessimist, but my guess is that 5, 10, or 20 years from now, the craft brewing industry won’t be nearly as friendly as it is now.

The craft brewing industry is indeed a welcoming industry. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Knishes, Kung Fu Tacos and Beer at the Eat Real Festival

The Eat Real Festival, in it’s third year, seems to be hitting its stride. It’s a great concept, a celebration of locally produced street food, with a beer shed featuring a good selection of Bay Areas breweries, held every year at Oakland’s Jack London Square. Last year, the festival seemed a bit sparse with few seemingly authentic street food vendors, and a few decidedly non-street food vendors selling things like frilly cupcakes and creme’ brule. This year, the crowds were decidedly bigger, and street food definitely ruled.

It’s was a great opportunity for Linda and I to try some local beers, then go out and try a little of this, a little of that from the bite size servings the various street vendors were serving, before going back and trying another beer. Repeat as desired.

Of course, any taco truck advertising “Kung Fu Tacos”, described as containing the spirit of Bruce Lee, is going to get my attention. While they didn’t cause me to exclaim “waaaaaaaaAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH” and deliver a flying kick, the Asian marinated chicken and Mu Shu vegatables worked pretty well in a taco. And then there were those Philippine pork sliders Linda and I enjoyed. Somehow, this melting pot cuisine where Asian foods are served in Latin and American methods of tacos and sliders seemed natural and unforced.

But let’s talk about the beer. Plenty of Bay Area breweries could be found at the beer shed, which supported no fewer than 40 taps. Every hour, a different Bay Area brewer was on hand to pour their beer and talk about it. I wasn’t able to uncover any profound secrets from any of the brewers, but there’s something about talking directly with the person responsible for the brew. So here’s a few notes of some of the more notable, at least to us, beers we tried.

Rye’d Piper from Ale Industries
This somewhat rich tasting, dark brown colored ale has a strong rye presence. The rye blends well with the roasted malt, and there’s this slightly herbal and astringent finish. Not a lot complexity here, but with a name like “Rye’d Piper”, you would expect big rye flavors, and this beer delivers. Mission accomplished.

L’Enfant Terrible from Social Kitchen
Social Kitchen Brewmaster Rich Higgens describes this as a table Belgian Ale. This was has a light roasted chocolate a fig character, with a little spicy character from the Belgian yeast, and yet this flavorful, complex brew checks in at 4.5% abv. Nothing like finding another nifty session beer.

Saisson from Ondonata
Ondoonata is a Sacremento area brewery that opened last year, and after tasting this effort, it looks like they are going to be around a while. Their Saisson is a little lemony, slightly bready, and a little spicy peppery finish, all adds up to a great, refreshing summer beer.

Sights, Sounds, and Tastes of the Eat Real Festival

The Eat Real Festival is the place you might expect to see things like a large, red beet tattooed on some guy’s muscular arm. I’d describe it as a street festival trying to get you to think locally about your street food. And while you might quibble if that includes a stand selling creme’ brulee, they seemed to do a pretty good job pulling off the concept. And for pictures of the weekend festivities in better focus than the one on the right, head on over to Beer and Nosh.

Held the past weekend in Jack London Square, the Eat Real Festival certainly seemed to be a logistical success on the hot Saturday afternoon I was there. Despite the large crowds, there were reasonable enough lines to get food, beer, and the all important trip to the porta-potties. In the center of it all was the Beer Shed. If I have one recommendation for next year’s Eat Real Fest, it’s that they call it something else. I had visions of having to enter some rickety, dimly lit, poorly ventilated structure simply to get a beer. Imagine my pleasant surprise when instead, the “Beer Shed” consisted of a refrigerated trailer with 40 taps built into it sitting in the open air. And at the front of this trailer a “Meet the Brewer” table was set up, with an hourly schedule of brewers there to pour and talk about their beers.

Of course, it’s one thing to meet the brewer, it’s another to have an actual conversation with him in this set-up. One brewer, who possibly was as buzzed as I was, glided back and forth behind the table, talking in a volume barely above a whisper about his beer. When I asked “Would you be willing to share what hops you used in this?”, he replied “Sure”, and then there was a long pause. Then he said, “I need to help this couple over here”, and then he moved a few feet sideways, poured them a beer, and started chatting with them. Figuring he wouldn’t answer my question, my attention turned elsewhere, and all of a sudden, he glided over and rattled off a couple names of hops I wasn’t familiar with, and almost instantly forgot. And with that, he was back over with the other couple. Note to self: Learn your all your hop varieties, and be alert when trying to gather more insight from the brewer about how he made the beer. And being a little more clear headed wouldn’t hurt, either.

There was no such problem speaking learning about how Triple Rock made their Bill Brand Brown. They use cocoa nibs in a process similar to dry hopping to give the brew extra roasty, chocolaty dimensions. The Bill Brand Brown was one of many excellent beers Linda and I tried last Saturday, and here are the notes of those I was paying close enough attention to write something down about.

Triple Rock Bill Brand Brown
We enjoyed this rich, highly roasted brown session ale, with bitter chocolate flavors imparted from the cocoa nibs. Lots of chocolate aromas going on.

Magnolia Best Bitter

Linda and I detected a raspberry character to this bitter, which had a dry crisp finish. There’s something about Magnolia’s beer that have this subtle, unique twist on the style you don’t find anywhere else.

Linden Street Brewing’s People’s Common

A surprisingly dry, astringent brew with an acidic, pineapple-like flavor that is far more enjoyable than it sounds like it would be.

Beach Chalet Riptide Red
Has a little toastiness, a little strawberry or raspberry fruitiness to it, and a little hop bitterness in the aftertaste. It’s one of those beers that has a little of this, a little of that, and pretty soon, it all adds up to a lot.

Tacos anyone?

Time to Eat Real: The Eat Real Festival Is Coming This August 28-30

I’m pleased to tell you all about the Eat Real Festival that’s being held in Jack London Square in Oakland the weekend of August 28-30.

What is it about? Well, from the festival website, the Eat Real Festival was “founded in 2008, as a social venture created to inspire eaters to choose tasty, healthy, good food. Through a vibrant, local festival in Oakland, CA, and a focus on delicious and sustainable “street food,” Eat Real puts eaters in contact with the real people — the farmers, chefs, and producers — who make our food. Eat Real Festival will donate a percentage of its profit to several California organizations promoting access to healthy and affordable food, entrepreneurship and economic development.”

And since beer goes well with most street food, they’ve included a Beer Shed with a great list of over 15 local breweries already scheduled to participate, and the website promises more.

To me, this is what food is all about. It’s about eating something good, simple, and accessible produced in a sustainable way. Anything that puts the producers of what we eat and drink closer to the consumers is definitely something I support. If you agree, I look foreword to seeing you there.