The Raleigh Rare & Vintage Beer Tasting has been on my radar since its inception in 2012. Taking place at the Tyler’s Taproom in Raleigh, the event not only serves as a way for attendees to enjoy rare/vintage/great beer, it also serves as an opportunity to bring awareness to prostate cancer through the group, Pints for Prostates. Anything sold at the event serves as a direct donation to the organization, like the Samuel Adams booth selling pours of their Utopias. Besides the Sam Adams’ booth having 2 beers on tap, there were 40 other breweries present with 56 beers for event-goers to sample. Among the beers present were the last keg in existence of Rogue’s 21 Ale, Left Hand’s Vintage 2003 Widdershins Barleywine, and the only keg of Palm Royale’s Belgian Strong Ale in the country. The event’s venue has grown since last year, but the amount of tickets available hasn’t which definitely gave the tasting a more laid back, seemingly intimate feel. I didn’t feel rushed to visit any particular brewery’s booth, or lost in a crowd of totally smashed revelers like most beer fests tend to make me feel. I was slightly worried about the number of people in line at the entrance, but it turns out my worrying was for naught.
After entering the tent, picking up a tasting notebook and goblet, the first set of breweries I came to just so happened to be great North Carolina representatives. Aviator’s Bourbon barrel-aged Black Mamba Oatmeal Stout was excellent. Their Black Mamba stout was barreled with black cherries, mace, and peppercorns. The spices had a strong presence in the taste which was followed by a smooth sweet cherry finish. Aviator was followed not too soon after, by Lonerider with Galen’s Big Bock Dopplebock. This one cemented my feelings of dislike for bocks and dopplebocks. I think they feel flat, and don’t really have a set of flavors that I have an affinity for. Terrapin’s Cabernet Barrel Aged Monk’s Revenge was probably in my top five favorites of the afternoon. It had a sweet scent of wine, with a slight taste of cabernet and sharp tannins, which gave way to a Belgian trippel finish. One of the most intriguing brews was Heavy Seas English Oak Cask of Siren Noire. The Siren Noire Imperial Stout was brewed with cacao nibs, aged in Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels with Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans, and then served in an English Oak Cask. It smelled of cinnamon and vanilla, but tasted like raisin bread or cinnamon rolls. Sweet on the front end, with a thin-medium body, it had a spicy Atomic Fireball-esque finish. Bell’s Vintage 2010 Bourbon Barrel Aged Cherry Stout was excellent as well. It had a heavier bourbon scent, but the tartness of the cherries came out in the flavor and finish. Unfortunately there were a couple bad eggs in the carton. Founders Spite Pepper Beer was definitely not the best. Tasting this one, casked with habaneros, was like taking a hammer to my taste buds. **BLASPHEMY ALERT: Hate to say it, but I would rather stoop to drinking a Bud Lite.** Another not so hot one was Allagash’s James Bean, which reminded me of drinking whatever is left at the bottom of a luke-warm pot of coffee. Dregs and all.
Fortunately, the beers took a turn for the better. Quest Brewing Company’s #4 Ellida IPA was very bitter, but nicely malted. Allagash’s Avance, 3 year old Bourbon Barrel-Aged Strong Sour Ale with strawberries, was the mystery flavor of the afternoon. It smelled a bit strange, but was sweet, pine-y, and sour at the same time. Trophy Brewing’s Pritchards Rum Barrel Aged Scotch Ale (Test Batch #27) and their All Simcoe DIPA were great, and I’m very happy they’re a local micro-brewery. Another favorite of the day was Fullsteam’s Common Good. A sour mash “Kentucky Common,” it was brewed with six-row barley, rye, corn, and fresh pressed Newtown Pippin apples from Foggy Ridge Cider, and then quick-aged in Maker’s Mark barrels. I’m not a wild and crazy fan of sour beers, but this one is probably my favorite. It was lightly sour, I could taste the sweetness of the apples, which gave way to a slight corn finish.
The Raleigh Rare & Vintage Beer Tasting is definitely something that one should try and get to if the opportunity arises. Even though it was an outdoor event, it was quite comfortable under the tents set up in a lot behind the Raleigh Tyler’s Taproom. The atmosphere was inviting, the company great, and the beers excellent. There will be a number of hits, as well as a couple misses, but that is fair to say of most beer festivals. I am very happy I got to make it to this year’s event, and I hope to be able to attend next year.