I first heard about Savor in 2009, which at the time was in its second year. Although there are lots of bars and restaurants that pair craft beer with food, I had never seen an event built specifically around the idea. I missed it in 2010 but scored tickets this year for Robin (from Good For the Palate) and myself for the first day of SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience.
This year marked the first time the event was held over two days instead of one, with 2000 [ticketed] attendees each night. It was held at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC and featured 72 breweries and 144 different beers, each with a small food pairing. There were also tables featuring artisanal cheeses and chocolates, as well as a raw oyster bar. Tickets (which were $110) included all the beer samples and food pairings you could handle, along with a commemorative tasting glass, event program, and exit gift (more on that later). Savor also features private 'salons'; small group discussions or private tastings which require separate tickets ($30 each if I remember correctly). Dress code was business casual.
Check out more details at these links:
Beer & food pairings
Now for my thoughts, which I'm going to separate into The Good, The Not So Good, You Decide, and The Verdict. Be aware, the You Decide part is still not exempt from my personal opinions.
Lots of breweries: With 72 different brewers on hand, this is one of the most widely represented beer events in the region. A lot of them don't distribute in Maryland, Virginia, or maybe even DC itself, so this is a great chance for local beer geeks to try things they might normally have to travel pretty far to get. I was particularly excited to try Boulevard, Firestone Walker, Odell, and Short's, as well as get another taste of some I've had before but can't get at home, like Bell's, Founders, Cigar City, and Coronado.
Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale & The Sixth Glass (Belgian strong ale) from Boulevard Brewing Co.
Lots of beer: I think one or two brewers had something on draft, but almost everything was poured from bottles, so there was no worrying about kegs getting kicked.
Cheese, chocolates, and raw bar: It was nice that these were separate from the food pairings, and I guess it made more sense for them to be, as they didn't need to be cooked.
National Building Museum: Pretty cool place to hold the event. Well ventilated and easy to get around, which was great. Why? Because I'm positive there were way more than 2000 people there on Friday. This didn't seem to be a huge problem since the room was big and there was room to move around, but having been to Brewvival twice, I know what 2000 people looks like, and there were definitely more at Savor.
Exit gift: A bottle of SAVOR Flowers, a collaborative brew from Jim Koch of Boston Beer Company and Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head. Very cool. It was brewed with rosewater in place of regular water, features a new hop variety known as #369, and was aged in Sam Adams' Barrel One (which was originally used for Sam Adams Triple Bock in 1993). They served it at Savor, so I did get to taste it, but I'm going to save my thoughts for a review later on.
Another plus side to Savor: In the week leading up to the event, several DC beer bars featured Savor beers on tap or held meet-and-greets with the owners and brewers. Robin was invited to a BBQ at a local distributor that featured Brooklyn Brewery and several others, while I had lunch at RFD and sipped 3 Stars + Evolution collaboration The Syndicate Saison and Heavy Seas Plank 1 on cask. Later, in the hours before Savor began, Robin and I met up at our hotel and then headed to ChurchKey to meet the guys from Odell and try some of their beers, plus try some things from Short's Brewing. RFD and Brasserie Beck both held after-parties for Savor ticket holders, and Iron Horse Tap Room held a tap takeover showcasing many Savor breweries. I'm sure as the years go on, more Savor-related events will pop up, probably turning into a full fledged beer week.
The Not So Good - THE FOOD
This was a big disappointment for Robin and I, because one of the two main ingredients of the event was, after all, the food! In many cases, if a dish was supposed to be crunchy, it was soft; if it was supposed to be soft it was soggy; if it was supposed to be moist it was dry; if it was supposed to be warm or hot it was cool. Not everything was that way though. There were some exceptions... The 'devils on horseback'; smoked bacon wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese. The mini lobster rolls. The crispy tuna rolls weren't crispy but the flavors were there. The biscuit and belly. The double chocolate bread pudding was damn tasty. The 'shrimp in a blanket' were good, and mine was even crispy (must've gotten a lucky batch straight from the kitchen). Though I understand the logistical issues with serving a massive amount of food in a relatively short period of time, I think all of the dishes could still have been prepared significantly better.
There were only 42 different dishes for 144 different beers. I knew this ahead of time, but still figured it'd be worth it because it'd be interesting to see how the same dish paired with different beers. The problem is, with the food not being prepared particularly well, it didn't always match with all of the beers it was paired with. A few things worked, but some things were completely overpowered by the beer or just didn't mix at all. Had the food been prepared better, the matches may have been more evident.
I think the event could feature way less breweries and more local restaurants, that way they could concentrate on having better pairings and preparations. Instead of creating dishes that go generically with an IPA or an imperial stout, why not have a brewer pair with a specific restaurant to create more exclusive and harmonious pairings? It would probably eliminate all or most of the issues with one generic kitchen heating and serving pre-prepared food. Overall, I just expected a lot more from the food at an event specifically geared towards food pairings with craft beer.
I was also disappointed by security giving people crap about bringing in DSLR's. I had to use my iPhone for what few pictures I took.
Tasting glass: Stemmed, wine-like. Plenty of beers are served in goblets, tulip glasses, snifters, etc, and those are all stemmed. I heard a few people say they would have preferred a snifter if Savor was going for 'elegant'. Not going to argue with them. Whatever, the Savor glass was perfectly fine for tastings.
Attire and atmosphere: Savor "strives for an elegant event". Dress is usually cocktail or business casual according to their website (the ticket just said business casual). Savor is undoubtedly a nice event and not a typical beer festival, and I found that there were a lot less beer geeks in attendance. There seemed to be a lot of folks who came because it was something hip to do, an "in" thing. There was not as much of the usual beer nerd chatter among the attendees. I talked to a few people that knew generally what craft beer is but that was about it. It seemed like a large portion of the attendees were there because they were intrigued by the idea that beer can be paired with food, but they maybe don't drink craft beer otherwise, at all or only occasionally. In fact, for some, Savor may be the only time they have beer with their food. Being in DC, there are a lot of lawyers, lobbyists, businesspeople, politicians, etc. I think the attire could be more a result of the location rather than the food or beer. In an article I read earlier today, one attendee, despite greatly enjoying the event said, "Whatever happened to drinking beer in t-shirts and shorts?" I agree with him. While I wasn't crazy about the dress code, it wasn't enough to stop me from drinking some great beer.
Robin and I laughed at the number of people, just in the few moments we stood there, that kept calling these "cherry bock" and "Vietnamese lager". It's Cherny ("chair-knee") Bock and Viennese Lager.
For $60-70 I would go again for all the beers including the bottle of SAVOR Flowers we got when we left. For $40-50, I'd do it just for the beers. Unfortunately, the food experience was overall so disappointing that I wouldn't say it was worth the $110, and I personally won't go to the event again. Atmosphere-wise, Savor just isn't the average craft beer drinker's beer festival. For me (and I think most beer geeks in general), the money would be better spent at beer bars and gastropubs such as Brasserie Beck and Birch & Barley in DC, or Alewife and The Brewer's Art in Baltimore, where you can get great craft beer as well as incredible food. On the plus side, Savor did make way for some really cool events at the local beer geek hangouts in DC, and I will definitely take advantage of that again next year. If you're unable to score tickets to future Savor events or it simply doesn't interest you at all, I would still highly recommend coming to town for the extra happenings. Cheers!