Story by Natalie Haddock
If you love craft beer, good food, nice people, and live music, than I hope to have seen you at last Friday’s Craft Beer and Spirits Jam, the official kick off party to last weekend’s annual South Walton Beaches Wine and Food Festival.
Over 100 varieties of craft beer and spirits were available for guests to sample along with delicious food from nearly a dozen local restaurants. Attendees were invited to mingle and taste as they explored each tent and vendor station set up throughout the beautiful courtyards of Grande Boulevard.
Attendees were immediately greeted by the aromas along “East Street” at the festival entrance. There Another Broken Egg greeted us with a delightful portion of southern shrimp and grits. I stopped at Roux 30A and was delighted with a sampling of beer-cheese soup, presented with a soft pretzel morsel on the bottom. The crowd around me agreed, it was amazing. We are talking 3-year aged Vermont cheddar infused with Grayton Beach Pale Ale and served up shooter-style, just the sort of creative influence that got us excited for the evening’s tastings. Other vendors included Raw and Juicy, Cabana Cafe, The Marginy, and the Craft Bar.
In the courtyard was an array of bourbons, whiskeys, flavored wines and craft beer. While each booth was as inviting as the next, I ended up making my way toward Grayton Beer Company and their popular array of local brews. A South Walton original, Grayton has made a name for itself with the 30A Beach Blonde but have been recently exploring new recipes and new labeling with their Artist Series in which local artists create the labels based on the brew and proceeds are donated back into the artist community. We are told to be on the lookout This Memorial Day weekend for “Can Full of Thorns”, a session IPA infused with rose petals.
Another Santa Rosa Beach brewery showcasing their flavorful fermentations was Idyll Hounds. Their introductory brews, the Divide and Conch’r and the Man-O-Wheat, created a buzz throughout the crowd but it was their Chili Porter, a small batch brew, which kicked its way into our hearts with bite and spice.
Some of the bigger craft breweries presented at the festival were Sweetwater Brewing Co, out of Atlanta, GA, and Abita Beer from Abita Springs, LA. Abita Brewing Company is arguably the oldest and largest craft brewery in the Southeast and spoke happily about being one of the event’s sponsors. Attendees were offered their high gravity brew, the Andygator, along with some sweeter options like the Citrus Spring IPA and the popular Purple Haze. I was also glad to see a booth for my personal favorite, New Belgium, for a familiar sample of Fat Tire, the #2 selling craft beer in Florida and the #1 selling amber ale in the country. Their Skinny Dip is also a favored light summer beer, but interesting to note was their 1554, “the only black Belgium anywhere”, I was told.
The Oskar Blues Brewery also made quite an impression on the crowd that evening introducing their “throwback” IPA and newest year-round beer, the Pinner. In 2002 Oskar Blues was the first US craft brewer to can its own beer, starting with their flagship Dale’s Pale Ale. Yella Pils and Old Chub were also available to taste. Although the brewery kicked off its first batch in a brewpub basement in 1998, the Colorado based beer company has been winning awards and moving out ever since. In 2012 they opened a second brewery in Brevard, NC and was named Beverage World’s Brewery of the Year.
As the sun went down that evening and the music kicked up, it was obvious that The Craft Beer and Spirits Jam was a hit. The intimate atmosphere and the quality of food and drink provided seemed reflect of the essence of craft beer – Small batches, big success! I look forward to seeing you all at next year’s Jam as part of the South Walton Beaches Wine and Food Festival.