Strong ale isn’t the dark, sometimes bitter stuff that hardcore beer lovers drink for fun without flinching.
Strong ale, as defined by the annual Strong Ale Fest at the Anchor, is just beer that has a higher-than-normal alcohol content, and some of it tastes deceptively smooth.
The Strong Ale Fest, now in its fifth year, will close down the popular downtown bar at 1109 E. Douglas from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday and is expected to draw 200 Wichita beer geeks and fans, all looking to sample a collection of 8-percent-and-higher alcohol content beers amassed by Anchor owner Schane Gross plus local beer distributors and brewers.
Some of it is rare, expensive and hard to get. Some is readily available in local bars and liquor stores but is still fun to sample alongside its high-alcohol-content relatives.
“Strong Ale Fest is a just a reason to get together and enjoy those beers,” said Gross, who this year has also recruited other bars to put on Strong Ale Fest-related events.
Gross, one of Wichita’s most passionate beer aficionados, said she came up with the idea for the festival when trying to decide what to do with some of the “highly allocated” beers she’d get from her distributors. These were beers she’d get only a few bottles of – not enough to sell but too good not to share. She decided to invite a group of fellow beer lovers to sample along with her.
“Some of them you don’t want more than a couple of ounces of,” she said.
Interest grew, and so did the event.
Saturday’s event will feature samples of more than 100 beers, some of which cost up to 90 cents an ounce.
Attendees pay $40 to get in and get drink tickets at the door. Each beer requires a different number of tickets to sample, depending on its value. Among the beers on the list are Barrel Aged Old Rasputin, Goose Island’s Matilda Lambiscus and Goose Island’s Boulevard Brewing Company’s Chocolate Ale. Representatives from several national breweries will be there, too, including Free State, Tallgrass, Odell and New Belgium.
Gross also has invited all the local brewers to come, including River City Brewing Co., Wichita Brewing Co. & Pizzeria and Walnut River Brewing out of El Dorado. They are bringing samples of their own beers, not all of which fall into the higher-alcohol-content category. Attendees can sample those beers without using any of their tickets.
Beer aficionados also can bring bottles of their own favorite beers and share samples, but to keep the ABC happy, those beers can’t be available in Kansas and can’t be home brews. Those who bring their own bottles must take any leftovers with them when they leave.
Gross will offer food at the event, too, and attendees will get a preview of the items she plans to serve at her soon-to-open Douglas Avenue Chop Shop, the high-end butcher shop that will be attached to the Anchor. On Saturday, she’ll serve a variety of sandwiches and homemade sausages for an extra cost. Attendees also can opt to use their beer tickets to get samples of the specialty cheeses Gross will carry at the butcher shop.
Gross also has recruited a couple of other restaurant/bars to participate in Strong Ale Fest spinoff events, and she’s in talks with more to participate next year, she said.
Public at the Brickyard at 129 N. Rock Island will put on two related events. The first is a Strong Ale Fest pre-party that starts at 10 p.m. Friday and will include flights of strong ale and live music from Byron J. Love. Then, on Thursday, the restaurant will offer special menu items, each one paired with a strong ale. The pairings will be available from 6 to 10 p.m.
The Monarch at 579 W. Douglas also is participating with its own Strong Ale event. From 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, the bar will release a different strong ale every 20 minutes. Participants can get 4-ounce pours of the beers and will pay for them by the pour.