They're putting more alcohol in beer. And you thought the stuff couldn't get any better.
High-octane brews, often called big beers, will be the stars of the second annual Strong Ale Fest at the Anchor bar Saturday. Fifty bottled beers and 17 draughts had been lined up for sampling as of midweek.
Despite the moniker, the point of strong beer isn't necessarily to deliver more alcohol per drop but rather to convey more flavor and that elusive element known as "character," says Wichita architect and beer enthusiast Anthony Jacobs.
"That is a general trend within the craft beer industry," Jacobs, who attended last year's festival, said. "Beers that have higher alcohol content tend to be more complex in flavor and compare favorably with things like wine and scotch."
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Tasting notes describe the beers to be poured Saturday in terms like "roasty," "yeasty" and "creamy," with notes of everything from chocolate-covered cherries to sassafras and virgin oak. There are red, white, brown, pale, Belgium Abby and Scottish old ales; stouts, Imperial stouts, oak-aged and barrel stouts reserves, barley wines, porter, mead, doppelbock and more.
Most of the beers boast at least 8 percent alcohol content, or about twice the amount of the average beer. A few go up to 15 percent, which is stronger than most wine.
Anchor owner Schane Gross said having a strong beer festival was the idea of Rob Miller, owner of Goebel Liquor, who's known for his extensive "World of Beers" selection. Gross and Miller spent months selecting the beers for this year's event.
"I'm always learning when it comes to beer," Gross said. "I'm always trying something new and turning people on to it."
With one exception, the Strong Ale Fest will feature American microbreweries, which have jumped enthusiastically onto the big beer bus. Avery, Goose Island, Great Divide, Left Hand, Red Hook, Rogue and Sam Adams are microbreweries many casual beer fans will recognize, while beer nerds may be drawn to producers like Harviestoun and He'Brew. Kansas and Missouri are represented by Tallgrass, Free State, Boulevard and Schafley.
Some of the beers, like Odell Brewing's "Deconstruction" and Sierra Nevada's 30th anniversary ale, are so expensive or limited in supply that Gross was able to buy only a few bottles of them.
A VIP ticket gets festivalgoers in the door at 11 a.m. and first crack at the beers in more limited supply. For regular ticket holders, the festival starts at 1 p.m. Gross said she'll run half-off food specials to keep people from drinking on an empty stomach.
Miller, who's attended beer festivals around the world, said they're a great way for beer fans who might not want to shell out $20 for a bottle of beer to get a taste.
Of Saturday's lineup, Miller said he's looking forward to tasting New Belgium's Tart Lychee —"I got to try it at the brewery two years ago, a phenomenal beer" — Goose Island's Bourbon County Stout 2009, which is "kind of a holy grail beer," and Free State's Trolly House.
The festival is also featuring a couple of firkin style beers, which are unpasteurized, unfiltered beers that are naturally carbonated by cask conditioning instead of the usual method of injection with carbon dioxide.