The California Beer Festival Leaves Smiles, Suds and Half-Eaten Pretzel Necklaces in Its Wake

Project: Poppyc**k Editor’s Note

As the personal assistant/de facto editor of Mr. Wesley Bauman’s professional blog, I have been charged with the necessary task of prefacing this article with the following statement. Due to a complicated and overly exaggerated charge of “crude treatment of the elderly,” amongst others, (a charge this editor believes is in fact a fabricated one), Mr. Bauman is unable to write this article himself. With the looming deadline and a need to express the events of the California Beer Festival, the task of organizing the chicken-scratch notes and audio recorded ravings in to some semblance of literature that could pass for journalism, has fallen at my feet.

In my years of service to Mr. Bauman, I can safely describe his behavior as avant garde and eccentric, but his dedication to the story no matter what state of mind or level of intoxication, he has found himself in has always prevailed. Given his uncompromising manner of pseudo-professionalism and a knack for delivering a sardonic social criticism, Mr. Bauman has always performed his duties at the highest possible level given the crushing pressure of editorial approval and looming deadlines that never seem to be far enough out in to the future for his liking.

Though his legal council has advised against this article, and to a greater extent this preface, Mr. Bauman would like to make it clear that the events of the evening in question have no root in his being a beer judge during the festival at Mission Park in Ventura, Calif. Furthermore, against advice, he would like to say that the clown had it coming with such poor balloon-based facsimiles of wild animals and the elderly man later in that night was, in fact, not a weeble-wobble and his assertion of such is what led to his being shoved from his walker. Also, that no barnyard animals were actually hurt, though their pride after being tipped or kicked, was not of his concern. It is not his fault, or responsibility, if the fragile self-confidence of a dairy cow can be toppled as easily as the unconscious body of said animal.

As I looked over the notes taken by Mr. Bauman, and after an extended phone call to him in county jail awaiting his hearing later this week, I did my best to piece together the events of the festival and his impressions of the day. There will be large gaps where literary liberties are taken by myself, but it is in the best interest of the story and with the highest regard for Wesley’s usual standard of excellence. Though some facts have been omitted for either protection of the innocent or simply because of large gaps in his note taking and audio dictation, this is the best approximation this office can assemble for the purpose of meeting Mr. Bauman’s deadline with his Disarray Magazine editor, Christy Buena. As soon as bail is set, Mr. Bauman will be available for interviews, but any questions as the events of the evening or how he came in to the possession of the 923 tapioca snack packs is completely off limits, as was his intentions with such a supply of pudding and the women with whom he was driving. 

Thank you for reading this article and I hope we have done our best to alleviate any concerns for the safety and well-being of Mr. Bauman. I also personally hope that I have done justice to his experiences at what I’m sure was his favorite California Beer Festival to date.

From the Editor’s Desk at Project: Poppyc**k

Scott E. Moffett

I arose at 10am in eager anticipation of the responsibility charged to me on this glorious and wonderful day of our Lord, September seventeenth, two-thousand and eleven. Noon was my time of arrival at the vendor gate entrance at Mission Park. Though I had to traverse blocks to find my rightful entrance after vague emails from the organizers and a security force that could have occupied Havana despite not knowing my rightful place at the top of the social pecking order of pyramid topping beer judge, I finally found my way in to what some may call a hastily thrown together, and temporary respite from the desires of thirst for brewed nectar. This place was well-designed and laid out to make for easy line-jumping from one beer vendor to another. Pock-marking this gauntlet of pressurized taps and tent poles were purveyors of everything from BBQ to fine cuisine on the day to help in the saturation of the palate’s senses. This was to be a fine day, once the clouds broke just before 1pm, but my home was to be an elevated stage backed by a sign declaring “Beer Judging In Progress.” Serious business was to be conducted on this stage, unlike everywhere else on the grounds where frivolity, fun, and copious consumption of brew held sway.

At just after one, I met my fellow judges and took my place at the table, a rickety folding chair at the far left end in the shade. Heat was to be my enemy as I drank, and I could not allow for my strength to be sapped by the wicked lashes of UV rays; my fair Oregonian-bred skin could not stand up to the battle despite SPF30 protection. It was a simple enough task in theory: rate each beer in a variety of categories and total up the score. Keeping in mind the particular brewing style; be it Red, Blonde, Porter, IPA, or Pale; judge it on merit and assign an arbitrary numerical value. Categories of aroma, appearance, mouthfeel, flavor, overall impression, you were to score it objectively and move on to the next brew.

Once looking over the paper work I had to realign my own personal feelings. As a man of Oregon, Wisconsin, and Alaskan mailing addresses in my few years of beer buying legality, I had to separate my own feelings on beer preferences and judge these beers based on what they were. A task many would envy, but once you find yourself set against a gauntlet of beer spanning the brewing spectrum, and needing to judge them blind to their brewhouse sources, it becomes a harrowing task of not only being beer “judge,” but due to government cutbacks, you are now jury and executioner, too. My mind ran with fears and thoughts as I was told that we were looking at approximately 30 beers to judge. Would I have the fortitude to last the full day? Would I be able to maintain my faculties long enough to objectively judge each beer? Is any man REALLY prepared for an ugly thing like taking the chance of declaring a “big beer” company winner over all those breweries he knows and loves? Could he handle the shame of electing “Stella Artois” king above all others? Would I get bathroom breaks?

As we tucked in, filled out our names on sheets, and began the first pour I knew I was out of my depths. As a neo-casual/borderline alcoholic beer aficionado, I have always had a taste for beer since my years in Wisconsin. Since then I criss-crossed the tundra of Alaska and the damp streets of Portland slaking my thirst for something niche, creative, and all-around unique on my quest to consume anything within arms reach of a good bartender with a clean pint glass. On this day though, every brew worth drinking was delivered to me in glistening pitchers, sweating in the noonday sun like an immigrant farmhand on it’s way down my gullet.

Reds, Blondes, IPA’s, Pales, Stouts, Lagers, Ales, Double Dark, English Light, Whites, Hefs, Belgian, American, Irish…Every seat in the UN and every hair color and brewing style was represented. It was a gauntlet of swirl, watch, smell, swirl, smell, drink, swish, hold, swallow, wait, swirl, smell, smell, drink, wait, drink, wait, “pour me a little more,” swirl, watch, smell, drink, wait, drink, judge, and drink. Each beer getting as much attention as the last. Each marked with a scarlet number in each category and each one downed to the delight of my belly, and to much malign from my brain. We’re not even ten brews in and already my gums go numb and my sharp mind goes for a leisurely stroll down a winding road to nowhere in particular. My responsibilities and the seriousness of the other men on the stage keep me in check and stop the giggles and the crazed smile of Templeton at closing time from creeping across my face.

Dan, two seats down is the President of VIBE I believe, an independent brewers club in Ventura that makes my expertise look like something on par with doting mastery of my “times tables” to an astrophysicist. Chris, furthest from me, maintain a beer blog…a blog that is ONLY about beer. How is a strictly double-A ball player like myself supposed to get a hit off a Cy Young pitcher like him? The man next to me, whose name escapes me, is three times my size and looks as if he’s drank more beer than I can hope to consume in the next twenty years. With fellow judges of this caliber I must keep my composure. I must pace myself and keep the urge to start chugging pitchers double-fisted from taking over the more sensible, though quickly fleeting, part of my brain.

As we proceed down the line of ever appearing beers, a line of five pitchers that is replenished by a busty woman of diminutive stature every time we near the end, I suppress my desires to just relax and drink as I am want to do. We are here to do a job, and I’ll be damned if I bock at the first real chance I have to acquire a beer snobbery resume. We literally pour though beer after beer and as time goes on my notes are fewer and my handwriting turns to scratch as I wave the white flag at categorical notes all together, instead going with numbers alone. The math for totaling the score for each beer is now a double and triple check affair at the halfway mark, and after a fine Pale Ale I take my second bathroom break of many. There is no end in sight, but the waves of “buzz” keep me from being too concerned with the time or that I’m giving “it” a few extra shakes for good measure in the stall of the Knights of Columbus men’s room before returning to my post.

Music! Yes, I have forgotten the music. Our judges table, fit snuggly in the shade of a retaining wall/wooden fence reinforced with plywood, is seated right next to a high and mighty stage. A fine blues/rock band started the day, but at this hour a fine little band from Seattle now graces the stage. Tunes and well-crafted melodies pierce the air and overpower the growing buzz and stuffiness of my mind. These guys are good. What is their name? You didn’t catch it either? To hell with it, I like them and they should change their name to Anonymous, it suits them, being that they are from the great NW and that puddle-ridden town of Seattle; I do love that Pike’s Market though!

We press on through the line of pitchers dripping with condensation as people approach the table non-stop and ask us what we are doing. Never mind the 8X5-foot sign clearly declaring “Beer Judging in Progress,” I’m more than happy to inform you as you ask. This is serious work going on here. Yes, it IS a tough job (feigned chuckle after the tenth time you hear it from such a comedic and original genius). No, I did not have to blow anyone to get this job. Why do you ask? Yes, put a sign behind anyone on a stage and put beer in front of them, and inquiring minds want to know. No, I can’t tell you who has the best beer. Well, because it is a blind tasting to avoid favoritism. Well, someone here is a good Pale Ale, and someone here has a very fine chipotle/peach Porter, so go find it and tell ‘em Wes sent ya. Cheers! Prost! Yes, good day to you too, sir!

As we near the end of the line of pitchers, the beginning has become a blur. How long have I been sitting here? Was the drumroll on the fourth IPA of the day really necessary? When did I eat last? How many S’s are in my name? No bother, they’ll get what I’m trying to write. From Porters that poured like motor oil to English Lagers so light you needed to trap them in your glass for fear they’d float away, we’ve rocked them all. I am elated, much to my shock, to hear we are tasting the last beer, and I can’t wait to be done, if only to mingle with the rest of the beer community. To be out amongst the people whose interests I hope I am fairly representing. I am obviously the “every man” beer drinker representing the people, and I hope I have channeled their voice in the most honest and pseudo-upstanding manner possible. I almost feel like an elected official leaving office as we judges pose for pictures and leave our post. I step off the stage, and before I go to the K of C restroom one last time, I can feel the auspicious nature of my two and a half hours as a rarified beer judge fall away. It was nice while it lasted, but now to rub elbows with the common folk once more. I am a man of the people after all, but I’ll be damned if I don’t take advantage of indoor plumbing with my all-access wristband. I have my limits.

My desire for total coverage has fallen away at this late hour of the event. Yes, I’ll take a Boddington’s to clear the palate. Sure, I’ll grab some Anacapa Amber something or other. Chatting with friends of a friend. Regaling them with tales of good beer and blind judging. Twenty-five beers. Hand-delivered. No lines. Yes, it was “pretty cool.”

On to another line before meeting back up outside the port-a-johns. I’ll take your picture, sure. I need a shot for the article anyway. Beer on a laniard: Is there a better idea? I think not. Music. Hordes of people relaxing, meandering, dancing, laughing in the afternoon sun. Take a picture. 3,993 people I hear. Palindromes are funny. Irish Red Ale. Random thought: Is there a tougher people than the Irish? Only they would call the struggles of hundreds of years of battling and war “The Troubles.”

Looking at the Borderlands booth. Or is it Borderjumpers? Can’t remember. Though, it is Border-something. One of those is less offensive than the other. I hope they chose wisely. Those beer girls are serving in cowboy boots, hats, bikini tops, and Daisie Dukes…that would definitely be the fan vote if there was one…anything served with a busty bikini top is usually going to win. Sex sells, Gwen. Sex sells.

More gracious hosts at Tap It. They drove their firetruck-esque beer wagon in and they’ve gone all out with even a soap-sud dispensing spout to cover those in line with. Drop the house lights, get your glow sticks and put on some techno, we’re serving beer. Surely a fan favorite for showmanship, but best beer has yet to be proven. It’s all in branding, we know that. Showmanship can only take you so far. I hope they can back it up. I never find out though, line is too long for my drunken mind. Move on, I say.

Ah, more photos. Some overalls for coverage. Running in to familiar faces. Lounging under this giant damned tree in the park on swank furniture. What kind of tree is this? A shady one. A moment’s reprieve from the harrowing, tough times of waiting in line. Need to get it right. Pace yourself. The only way to always have beer is to pace yourself. An empty glass on the end of a laniard is a sad one. Grab a brew from one tent and immediately get in line at another. Sip away until you are next and then down it before rinsing out your glass and getting it filled in abundance. Repeat. A sure fire way to keep the good times rolling between stops at the john and head-bobbing to music in the sun while eating some BBQ.

The day is near an end. Nearly, but I would not stay to see it. I was there for the beginning, but the end was not for me. Time to beat the traffic and get some food in the belly. No worries, designated driver leads the way; safer than sorry, after all. The sandy, sunny SoCal beach is calling my name. Let’s get some In N Out and take her by storm. Watch out for the broken glass and the lounging homeless. Though you might be equally drunk, getting caught in a conversation with the deranged may upset them. I am the deranged in this scenario.

Filled to the brim with God’s nectar I cannot help but wonder why California is not more highly regarded for the craft beer she sports. Wine country? Nonsense. Wine is just grapes. That is all, but beer is too fluid, metaphorically. There is so much that can be done. From taking a flyer on honey and avocado to mixing peaches with chipotles, or just sticking with barely, hops, and water; you cannot find an end to the maze of possibilities. Maybe that is what I found in my never-ending gauntlet of pitchers: a never ending quest to seek out the end of the possibilities. A search worth the length of my life, at the cost of my waistline. An everlasting search for all that is good tasting and creative. A testament to man’s brewing ingenuity. My trip was a genuine one, as I hope yours was. Quest for the greatest beer ever, and if you fall short, then at least you have failed through pint after pint of success, my fellow hopheads. Prost from me to you, and until next year California Beer Festival, where I will most certainly continue my journey. Indeed.

All photos by Wesley Bauman 

About the Author

Wesley Bauman, author of Doggy Paddling in the Deep End, is a writer/photojournalist originally from Oregon who makes his home in Ventura, CA. He’s contributed to the VCReporter and maintains an active blog ( where he writes on political and social satire regularly. Follow Wesley on Twitter @myownfalseidol

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Categories: Events, Food

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