Tuesday, November 17, 2009

BEERflections~ JJTaylor Trade Show 2009

There is a new event I look forward to each year almost as much as the Treasure Coast Beer Fest: the JJTaylor Trade Show. As a beer geek and retailer, it is a quintessential opportunity to explore a mighty bounty of beer from the premier beer distributor in Florida. My virgin trade show voyage was last year, 2008, at the Marriott, Hutchinson Island. This year's event was held a little closer to home (my home) at the St. Lucie Civic Center. A grand social needs a grand hall in which to take place, after all.

Running from 3pm - 7pm, an unfortunate miscommunication had the event listed as 4pm - 8pm on the Civic Center website. The hour differential appeared to matter not though as a diverse array of beer retailers, restaurateurs, and so on started arriving right around 3pm, the influx holding strong and steady until the very end. In between, 55 different breweries were properly represented under the tender stewardship of brewery reps, JJTaylor staff, and beer-minded volunteers. It was a true union of like-minded passions wrapped up in jolly good times and good people for beer enlightenment at its best.

As I am want to do, I arrived early to help in what way I could with set-up and preparation. The location immediately impressed; being my first time at the St. Lucie Civic Center, I was awestruck. Her immense size and breadth of space isn't readily apparent until one finds themselves walking ever closer to the grand entrance. In that moment you feel just a little bit smaller, more humble if you will, as you gaze up and around in wonder. Glimpsing only the area in which the trade show was hosted, it was a minute fraction of all the public and private services available there.

JJTaylor doesn't sign my paychecks, but after close to two years of getting to know many of its fine staff, I feel more like family than a customer. I count at least a good half-dozen as friends, a feeling I feel sincerely reciprocated. JJTaylor is good people, and after the festivities, I enjoyed laughing over a few shared beers, the perfect conclusion to a satisfying day.

Of course, a beer expo (trade show) is ultimately about the beer, an arena which JJTaylor excels in with care, diversity, and determination. This year also saw the pleasant addition of small batch artisanal spirits to taste and potentially retail. Perfect Vodka, Blue Head Tequila, and Rogue Spirits made a solid showing. I was excited to finally be able to taste the Rogue Spirits, and Perfect Vodka was, well, pretty damn close to perfect. Unfortunately, I missed out on the Blue Head Tequila.

Not even a month old in Florida, BrewDog was also well represented along with a few new surprise arrivals to Florida. Under the knowledged tutelage of Matt Abdoney, I reveled in what was my personal highlight of the trade show: Palm and Steenbrugge. How new are they? I can't order them for the store yet, but when I can, you better believe I will.

Palm is famous for their Palm Amber while Steenbrugge kept me occupied with their blonde, wit, dubbel, and tripel. A little known fact about Palm that folks may not be aware of is that during a trip to Belgium, a certain dynamic duo were inspired to bring that wonderfully sessionable taste home with them. They did, and Fat Tire was released upon hordes of thirsty drinkers tired of the same old boring homogenized day-to-day beer. The rest is, as they say, history.

On a personal note, seeing as Palm is about to bless my fridge, my lips, and my inventory, I hope that New Belgium isn't too far behind. There is more than enough love in this beer geek's heart to welcome both with open arms and awaiting glass.

But I digress.

My goal for the 2009 JJTaylor Trade show was to taste as many of their beers that I had yet to try. Crazy as it sounds, I haven't tasted all the beer in the world there is to taste. In fact, I've barely nicked the surface, which is just the way I like it.

While the majority of JJTaylor's readily available portfolio has crossed my thirsty lips, there are still plenty who have not. All in all, I smelled, supped, savored, and took tasting notes on 21 different beers. Sound like a lot? Not really, considering I only covered about half the floor before calling it a night. Tasting notes are useless when tainted by palate fatigue, a cramped hand (if you've read my handwriting, you understand), and exhausted mind.

Before people start to freak out over the amount of different beers I tasted, let me remind you that this was a beer TASTING expo. Each attendee (volunteers and staff included) were given a complimentary 2oz tasting glass that was cute as a button. Take the standard shape of a weizen glass, shrink, and voila. They were real glass, too; no shabby plastic disposable tasting cups like last year.

Ok. Tangent rant over.

The check-in-desk was where one acquired their glass along with a very helpful clipboard. A clipboard by itself is pretty worthless, but these came with tasting sheets where one could write the names of the beers they liked (or didn't) along with any other pertinent information they desired. While showing off their impressive portfolio was one of JJTaylors main goals, it was also readily obvious that they wanted to demonstrate and enforce their commitment to the retailer. Without both parties working together to better the diversity and quality of beer readily available, no one wins.

Four hours may seem like a long time to browse and taste beers, but let me tell you, it wasn't near enough. Or maybe it's just me... But then again, I wanted to ensure my observations and notes were precise, along with taking the time to socialize with the brewery reps, JJTaylor staff, and friendly beer peeps.

Lots of continuous beer tasting requires a hopefully impressive spread of gourmet food. The kitchen and staff of the St. Lucie Civic Center were well up to the task, far exceeding my preconceived lofty expectations and standards. Four tables offered deluxe nibblies and food such as meat and cheese platters, Swedish meatballs, a flinstone-sized hunk of roast beef (I'll have mine extra-bloody please), and individual mini-desserts to entice and thrill. The downfall to having such delicious food was it disappeared quickly, and I sadly missed out on quite a bit.

One of the goals of having quality food at a beer tasting event (besides lining the belly) is to hopefully highlight and enhance the beer food pairing experience. In having both great food and great beers on their own, it was a great success. In the actual execution and active promotion of pairing certain beers with the food, I feel JJTaylor fell short of success. As a recently born beer geek foodie, I hope this aspect receives a more direct effort next year, highlighting the sublime pleasures of beer and food.

Hm... not bad so far if that is my only real gripe...

Weaving in and out of the beery festivities was an eclectic mix of tunes provided by DJ Jon of Martin County. He also heartily carried out the task of announcing the raffle winners of various prizes throughout the trade show. Free beer swag is always a good thing, though I had a gleam on for the assortment of brewery glassware. I am a glassware whore with no shame. Learn it. Accept it. Embrace it.

Shaker pints need not apply.

Drawing an end at 21 different beers tasted, ranging from average (darn you American Standard Lager) to good and topping out at great (thank you Palm and BrewDog Paradox), my love for beer was sensationally sated.

Just as I arrived early to help set-up, so too did I stay after to help tear down, clean up, and head out. An early start deserves a late finish; after all, friends and family help each other out, no questions asked. Plus, personally, it gives me that intimate relationship with the beer I love and the community in which it thrives.

My evening wrapped up with dinner at The West End Grill, followed by beers at Vine & Barley, and concluding with eventual sleep at the Residence Inn Marriott in St. Lucie West. A new hotel, I must say their rooms are pimp and their sales executive, Natalie, was a gracious and patient soul for shuttling us to and fro. It was sometime after eve and before morn when my eyes eventually drifted shut and sleep took over. A lazy morning sans hangover sent me home to Vero after a few cups of coffee and random tellie surfing.

Until the 2010 JJTaylor Trade Show comes around, I think I shall have a beer...

(original written work by Kristyn Lier. plagiarism is not tolerated)

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