Sugar Ray, Tiger King and the Seltzer/Cider Guy: My Zoom adventures at the ‘Virtual’ Seattle Beer Fest

Look, I really wanted to give the virtual Seattle Beer Fest — brought to me by Rock Star Beer Festivals — the benefit of the doubt. When I emailed the one contact I could find on the beer festival’s website to do a preview story and heard nothing, I thought: “That makes sense. We’re a small, new blog. I get it.”

Then the box of beer came.

The Seattle Beer Fest box included one actual “Washington” beer: an Elysian Split Shot espresso stout. It also included a seltzer and cider. I thought, “It’s fine. They had to modify things at the last minute. It was probably tough to get cans. Whatever.”

Then the big day came. I had been waiting months for this. A few friends bought beer packs too. The clock finally struck 7 p.m., I fired up the YouTube video and … there was Mark McGrath.

McGrath popped on the screen and held out an empty hand to allegedly cheers the start of the night. McGrath, the lead singer for a rock band from the 90s, proved to be an apt metaphor for the ensuing beer festival: something I used to enjoy, but that was more applicable back in the day before a worldwide pandemic.

Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath opens the Virtual Seattle Beer Fest with some inspiring words.

Coronavirus obviously necessitated a few audibles for Rock Star Beer Festivals and the Seattle Beer Fest, which shifted from under the Space Needle to a virtual edition.

I loved the idea. I thought this would be an awesome way to bring a beer fest to people who are stuck in quarantine. It was going to be a blast to drink beer and talk shop with fellow beer fans while hearing about the intricacies of breweries’ beers and businesses.

“Honestly the night wouldn’t have been nearly as fun without my buddy Keith and his friends, who gave up on the beer fest before McGrath had finished welcoming us. But this is what a beer fest is. The camaraderie.”

David Krueger

Instead, what we got was an ode to “Tiger King” with not one, but three clips from people involved heavily in the show, including Doc Antle, the Lowes and the guy who has apparently not gotten off his jet ski since the show ended. In addition, the Ninkasi representative quickly became labeled “Ninkasi Carole Baskin” in the comments. There were cameos from Jon Lovitz, Gilbert Gottfried and Dave Koechner — who may have been participating in the beer fest himself based on his giggles.

Doc Antle, of Tiger King fame, and a chimpanzee help beer drinkers really take in the moment at the Virtual Seattle Beer Fest.

There was a beer chugging highlight reel complemented by a #BeerFails lowlight video. The “music” was by a gentleman who did rock covers of “The Real Slim Shady” and Lil Jon’s classic “Get Low” — which took me half the song to figure out what I was listening to. There were two other bands that performed with neither lead singer wearing a shirt. The whole time I just kept wondering, why doesn’t McGrath just sing “When It’s Over?” — something I think everyone was probably wondering about this beer fest.

The same “brewery representative” discussed the seltzer company, and then switched shirts to talk about the cidery. I have no issue with a beer fest having a cider or seltzer area for people who are drug along and don’t like beer. But if you’re paying $50 for a virtual beer fest, you’re probably a fan of beer and probably don’t need cider/seltzer fillers in your box.

Incidentally, the cider/seltzer guy nailed how I felt about the beers in my box — which included a Deschutes low-cal pale ale, Elysian’s Split Shot, a Ninkasi Prismatic IPA (which I love) and a Rogue Ales Batsquatch (which I already had three of in my refrigerator because it’s one of my favorite beers) — quite succinctly while trying to hock his seltzer:

“You can find us at Safeway, Albertsons, Krogers, Fred Meyers, PCC, Whole Foods.” Indeed almost every beer in the box I could have gone down the road to (insert your closest grocery store here) and picked up. This was probably the most disheartening thing for me about the beer fest.

The seltzer guy explains why hard seltzer really rocks during the Virtual Seattle Beer Festival.
The cider guy, who is obviously the twin brother of the seltzer guy, talks about the charms of cider.

But maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was being too harsh. So I reached out to a few friends/friends of friends who were also participating in the beer fest.

My focus group included: Kaelee, my sister-in-law who can drink five barleywines and not feel a thing; my wife’s superstar fitness instructor Jess; Jess’ boyfriend, who, after our brief conversation, I feel like we could be best friends; and my friend Keith and his band of beer drinking buddies who were nice enough to let me crash their Zoom call.

Honestly the night wouldn’t have been nearly as fun without my buddy Keith and his friends, who gave up on the beer fest before McGrath had finished welcoming us. But this is what a beer fest is. The camaraderie.

Michael, one of Keith’s friends, had bought two boxes. He was downright distraught trying to figure out what to do with his TWO seltzers. In a real-world beer fest, you could leave McGrath’s booth and go try something else. Here, the options were more limited. The group was less than impressed, but decided in future to throw their own virtual Seattle beer festival where everyone grabs beers that are actually from the greater Seattle area. I hope to crash that Zoom call as well.

Similarly, Jess and her boyfriend wanted to throw their own beer festival. They didn’t watch many of the videos and were a hard “No” on participating in another Rock Star Beer festival, but both were open to doing something similar again. Seattle won their vote, with the Elysian Split Shot their favorite.

Kaelee, her friend Jordan and Jordan’s mom — who was easily the MVP of the focus group — tried all 10 beers/ciders/seltzers and were also left unimpressed. Kaelee had my favorite line of the night: “It was weak, I would say. It was something to look forward to. Was that better than the actual beer? Yes.”

Other top comments included: “I think beer fest would have been appropriate. I don’t think Seattle Beer Fest was appropriate.” And, “We were not given $40 worth of beer.”

Still, all three people from Team Kaelee agreed they would do it again and it was worth the cost to participate in the event together. I’m not sure I feel the same way. I don’t really like coffee so the Split Shot, which Team Kaelee also praised, didn’t even get opened. Neither did my wild card beer, a mocha stout from Abnormal Brewing in San Diego.

The experience was interesting, chaotic, weird and saved by the people I got to talk to and share it with — so, I guess, basically it was a beer festival! Still, I wish I would have taken the $50 and gone to Diamond Knot, Salish Sea, Hemlock State or another nearby brewery and actually had some Seattle-area beer. I also wish I would have given up earlier on the live stream which ended at 9:42 p.m. instead of the advertised 10 p.m. — although no one was complaining — and fully committed to laughing at the YouTube comments on Zoom.

There were a lot of things I wanted this beer fest to be. Instead, I watched a dated video/advertisement of people cheers-ing and drinking together on a beach in southern California. All I could think was, “No! Stay six feet away!”

If only I had stayed away from the Seattle Beer Festival.

| Photos courtesy of David Krueger.

Wheezy’s Post-COVID Beer Bucket List

When all this craziness finally ends where is the first place you will go to meet friends, grab a beer and a bite?

What permanent remnants, of what’s now becoming normal, will remain after COVID leaves us? Will bartenders continue to wear gloves, and people to wear masks? Will social distancing still be a thing? In a time where “Virtual Happy Hours” have filled a desperate void of interaction with fellow humans, I know we are forever changed.

When I think about when this is all over my “I can’t wait till …” moments involve my friends, beer lines, trivia, live music, Seattle Beer Week (SBW) and bottle shares. In a time of circumstances pulling us apart, I wanted to find something that may eventually pull us back together, given a chance. And for my mental health, I need to believe we will want to gather in large places again, drink beer, eat food and kibitz with friends and strangers. Here are a few places that would be great choices once the COVID quarantine is a thing of the past.

Pine Box – Cap Hill

Going to a place that celebrates “Bruce Lee Day” has to be on any list of anything, doesn’t it? Considering the Pine Box was once a funeral parlor and the location of Bruce Lee’s actual funeral with Steve McQueen and Chuck Norris as a couple of the pall bearers, it does officially qualify as bad ass.

While they do have some great food choices, the real draw here are the 24+ taps, which bleed local beer as you sit at a bar, in an old funeral home. You can work on your own Black Belt of beer with taps from Holy Mountain, Cloudburst, Reubens, Stoup and Future Primitive all on tap. And with something running through their in house randall there is always something fun and unusual to pick from.

Brouwer’s Cafe – Fremont

Every time I enter Brouwer’s I feel like an underdressed extra in Vikings or The Witcher, stumbling in for a pint of grog. With the medieval vibe of stone and dark wood, it is easy to see why Barleywine just tastes better here. #truth

If you want to drink your way out of COVID, Brouwer’s is your place. I lost count of their taps at 50. Filled with local and other west coast favorites – but also some hard to find beers from Belgian and German. They have great bottles for in-house purchase and consumption. And we haven’t even started on the Whiskey. I’ll save that for when we start that whiskey blog!

Along with the beer, another must have is the Stoofvleez Frites. It is a Belgian beef and beer stew poured over delicious fried potatoes. Think Belgian poutine but way, way better!

Loretta’s Northwestern – South Park (pictured above)

Out front hangs the classic “Loretta’s Northwesterner” neon sign, cool enough to be retro but old enough to feel authentic and original. Inside, the dim lighting and low wooded ceilings make you feel like you are below deck on an old sailboat. Housing an old Airstream trailer parked in the partially covered outdoor area and a fire pit, Loretta’s is unpretentious and funky
in that typical South Seattle, Georgetown way.

They support their own with beers from the area including multiple Georgetown beers on tap, Counterbalance, San Juan Seltzer and Rainier tall boys. Besides the uber local, you can also find a Skookum IPA or taps from Wander, Boundary Bay and Holy Mountain. Seriously, this place has your beer needs covered.

One thing to eat is the Tavern Burger, sometimes called the Northwesterner. Known to turn hardcore vegetarians into meat eaters — fine print: not substantiated and probably not true — but it’s that damn good. A toasted bun and a no frills cheeseburger, beautiful in its simplicity. And oh go ahead, get the double.

With the curve flattening, and the governors of Washington, Oregon and California at least starting the conversation about opening up for business again, I can almost taste the draft beer on my lips, as I start making my breaking the ‘tine plans. Because I need to see people enjoying themselves over beers and talking about anything besides COVID. I hope to see you out at one of these places or just around somewhere in the Post COVID world. And if you have a great neighborhood bar in your area I didn’t get to please let me know. There are way too many to name in one post!

Peace. Love. Beers. Brian