Drinking Diaries: Sample a variety of suds at Naples Craft Beer Fest

Sample a variety of suds at Naples Craft Beer Fest

President-Elect Ron Miller and wife Jan of Naples North Rotary Foundation.    Photo by Gordon Campbell/Special to the Daily News.

Photo by GORDON CAMPBELL // Buy this photo

President-Elect Ron Miller and wife Jan of Naples North Rotary Foundation. Photo by Gordon Campbell/Special to the Daily News.

Drinking beer in the afternoon is great. The sun is hot, the suds are cold, and there’s always time for another pint.

Now, sip that pint alongside paired dishes from restaurants such as Agave Southwestern Grill and Tavern on the Bay, and you’ve got the Naples Craft Beer Fest. The festival is Saturday at Bayfront on Naples Bay. The kegs tap at noon, pints are pulled at 4 p.m., and whether you’re a novice or a connoisseur it’s a good chance to expand your palate with more than 60 different beers.

Thanks to the craft beer revolution, the number of U.S. breweries topped 2,000 last year for the first time since the late 19th century. And there are plans for more than another 1,000 to open this year, according to the Brewers Association, which represents craft brewers.

To me, that means more reason to have beer-centric gatherings.

There are hundreds of beer festivals throughout the country all year. Some celebrate regional favorites, others focus on a particular style, and more and more festivals pair beers with food. The second annual Naples Craft Beer Fest is a celebration of food paired with lagers, pale ales, stouts, and all styles in between.

I will sip my first pint, and a few thereafter no doubt, at the Naples Beach Brewery tent. For the uninitiated, Southwest Florida does have a local brewery, and owner/brewer Will Lawson will be showcasing up to 12 beers for the event, including his best-selling weizen. This German-style wheat ale is smooth with hints of banana and vanilla. Lawson also will showcase his sought-after pale ale — a floral dry hopped take on the style, with aromas of tropical fruit.

One more sip

Blue Point Brewery is best known for its tasty Toasted Lager and its cool lighthouse tap handle. Hoptical Illusion IPA gives East Coast IPAs west coast respect, but it’s their white IPA that I love. It’s another example of American craft brewers experimenting with styles. Hoptical Illusion white IPA is a hybrid of a Belgian-style white ale and an American IPA. It’s unfiltered and medium-bodied, but has a unique zesty fruitiness followed by a racy hop bitterness. It’s a Belgian white ale with more flavor, body and hop while being an American IPA with subdued hop and more fruit. In short: Try one, trust me, cheers.

Lawson’s small brewery on Enterprise Avenue is a true labor of love, and he has been brewing, kegging and distributing his beer locally since the end of January to places such as South Street City Oven and the Old Naples Pub. With the operation less than four miles from the festival, this is as fresh as beer gets.

Start with samples so you don’t miss out on time-tested breweries such as Magic Hat from South Burlington, Vt., Widmer Brothers from Portland, Ore., and Goose Island from Chicago. Widmer has been crafting beer in Portland since 1984, and I’m particularly looking forward to its Raspberry Russian Imperial Stout. It’s extremely rich, yet dry with warm, roasted chocolate notes and a whiff of sweet raspberry.

The Green Flash tent might be worth admission, mostly because its full-bodied, grapefruit zesty, piney, dry West Coast IPA is delicious, but also because its IPA converged with Belgian triple ale, Le Freak, will be poured. It’s hoppy, fruity, yeasty, and a little strange, but all of us beer freaks are.

These beers are just a start. There are more IPAs and stouts from Southern Tier, Belgian styles from Victory, and a truck to be painted in Sweetwater 420 garb. Enough for an afternoon beer. After all, the best part about it: There’s still time for another pint.

Ashley Stites tends bar at the Avenue Wine Cafe in Naples and enjoys scouting out the best libations available in Southwest Florida.

IF YOU GO

Naples Craft Beer Festival

When: Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 2

Where: Bayfront, 451 Bayfront Place, Naples

Cost: $50 (includes tasting glass, beer samples and food parings) and $25 (food only/designated driver), must be 21 or older

Something else: All ticket sales benefit the Naples North Rotary Club

Information and tickets: www.naplescraftbeerfest.com

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