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Hophead: Camping Out In The 'Broo-er's Festival' Tent At Bonnaroo

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Hophead spent a four-day weekend at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. The music, comedy, people-watching and general chaos of the thing made for an outstanding trip. But one of the highlights was the accompanying "Broo-er's Festival," a biergarten featuring some 20 brewers ranging from tiny local outfits to Anheuser-Busch.

As it turned out, two personal favorites from the bash are unavailable in Texas. And, as conversations with one brewery's brewmaster and another's marketing manager revealed, they're happy to keep it that way.

Jason Malone, brewmaster of Birmingham, Alabama's Good People Beer Company, manned his brewery's pouring station Saturday afternoon. His company started as a home-brewing hobby. But after about eight years of compliments from strangers at parties, he decided to turn his side pursuit into a full-fledged business.

Good People's American pale ale, a 35 IBU (International Bittering Unit) unfiltered ale brewed with columbus and cascade hops, proved a rounded and refreshing beer. It was definitely floral and hoppy enough that it won't be confused with an English pale ale, but doesn't have quite the bite of Sierra Nevada's pale ale.

"I like that it's not too clean of a finish, but has kind of a grainy finish" Malone said while introducing the beer, an observation that perfectly described the lingering aftertaste. Like all of Good People's offerings, the beer is unfiltered, so it had a slightly cloudy appearance.

Next, he offered a cup of India Pale Ale, a 5.8 ABV brew with a puckering 65 IBUs. It had a very thick mouthfeel and potent bitterness, but with surprisingly subtle piney and floral notes. The American Pale Ale is probably the better all-around beer. Malone also has a coffee oatmeal stout, a brown ale, a rye IPA, double IPA and an imperial stout, but had already run out of the oatmeal stout and didn't bring the others. And it'll take a trip to Alabama to try them, as he has no plans to expand much more.

"There's a great local market," he says. "We recently moved into Tuscaloosa, but I would rather take care of the home base and do it well than worry about expanding."

Nashville's Yazoo Brewing Company also brought along some invigorating, refreshing beers appropriate for a full day in the sun. Starting with Amarillo Pale Ale, marketing and sales manager Neil McCormick explained that Yazoo was one of the first brewers to use the amarillo hop. It balances the English Pale malts for a citrus aroma and a clean finish for an excellent, refreshing beer.

Next, he offered the hefeweizen, which has a distinct aroma of banana-peel along with the less-unusual citrus notes. It too was a crisp, refreshing beer---and an unique take on the wheat style.

Last up was Dos Perros, intended as a Mexican-style amber but in ale rather than lager form. Again, it was a very distinct beer: bready, malty and sweet with a thick, creamy head and a body lightened with flaked maize. Perhaps it was trying to do too many things at once, though: the hefe and pale ale were far more appealing. Of course, that could have been due to the hot, muggy weather.

Sweetwater's IPA is a really nice, refreshing ale with grassy notes and a nice hoppy bite. Starr Hill's Love Hefe also presents a slight banana taste, and dry, thirst-quenching character. Pisgah's brown ale is creamy, dark and very malty--a nice change of pace from the lighter brews available, if nothing wildly special. Finally, aside from the cheap canned beers brought in the Hophead ice cooler, the most frequently sampled beer during the trip was Terrapin Rye Pale Ale.

Terrapin was in abundant supply at an occasionally unguarded keg in CNN's tent at the press area. It is a sweeter and more floral pale ale, and certainly worth acquiring in spite of the occasional passive-aggressive "Uh, can I help you with something, sir?" from an overprotective CNN employee.

So just stay away from CNN guards and you're fine.

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