Cajun Cafe's beer festival raises the bar
From Creative Loafing, Posted by Tom Scherberger on Tue, Nov 5, 2013 at 6:41 PM
The eighth annual Fall Craft ale festival at the Cajun Cafe on the Bayou may just be a foggy memory now. Still, it’s worth taking a moment to consider a question someone asked Saturday at the festival, while sipping on our souvenir plastic sample glasses. Why do so many consider this beer festival one of the best in the state? Here’s my take.
For starters, there’s a wide range of craft beer on-site that you just can’t get anywhere else. Best of the Bay award winning Cajun Café owner Paul Unwin doesn’t rely solely on what distributors can offer. Though, even the distributors stepped up their game for the event; Brown Distributing, for example, poured samples of Funky Buddha from Boca Raton (rarely poured in or around Tampa Bay). Unwin's extensive connections allow for rare pours like Mexican Cake from South Carolina’s Westbrook Brewery (think Cigar City Hunahpu’s before it was famous). Unwin also tracked down Wisconsin’s New Glarus Brewing and California’s Lost Abbey brewery. A half-dozen home-brew clubs, which serve as test labs, were there.
And Tampa Bay's growing army of commercial brewers were heavily represented, including St. Petersburg’s Cycle Brewing , which unveiled its highly anticipated collaboration with Jonathan Wakefield Brewing, a dulce de leche imperial barrel-aged porter called DDT. Largo’s Barley Mow represented with a QuackalopeIPA run through a randall (a beer-infuser made by Dogfish Head) filled with centennial hops. Not yet open and pouring beers already was Seminole Heights’ Angry Chair Brewing with three beers including a strawberry and guanabana Berliner Weisse. Rapp Brewing’s chocolate peanut butter stout drew quite a long line as well.
Lesson: If you’re going to throw a beer festival, you should have beer you can’t get at your local craft beer tavern.
The fest also draws the brewers themselves, giving you a chance to geek out over the complexities of yeast with those who know best. There was Bob Sylvester of Tarpon Springs' St. Somewhere, Ben Romano of Angry Chair, Khris Johnson of Green Bench, Jay Dingman of Barley Mow. Even the brewer from B. Nektar Meadery in Michigan came down.
Next, Cajun Café’s rustic waterfront location is hard to beat. It really does have the feel of a Cajun seafood shack, even if it is in the heart of Pinellas Park. Cross Bayou (yes, it really is on a bayou) offered a respite from the buzz underneath its tin roof and white tents.
Beer festivalgoers should take note of the crowd size of this event in particular. You’ll rarely find a line, and when you do it’s a sign that something amazing is being poured. That’s because there’s a cap on ticket sales, so while the crowd is healthy it’s never overwhelming like some other fests.
It just so happens that this beer festival takes place at one of the area’s best restaurants. Every ticket comes with a plate of Cajun Café’s food, which included shredded pork and amazing crawfish cornbread. Servers also snake through the crowd offering bacon-wrapped sausage, fried Louisiana pork skin and, if you stay long enough, bread pudding. Some brought their own pretzel necklaces, but that’s a personal preference most likely driven by the paucity of decent food at most beer festivals. Let’s face it; good beer and good food go together.
Now, Unwin’s festivals are not cheap. At $50 in advance, $65 at the door, it’s one of the higher priced beer fests. But that means better beer, more food and fewer idiots drawn by the chance to drink as much beer as they can possibly handle. The Cajun Cafe festivals tend to draw serious beer geeks who love nothing more than to talk about the complex flavors of whatever beer’s in-hand. And fortunately, the live New Orleans trad-jazz allows you to actually carry on a conversation.
See for yourself at Cajun Café’s seventh annual spring beer festival on Saturday, May 3 and the third annual Sour, Berliner Weisse, and Lambic Festival on Saturday June 14. Cajun Café on the Bayou, 8101 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park, 727-546-6732, cajuncafeonthebayou.com.
Mardi Gras Celebration — Saturday, March 1, 2014
Mardi Gras — Fat Tuesday — March 4, 2014
17th Annual Crawfish Festival — April 4, 5 & 6, 2014
7th Annual Spring Beer Festival — Saturday, May 3, 2014
3rd Annual Sour, Berliner Weisse, and Lambic Festival — Saturday, June 14, 2014
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Cajun Cafe on the Bayou ♦ 8101 Park Blvd, Pinellas Park, Florida 33781 ♦ (727) 546-6732 ♦ firstname.lastname@example.org