WaZoo 2012: A beer festival to benefit Lowry Park Zoo

You should always use your skills to help charity, mine happen to be eating and drinking beer. So a perfect way for me to help out is Lowry Park Zoo’s Annual WaZoo. A beer festival to help raise money for the zoo. Sponsored by our local beer distributor, J. J. Taylor distributing, among others, this is one of the largest beer festivals in our area, with more than 250 varieties to try as well as food from local restaurants. Sounds perfect right?, Well add summer tropical weather to an outdoor event and the outcome can be dicey. I still don’t know why Florida based organizations try to put events on here in the summer, it’s hot, and it rains, a lot. We had a similar problem a couple of weeks ago at the Back to the 80′s Pub Crawl for The Family Network for Disabilities, another monsoon and no back up rain plan. Oh well it’s for charity, and there is beer, life goes on.

The doors opened at 6:45 for VIP tickets, the line was in a word, long. Check in went smoothly but at about 6:55 the skies opened up. So just as everyone was entering, there was lightning, thunder and torrential rain. The beer booths were abandoned, people were huddling under any shelter they could find, and tents were being blown over.

A smart patron opened up a garbage can and pulled out a roll of garbage bags, we followed his lead and made home made rain ponchos from the clear bags, beer drinkers are crafty. By the way mine was much more fashionable and even had a matching hat.

We had VIP passes which meant there was an air conditioned shelter filled with food and beer waiting for us, we just had to get there, too bad it was the furthest point from the entrance. We weaved through the crowd in our homemade rain gear, clutching our tiny tasting mugs. But wait did I see a sign for Dogfish Head 120 min IPA on tap, Whats a little more rain?, I can wait in that line. We did, and savored our baby mug of the rare and delicious brew, I have only had it once before on tap, and it was probably good that a little rain got in my mug because this beer comes in at almost 20% ABV. We ducked and covered in kiddy land to finish it and it was a lucky break for us, one of the volunteers for Unibroue Brewery was giving out rain ponchos, which were much more fashionable and practical than our garbage bag tunics. Also he was having trouble opening the bottle of Terrible, it had a cork like a champagne bottle. Champagne is my specialty, I can open those in my sleep. So after several strong men tried, I easily popped the cork, and was fortunate enough to get a sample of this specialty brew. Normally I am not a fan of these types of Belgium styled Abby beers, but I had never had this one before, it was dark and delicious and 10.5 % ABV. So now the rain isn’t bothering me so much.

We decided to check out a few more beers in the kiddy section, stopped at Beef O’ Brady’s booth and shared a mini cheeseburger under a small hand-held umbrella, very romantic. We finally made our way to the covered shelter in the Beastly Beverage Club sponsored by Blue Moon. There was food and Blue Moon beer, as well as a band, air conditioning and bathrooms. The highlight was Datz’s homemade chips with blue cheese dressing. This is a local restaurant with amazing food and beer selections.

We had also gotten wristbands into the J. J. Taylor Distributing’s private room which was sponsored by Sierra Nevada. This was at the back of the Beastly Beverage Club and had views of giraffes, elephants and other wildlife. We each had a full pour of Torpedo IPA enjoyed it with the giraffes, I also tried their Kellerweiss and Summerfest. Sierra Nevada will always have a special place in my heart, their pale ale was my first foray into hoppy beer. Before that I would drink beer, but never really enjoyed it, after I tasted their pale ale, I wanted more and more hops, sought out craft beers, and turned into the hop head I am today.

The rain had let up so back to the main festival, it was crowded but not too bad and all the volunteers and vendors were back at their stations. We tried a home-brewed Pale Ale from Special Hoperations a local home-brew club, it was fantastic, they promised their IPA would be on in 15 minutes and would be even better, unfortunately that was not true.I found the IPA flat and disappointing, but the Pale Ale was one of the most memorable beers of the night. Also at the event was our hometown brewery, Seventh Sun, always great and creative with their beers. The owners/brewers we there pouring the beers themselves.

As it started to get dark I noticed there were no lights towards the front of the park, what I found out later was that the storm had caused the area to lose power and they were running on back up power and generators. Not so good with crowds of people drinking lots of beer and slippery surfaces. We sampled a couple more like Cigar City and Victory but then decided to call it a night. We made it to the entrance and got a free cab ride home from United Cab service, they offered a ride for free to any lodging or residence in Hillsborough county, very smart. There was a fantastic turn out, and hopefully they raised tons of money. All in all a fun night even with the minor glitches, but please let’s reschedule this for the spring or fall next year.

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