CARLSBAD — Beer enthusiasts are cleansing their palates in anticipation.
On Friday, the 19th annual Strong Ale Fest kicks off at Pizza Port, 571 Carlsbad Village Dr.
The two-day event runs today and Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m. for VIP guests and 5 to 10 p.m. for general admission. The cost is $70 for a one-day VIP pass and $45 for general admission.
Friday’s VIP session is sold out and Pizza Port co-owner Gina Marsaglia and head brewer Mike Aubuchon said they expect about 1,000 guests for the festival.
“We get everyone from groups of people celebrating the holidays to the beer enthusiast taking notes on every beer,” Marsaglia said.
And when the organizers dubbed the salute to beer strong, they meant it. The ales pouring from the bottles and taps are not for the faint of heart as each is at least 8 percent alcohol.
Despite the big bite, though, the festival is a yearly tradition for beer connoisseurs to gather and celebrate each creation. More than 75 beers will be on draft and rare bottles including the Carlsbad Pizza Port’s yearly addition, an 11 percent barrel-aged imperial stout with rare dates. The other four locations will also send a special brew to the festival.
“We will be doing two specialty casts and specialty bottles,” Aubuchon said.
Another rare gift for attendees is a special pizza made specifically for the two-day festival. Marsaglia and Aubuchon said the pizza with a rye crust is its own attraction.
“The specialty pizza will have sauerkraut, sausage and roasted bell peppers,” Aubuchon added.
As for the beer, Aubuchon said there is a wide range of ales including barrel aged, barley wines, imperial stouts and double IPA’s, to name a few.
But what the festival champions, is gathering rare ales for locals to sample. For example, 3 Floyds Brewing Co. based in Indianapolis will sample one its ales, a treat for local beer enthusiasts since the Indiana company does not distribute its selection west of the Mississippi River.
“We are going to have hoppy beers, barrel-aged beers,” Aubuchon added. “There will be deals on the bottles for sale.”
The festival, meanwhile, dates back to a rainy Thursday night in 1997, when a small group of brewers and enthusiasts sampled a dozen San Diego ales, Marsaglia said. Pizza Port’s festival was one of the earliest beer events in Southern California and was a lead-in to the holiday season for the brewery.
“We were thinking how great it would be to taste all the San Diego breweries holiday beers,” Marsaglia explained. “At the time, there weren’t that many festivals. It kind of kicks off the holiday season because it’s on the first weekend in December”
As the event expanded to a two-night event and regional and European beers were added, the focus remains on local brews. Nevertheless, the success of the event spread and visitors from throughout the country trek to Carlsbad each year for the festival.
And while the event has grown and space is limited, Marsaglia said the festival is the perfect size.
“I think the selection of beers makes the event unique,” she added. “I think it’s the perfect amount of allowable people in the space. Now, it’s kind of self-regulated. I feel the amount of attendance we have is perfect because everyone can try any beer they want.”
VIP tickets are $70 for one day (today and Saturday) from 2 to 5 p.m. and includes one glass, eight tasters and free food. A two-day pass is $100.
General admission is from 5 to 10 p.m. each day for $45 and includes one glass and eight tasters. Guests may purchase additional beer.