While the majority of little boys set their sights on becoming an astronaut, doctor or firefighter when they grow up, wee Greggy Nagel only had visions of one day lording over his own beer festival. Back in pre-school, teachers found it rather disconcerting that he could only recite the alphabet by burping out the letters. Fistfuls of hamster food would find their way into his short pockets where he’d sniff them surreptitiously in a reverie of pellet hop ecstasy. Alone in the bathroom, he’d parade his paunch proudly in the mirror as fashioned by a grip of paper towels padding his unripe belly.

All grown up into a manly home-brewing man, Downtown Anaheim’s Farmers Park was recently transformed into Nagel’s field of dreams. Or rather, Firkfest field of dreams. Fulfilling his lifelong fantasy, he orchestrated the first firkin-driven festival this side of the Mississippi. Hyperbole, yes, but still quite a remarkable feat from someone who I only became acquainted with last year as some dude who ran a brazenly wit-soaked, Gonzo-esque beer blog and wrote for such publications as Beer Paper LA, West Coaster and Thrillist. Since then I’ve come to know Nagel and his OC Beer Blog to be prestigious advocates of the OC/LA hophead community. So much so that many of SoCal’s premier micro-breweries readily jumped on board to collaborate with him on his trailblazing event.

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Sometimes when one has time to kill with nowhere to go, one can conjure up a blinding light bulb moment. The story goes that such serendipity came to Nagel while cooling his heels in a 200-deep queue for Noble Ale Work’s Naughty Sauce at a beer festival last summer. He presented the inspired concept to Noble’s Brad Kominek with such fervor that the brown bottle gods cast a double rainbow over them in approval. Thusly, Firkfest was borne and christened.

Still, inquiring laymen minds want to know, what the firk is a firkin? A firkin — which is derived from the Middle Dutch word vierdekijn (meaning fourth) — is a small vessel of cask-conditioned beer that is a quarter of the size of a typical barrel. What makes these types of ales so special is that they don’t undergo the usual pasteurization and maturation process. Hence, they develop unique characteristics, flavors, aromas and nuances — brewers go to town with their creativity and add hocus-pocus ingredients like eye of newt, toe of frog and wool of bat.

When such exotic/contraband elements are difficult to come by, they turn to more accessible items such as orange peel and coriander for a Witbier; vanilla beans, cocoa nibs, or coffee beans for a Stout; or grapefruit peel and fresh hops for an IPA. The simple rationale is to enhance and transport the flavors of the beer all while experimenting with something new and fun.

Never one to shun the new and fun combo, Nagel himself had a personal hand in creating the hippie potpourri for LA Ale Works’ cask of Karma Kolsch.  Going for a brunch-like mimosa angle, he decided on a chrysanthemum flower power infusion that combined citrus notes and a hint of masala chai tea. Below are some other examples of the event’s craft beers that flowed with flourish:

  • Bottle Logic’s “Leche Mole” with bourbon chips
  • Pizza Port’s “Noserider” Double IPA with Columbus flowers
  • Karl Strauss’ “Big Barrel” DIPA with Mexican green chilis
  • Monkish Brewing’s “Shaolin Kick” with Szechuan peppercorns, Thai basil and Srirarcha
  • Bootlegger’s Brewery’s “Galaxian Barleywine” with dates
  • Ballast Point’s “Sculpin” with Wai Iti hops
  • Valiant Brewing’s 17% Strong Ale “Last Flight” with Grand Marnier, bourbon, figs, cherries, vanilla and coffee

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It was only befitting that LA Ale Works plastered Nagel’s rapturous mug on their Jasmine Green Tea and Kumquat Masala Chai Chrysanthemum infusions of Karma Kolsch.

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Sovereign of cask ales, organizer Greg Nagel raises his British pub nonic glass to signal the commencement of Firkfest. Let the games begin!

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These two dudes are the giddiest early birds to gain entrance into the festival. Oh yeah, happy dance.

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It’s a family affair with Mrs. Firkfest and kin playing the hostesses with the mostest.  Plus, they were fierce enough to keep the rogues in check on the side.

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Diehard beer aficionado. This man rode his bike up all the way from San Diego (?) to attend.

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After a few rounds, these brewing barons tend to get excessively chummy.

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The consensus is clear: Everyone and their mother (father, brother and sister) love Bottle Logic’s Leche Mole!

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The beerfest goer’s brilliant accessory of choice: Pretzel Necklaces. Swig, swig, chomp, chomp. Lawn game of choice: Giant Jenga. Crash!

_MG_9612Future Packing House tenant: Adya’s jewel-toned versions of street food popular in India were so inviting and delicious.

_MG_9685Future Packing House tenant: The Iron Press stacks up a behemoth fried chicken food beast.

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The festival’s dynamic non-profit beneficiary. Inspire Artistic Mind’s mother and son team of Sylvia and Bobby Navarro.

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The festival was such a stupendous success that Nagel instantly achieved celebrity status. #nageling

_MG_9911The imperative. You never want to run dry for this guy.

_MG_9355So, what was the final tally? Sold Out Event= 500 thirsty and subsequently quenched attendees; 50 gloriously creative cask ales; 4 wonderfully delicious food vendors; and 1 inspirational non-profit organization receiving a hefty donation of over $10,000. 2nd Annual Firkfest on the horizon? Stay tuned…

Greg Nagel: King of the mountain. If you build it, he will come. Everyone will come. That’s what she said.

www.firkfest.com

 

All photos by: Brian Feinzimer of Feinzimer Photography


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