What’s new at the 8th annual Sample the Sierra | TahoeDailyTribune.com

What’s new at the 8th annual Sample the Sierra

Calling all foodies: Tahoe's largest farm-to-fork festival, Sample the Sierra, returns to South Shore's Bijou Community Park for its eighth year this Saturday, Sept. 16.

Featuring over 20 pairings — all comprised of locally crafted foods, wine, beer and spirits — it's the perfect event to kick off a new season.

Sample the Sierra begins at noon and ends at 5 p.m., with tasting concluding one hour prior to the event's close. Returning guests will recognize many Sierra Nevada establishments that have participated in the past, such as Chimayo Street Grill and The Loft. But if you haven't grabbed your tickets already, be sure to snag them while you have the chance.

"We're looking like we might sell out," said Emily Abernathy, director of operations at Tahoe Chamber. "Our ticket sales are going faster than we've ever seen."

Friday, Sept. 15, is the last day to purchase tickets online, and a limited number will be held for at-the-door admission. Adult tasting tickets cost $40 and under-21 (as well as designated driver) tickets are available for $30. Children under 3 years old enter free.

In addition to the various booths, attendees will also be able to attend the sixth annual Sierra Chef Challenge. The event, which pits four chefs against each other, is held in a new format this year: In a "Chopped"-like design, contestants will enter three stages — appetizer, entrée and dessert — and one participant is eliminated each round.

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Sample the Sierra's layout also receives a new look this year: The booths will be arranged on two tracks, creating one main loop that begins with wine and ends with beer and spirits.

"Before, everything was interspersed. Guests just looking for beer should go to the lower [section] and guests looking for wine should go to the upper," Abernathy explained, recommending that attendees start at the beginning with wine and conclude the day with beer and spirits.

Apart from the new layout, another addition making its Sample the Sierra debut is Benko Art Gallery's official event after-party entitled Local Art After Dark.

"There will be live art, fire dancers, a DJ — it's extending the whole local art vibe we have at the festival and creating a little after-party with music for people to attend," Abernathy said.

Tickets for the after-party, held from 6:30-10:30 p.m. on Friday, range from $10-$20 (Sample the Sierra ticketholders receive $10 admission), and include one ticket for an art raffle and one free drink (there are locally made alcoholic and non-alcoholic options).

"We're always looking for things to add on to the festival," said Abernathy. "It's something different."

New Participants

A handful of restaurants, breweries, wineries and distilleries are providing tastings to Sample the Sierra for the first time. Matching the trend of the booming craft beer scene, one objective of this year's event was to include more breweries — such as Lake Tahoe AleWorX and South Lake Brewing Company (SLBC), which both opened in spring.

AleWorX will both pour beer (the establishment's Cali Common, made with water from Lake Tahoe itself) and prepare a sample (ceviche and bruschetta) for patrons attending the event.

To prepare the ceviche and bruschetta, the AleWorX team coordinated with Mountain Bounty Farm, a Nevada City-based farm that supplies all produce needed for the two recipes.

"I pick [produce] up this afternoon [Thursday, Sept. 14], so it's literally days between being picked and being served at the event," noted AleWorX CEO Luca Genasci, adding that Sample the Sierra provides exciting opportunities for partnerships across the region.

"A large part of the theme is to really make it a collaborative event with restaurants around town and other vendors supporting local farms and promoting the use of locally sourced products."

South Lake Brewing Company is paired with Chimayo Street Grill for this year's event. At the booth, guests can expect the brewery's Angora IPA and Land Otter English Mild along with Chimayo's bacon-stuffed bacon served over horchata bread pudding (topped with local peach jelly and walnuts soaked in an SLBC stout).

"It's a sweet and savory bread pudding," said SLBC co-founder Nicole Smith. "Our [English Mild] has many flavors and is very easy-drinking; it's really smooth and goes well with sweets."

She added that participating in Sample the Sierra is a new experience for SLBC.

"I'm excited to attend and participate in a festival that actually involves food. All the others we've poured at have been events where food is a necessary thing to have present, but it's not a focus. I'm excited to see how beer is perceived when it's paired with certain foods."

Additional information about Sample the Sierra is available at http://www.samplethesierra.com. Learn more about the after-party on Benko Art Gallery's Facebook page (@BenkoArtGallery).

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