06/28/09

American Craft Beer Festival 2009 Part Two: Tasting Notes

Now that we’ve gone over some of the practicalities, lets get to the beer. Remember, we were only able to cover a small subset of what was at the festival, and we were focusing on beer we can’t find locally, so New England microbrews will be underrepresented.

First, the most consistently fantastic breweries. These are breweries that we tried multiple beers from and consistently scored high marks (4 or 5 on our scale from 0 to 5) by each of us.

  • The Duck and Rabbit Brewery (NC): they describe themselves as the dark beer specialists, how could we resist? The RIS scored a 4, and the barleywine a 5. I also tried something else from D&R on Friday night but my notes are unintelligible as to what…all I knows is that (thankfully) I liked it enough to drag Mike and Helen back to them on Saturday.
  • New Holland Brewing Company (MI): It’s a rare brewery that makes an Imperial IPA that gets rave reviews from the Punks, but New Holland managed to pull it off. The only thing that kept Imperial Mad Hatter from a five was a slightly harsher pine resin aftertaste than we like. Their Night Tripper Imperial Stout had no such affliction, the finish seemed so much smoother than our standard-bearing Stone RIS that I could knock them down all night (though it might make for a short night). In all fairness, I didn’t care much for the Saison I had Friday night, the body was a bit light for my taste. But that’s not out of character for a Saison, so I can’t really blame them; this is a case of the style not matching my palate rather than the beer not matching the style.
  • Weyerbacher (PA): This was the one exception to our “try something new” rule. This is a perennial favorite of ours but is a little expensive at our local watering hole and had a relatively short line. The Old Heathen Imperial Stout had an intense chocolate flavor and a fantastic nose, though we were wanting for a bit more body (the Punks feel it isn’t a stout if you don’t have to chew before you swallow). This didn’t keep it from getting a five on our scale. XIV, their Belgian Wheat Wine was also a favorite of ours simply for its uniqueness. Pairing the unique spicy character of wheat malt with the complex sweetness of a barleywine earned them a four.
  • Southampton Publick House (NY) – I’ve tried Southampton’s Saison before and was quite impressed. So impressed that I thought it was a Belgian brewery. Apparently they are based out of Long Island and make far more Belgian-inspired beers. I tried the Publick House 12 (Abbey Dark Ale) and was blown away (again my notes aren’t really intelligible on this point). I was so impressed that I returned for the Imperial Porter, which was equally impressive. Unfortunately Mike and Helen didn’t make it to this one so you’ll have to take my word on it, but suffice it to say there is a trip to Long Island in store for the Punks at some point.

Next, some musings on ingredients. We had a watermelon beer from Opa Opa that earned a four from everyone but me; I have a well known prejudice against fruit beers. For the record, Mike and I have tried the Watermelon Wheat from 21st Amendment (Come Hell or High Watermelon) on two occasions in the past (not knowing it was the same beer) and had radically different conclusions. We suspect it is because the quality of flavor in the watermelons used varies throughout the season; on one occasion it tasted somewhat artificial, on the other it was more natural. We both agreed that the Opa Opa beer had a more natural watermelon flavor than either of the 21A tastings, but that may have been influenced by the fact that they included a watermelon wedge that was nearly as large as our tasting glass. Note to brewers…nice gimmick but please don’t garnish a taster. I tried the dregs of the taster, trying to figure out what the base style was, but found the body was thicker than usual, because I was drinking watermelon pulp by that point. I wasn’t pleased.

I was, however, pleased and intrigued with the various beers containing rye as an ingredient. Several Rye-based IPAs were present, most notably two from Terrapin Beer Company in GA (The Rye PA single IPA, and Rye Squared, a Double IPA). I loved the way the spicy rye character played with the hop character and can’t wait to try playing more with Rye in his own brewing. The balance was relatively light on the bitterness and quite malty for an IPA (especially the DIPA), which is another well known Punk prejudice, earning both beers a four.

I also got a chance to try Dogfish Head’s Palo Santo Maron when the line was actually managable on Friday night. The thing that drew me to this beer was that the wood it was aged in is apparently designated a potentially endangered species. Make sure you get some while you still can, it was a fantastic beer: thick creamy mouthfeel, wonderful smokey nose, and a flavor reminiscent of a Russian Imperial Stout but more sour and less roasty (the actual style was Imperial Brown Ale). The finish was a little harsher and more bitter than I like, which kept it just shy of a five, but a very solid, respectible four.

Until next time, slainte!

06/28/09

American Craft Beer Festival 2009 Part One: Practicalities

Last weekend, the Alstrom Brothers threw one heck of a party, and the Punks were in attendance. We thought we’d throw out a few quick thoughts on the practicalities of attending beer festivals. In our next post we’ll reveal some of the gems we unearthed. If we don’t get to your favorites, cut us some slack, with 300 beers at the festival, we could only cover so much ground. But we look forward to hearing comments from those in attendance.
So I, being the only one lucky enough to be a Boston resident, made it to both evening sessions, the first night with wonderful new friends from out west, the second with Mike and Helen. The first thing we’d like to point out is that, if possible, you should attend the Friday session. I guess out of towners (like Mike and Helen) can’t generally attend on a weeknight. As a result, the crowds were much smaller, meaning significantly shorter lines, less trouble navigating the facility, and potentially friendlier staff since they weren’t being mobbed. In fact, if we have one critique of the festival, it’s that they seem to have sold too many tickets to the Saturday session, and were only using about a third of the facility. At times it was impossible to move, let alone take notes.

The second thing to note is that if you are a serious festival goer, you might want to bring a secretary to take your notes (might as well ask your designated driver…in for a penny in for a pound, just make sure to get them something nice). I found it very difficult to juggle my tasting glass, beer list, and pen all at the same time. It also helps if your notetaker is in the legal profession, as they’ll be familiar with shorthand and are used to taking extensive notes. Our Friday notes read like the back of a napkin at 4AM; our Saturday notes like a court transcript.

Oskar Blues was also distributing necklaces with a beer can on them. We didn’t figure it out until it was too late to be useful, but this is not a spitoon, and not necessarily a fashion accessory either. We did, however, see people keeping their taster in it while they took notes. Very handy, indeed.

Finally, if you’re going to any beer festival, always remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, so pace yourself. This is often repeated, and with good reason. To that we would add, it’s not about “getting your money’s worth” either. When we ran the numbers we decided we had paid the equivalent of over six dollars a pint (remember you are only getting two ounces at a time, and you have to wait in line for that even). You’re not here to drink lots of beer cheaply, you can do that at home. You’re here to taste beers you can’t find anywhere else. This also means you should probably shy away from your old favorites for a change and try to find some new ones. So take your time and get searching.