This weekend I did something I have never done before: I went to a beer festival, which is sort of hard to admit as a huge beer geek. It’s even harder to admit as a beer geek in Boston, the home of one of the two largest beer-rating communities, Beer Advocate. The other being Rate Beer, based out of California. I prefer the user interface of Beer Advocate, but being local also affords more applicable information to my market, so I’m a BA user for both reasons. Beer Advocate has been around since 1996 and currently has 18 million page hits a month. When I’m standing in front of a beer cooler at the packie (supermarket), I look up the beer on Beer Advocate for some basic information. I don’t let it dictate my taste, but it does help to give me greater context on what I’m thinking of purchasing. I highly recommend it, if this paragraph didn't make that clear.
Beer Advocate has thrown beer festivals for years now, some smaller than others, with their big one being the American Craft Beer Festival. The ACBF is only five years old, but it’s quickly become the East Coast’s answer to Denver’s Great American Beer Festival. So when the opportunity came up, I jumped at tickets. You’ll pay about $50 for most beer festivals and I think it’s highly worth the price, provided you follow a few tips I’ll outline here. In my first attempt I learned that I didn’t plan as well as I should have. I tried 22 different beers, none of which I’d had before, I had a great time, and I didn’t get drunk. (Not everyone attending could say that…) Successful all around. So, here are my tips of things I did well and things I will do better next time:
1. Make a List. The first thing you should do is get a list of the beers and brewers that will be at the fest you’re attending. The fest's floor should be open with enough room to walk around, but there will going to be lines at each booth, so walking around aimlessly is time you could be spending in line getting closer to tasting some crazy brew you’ve been dying to have. So, make a list of beers you want to try so you can spend most of your time waiting in line. This sounds really lame, but waiting in line sipping your sample, talking to your friends and the strangers around you is basically what everyone does at any party ever, so what’s the difference? Sure, your conversation shuffles a bit towards a common destination, but it’s worth it.
2. Get There Early! This is probably very fest specific, but the advice is probably sound in general. At ACBF, they needed to clear out the convention hall of the afternoon session’s attendees to get my evening session people into the hall. That and checking IDs and tickets takes some time. Get there early and get a place in the front of the line. It never hurts to maximize your time as much as possible.
3. Drink Water. This is helpful for two reasons. Your fest should provide strategically placed water coolers. Use it to both rinse out your glass between tastings and to drink some water to stay hydrated. It's a marathon, not a sprint. That's what Natty Ice is for, and that's why you won't find it anywhere near here.
4. Eat some Food! Both before and during, if they sell food at the fest. Or, be resourceful like some fest-veterans I saw: make pretzel necklaces. I kid you not. Think kindergarten arts and crafts: yarn and your average snack-sized pretzels. String ‘em up, stick ‘em on your head and enjoy between beers to provide some delicious salt, some food in your belly. And, because pretzels are pretty plain, they’re a nice palette cleanser between beers.
5. Progress from Light to Dark. You’ll minimize your need to palette cleanse if you progress from lighter beers (pale ales and lagers) through to your dark stouts and porters. I personally started off with some pale ale and wound my way through to a heady 13.5% ABV offering from Uinta Brewing Company. This was a smart choice.
6. Talk to your brewery reps! With some of the smaller brewers, like Boston’s Pretty Things or Framingham’s Jack’s Abby Brewing, you might even get to meet some of the head honchos! With other breweries you’ll get top-notch brewers or super knowledgeable (and just as beer crazy) marketing people. At a few booths I couldn’t make up my mind, so I simply asked for the pourer’s favorite. It never failed.
There’s probably a lot of advice that I can’t think of, or I’m leaving off. Do your homework, know what to expect, try things you’d never buy in a store, and stay sober enough to remember how they all taste. Check below for some of my favorites, cheers!
American Craft Beer Festival 2012
Seaport World Trade Center Boston
June 1-2, 2012 (Try next year!)
All you can sample 2-ounce pours.
Peeterman, Allagash Brewing Company (Portland, ME). Allagash blew me away with their sour ale. This is a totally open fermented ale, which means there’s wild yeast in there from the air, including a little monster called Brettanomyces. This produces a cloudy, pale yellow brew with strong sour cider notes, and a lemony aroma. Beer can be many things, this proves it. Delicious. ABV: 5.0% Grade: A
Pamola Xtra Pale Ale, Baxter Brewing Company (Lewiston, ME). How many breweries does Maine have? I’m not complaining; there are a few on my highlight list. The Pamola is a tasty, crisp pale ale and is available in cans throughout the northeast. 4.9% ABV Grade: A-
On the Wings of Armageddon, DC Brau Brewing Company (Washington, DC). This booth was tough. I’d never had any of their stuff, but had heard they’re great. The pourer offered this to me as his favorite. It’s an imperial IPA with delicious aromas of mango and pine and a solid body behind it. Impressed. Disappointed they’re not distributed in Massachusetts ... yet. 9.2% ABV Grade: A
Hop Notch IPA, Uinta Brewing Company (Salt Lake City, UT). Wow. A delicious IPA, with perfect all around characteristics. This is a sneaky beer; I wouldn’t think it was as strong as it really was. 7.3% ABV Grade: A-
Image courtesy of the author