Extreme Beer Fest 2009 – Session 1 Recap

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Extreme Beer Fest 2009

Extreme Beer Fest 2009

One of my favorite holidays every year comes on the third weekend in February, when Beer Advocate hosts the Extreme Beer Fest at the Cyclorama in Boston.  From the Alstrom brothers themselves;

Extreme Beer Fest … Cometh! The firestorm of creativity sparked by American craft brewers rages on during the original, and 6th annual, Extreme Beer Fest in Boston, MA this February 20 & 21, 2009! Discover big, bold, creative, and unique offerings that will change the way you think about beer forever. Make sure to bring an open mind & palate. Dare to drink different. Join us!

If you’ve ever been to a book expo, ski show, or other trade show you’d recognize the setup of the festival.  A few dozen brewers set up booths in the center and around the edge of the convention center floor.  Each booth has about a half-dozen different beers to pick from, and has brewers and reps pouring samples, talking beer and slinging swag.  In addition, one area at the Cyclorama has food vendors, and another hosts speakers giving talks about brewing.  Beer Advocate caps the attendance of their Cyclorama fests at 1,000 people, which leaves the building full but not too crowded.  Rather than selling drink tickets, the event ticket itself covers unlimited samples.

Unlimited.  Samples. That is, unless you get ridiculous and get tossed out.  Of course, the fun of a fest this varied is staying sober enough to actually taste the different brews, talk with brewers, and meet other beer-lovers.

After a half-hour wait (luckily near the front) in a long line outside the Cyclorama on Saturday, Katy and I entered beer nirvana.  In the next three-and-a-half hours we tried some simply amazing beer.  On top of that, highlights were addictive Waffle Cabin waffles and great Sunset Grill sausage.  Oh, and I got to meet and briefly chat with Sam Calagione, one of my idols.  Sam, I doubt you’ll ever read this, but thanks for being such a nice guy when I met you.

While I hate saying that “you had to be there” in describing an event, I don’t think I can do the fest justice.  Beer Advocate simply puts on the best beer festivals, period.

AND THE BEER!  Through “brief” certainly isn’t a term I’d usually use for my beer reviews, the sheer number of brews I tasted will force me to give only lean impressions. I’ve split a few of the beers into different categories that impressed me, and cover all the rest at the end. Although this isn’t everything Katy and I tried at the Extreme Beer Fest, it is the samples that wowed us the most.

Whiskey, Bourbon and Brandy-aged
The very first beer I had at the fest was the Allagash “Bourbon Black”, a version of their Belgian stout aged in bourbon barrels. The liquor really added a kick to the already complex Allagash Black. The Captain Lawrence Golden Delicious, a Belgian tripel conditioned in apple brandy barrels, was probably my absolute favorite pour of the fest. Great apple and oak in the aroma, and smooth yeast, apple and alcohol flavor. Flying Dog had a Whiskey Barrel-Aged version of their Imperial Porter, which certainly didn’t disappoint. Smuttynose’s Oak Aged Hanami pushed a couple of my buttons, a tart ale and aged in a Jack Daniels barrel. Though I’m not usually a fan of cherry beers, the Jack really saved the brew for me. The most memorable hoppy barrel-aged brew I tried was the Founders Hand of Doom. An imperial IPA aged in bourbon barrels, the 10.8% ABV was well-hidden and the bitterness of the hops was balanced nicely by the bourbon.

Barley Wines
In the last few months I’ve fallen in love with the barley wine style of ale, a strong, malty and high-alcohol style. Luckily, there were barley wines (along with oat and wheat wines) galore at the Extreme Beer Fest. The Weyerbacher Twelve is a “rye wine”, and packed a great punch in both flavor and strength. Another twist on the style was Three Floyd’s Oatgoop, a (surprise, surprise) oat wine. The TFB brew was super-hoppy, and had the citrusy bitter taste I love in American extreme beers. With a ruby-red color and summer smell, Berkshire Brewing‘s Raspberry Barley Wine was a delicious take on the style. Cambridge Brewing Arquebus was one of Katy’s two favorite beers at the fest. Brewed with local Cambridge honey, Gewurztraminer and Voignier grapes, and aged in chardonnay barrels, the Arquebus was the one example of the style that was miles closer to wine than beer. Finally, the Lagunitas Gnarly Wine was just flavorful and knock-you-on-your-ass strong.

Tea-Brewed
One trend this year I don’t remember seeing at previous fests was beer brewed with tea leaves in the mash, wort, or fermenter. Dark Horse Brewing brought Hibiscus Trip, a Belgian-style beer brewed with “lots of hibiscus tea.” Although Magic Hat doesn’t always wow me with their regular lineup, their special “extreme” beers are some of my favorites every year. This year they brought a Bergamont Bitter and a Hibiscus Pomegranate beer, both surprisingly tasty concoctions that would make good additions to their regular rotation.

…and Everything Else

  • American Flatbread‘s Wassail was a cask-conditioned holiday stout, and was conditioned with Vermont raspberries.  Great to taste a holiday beer that was a stout, rather than simply a “winter warmer” ale.
  • Samuel Adams brought an Imperial White, one of the three imperial brews they have for sale this spring.  It was imperial for sure, with ample alcohol for a wit and some seriously souped-up spices.
  • My favorite name for a beer at the fest may have been Cambridge Brewing‘s CaCow!  The milk stout was brewed with roasted cacao nibs from Taza Chocolate, and tasted like a chocolate milkshake and stout had a baby (in a good way).
  • A while back, I wrote a post about beer that I wish had distribution in Maine.  One of them was the Dark Horse Brewing Blueberry Stout, which was as good as I remembered.   Flavored stouts (rather than the common chocolate and coffee) are really something more breweries need to embrace.
  • Brewed specially for the Extreme Beer Fest with the guys that run Beer Advocate, Dogfish Head was serving “Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right BA Select”.  The beer (affectionately named for the old Konami code) was brewed with maple syrup, chestnuts, green peppercorns, Korean corn tea, Maris Otter base malt, coffee malt, Liberty and Vanguard hops, and the yeast strain from Raison D’Extra.  Although it sounds like it could result in an awful kitchen sink mix, the mix was a surprisingly subtle brown, with a nice maple kick at the tail end.
  • Harpoon‘s Rauchfetzen was a nice surprise, a smoked beer that’s light on the palate and subtley spicey.
  • Brumaire from “The Tap” was Katy’s other pick of the show, a stout brewed with French, Belgian and German malts and fermented with a Trappist yeast strain.  Like the Allagash Black, the Brumaire was another nice, complex Belgian-style stout.
  • John Harvard’s Truffle Shuffle was another punch in the mouth flavor-wise,  an imperial stout aged with chocolate-covered coffee beans.  I’m not sure how long the beer was conditioned, but the coffee and chocolate really dominated the taste.
  • The brewery that surprised me the most at the show was Short’s Brewing Company from Michigan, a brewpub I’d never had anything from before.  A rep from Boston Beer, Katy, and I split a trio of offerings from Short’s;  S’More Stout (served with a marshmallow, of course) Uber Goober (an oatmeal stout brewed with peanuts) and PB & J (a blend of the Uber Goober and their “Soft Parade” fruit ale).  All were simply phenomenal.
  • Three Floyd’s Espresso Alt, like the Espresso amber from Peak Brewing, is a great example of a coffee beer that isn’t a porter or a stout.  Smooth and crisp body, with an overwhelming coffee flavor.
  • Another brew that I can’t get here in Maine, Troegs Nugget Nectar was as amazing as I remembered – one of the best beers I’ve had.  Perfectly balanced, hopped-up imperial amber.
  • Voodoo Brewing Big Black Voodoo Daddy was one of my final brews of the day, as it wasn’t tapped until 3:30.  I don’t need to say too much about flavor or strength other than it’s a double imperial stout.

Hopefully, I’ll see all of you at the fest next year.  Even if you live on a different coast or in a different country, it is so worth the trip.

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One response to “Extreme Beer Fest 2009 – Session 1 Recap

  1. Pingback: American Craft Beer Fest - One Quick Look | Brews and Books

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