It would be hard to talk about the event without at least briefly discussing Long Island. I've always been fascinated by LI, so on my journey I decided to make a bit of a photo-journal of their particular culture.
Style & Culture
Okay so maybe it isn't that bad, but Long Island is a strange and terrifying place. Haven for the rich? Ground zero for mooks? Depends on where you are. Now in NYC I can tell a 72nd St. Gray's Papaya from a 34th St. one, but on Strawng Island, I don't know whether I'm going to Syosset or Nipseydocket. Such was my strife on Saturday, en route to the Expo. Eventually I found my way, and was shown very quickly the tone of the event. When the first guy walked in with a Miller High Life shirt, I got nervous. When he was trailed by a guy wearing a shirt that said, "Swallow . . . or it's going in your eye," I was terrified. I am not making that shirt up.
I walked in and was immediately struck still: Sam Adams, Blue Moon, and Dos XX. The first three booths I saw. "Oh my god," I thought. "I just paid $48 for Corporate Beer Fest '09." I paused, took a deep breath, and literally broke into a jog, desperately hunting down a craft brewery. Fortunately, the proximity to the door of these larger breweries was BECAUSE they were the larger breweries, and tucked behind them was a rich and wonderful array of well-known craft brewers, homebrewing clubs, and everything in between. From the garage to multi-national, multi-label umbrella companies, everything was there. Scantily clad women faux-cheerily handed out corporate swill for rent money while daydreaming about their other goals. Genuinely happy (and thus far more beautiful) everymen and everywomen from craft breweries extrapolated on their labors of love, already living their dreams. It was the best and worst of beer. And since I had no intention of wasting my tolerance on a Radeberger that I could get anywhere, I was free to dive in to the exotic flavors and artistry American craft beer. Both were on full display, so with blinders turned up and destinations circled, I went about my joyous work . . .
Much to my dismay, my camera says it was "not stored properly" and so all my pictures from the event were lost, though there wasn't much to see. Imagine a huge warehouse with tables lined up around the perimeter. That was about it. My first stop was Sam Adams Imperial White. I know, I know. I just shat all over them, lumping them in with the corporate bile-brewers. To be fair, Sam Adams is independent. They definitely don't make beers that I love, but their heart is in the right place. I knew their crafty leanings would be the perfect thing to wake up my palate without setting the bar too high. The Imperial White just premiered this year, so I was excited to try it for that reason as well. The nose is robustly fruity, with hints of rose and citrus peel. Inside the beer, there are delicate notes of honey and spice. Unfortunately these get buried beneath awkward, overly tangy carbonation and a whopping 10.3% ABV, of which you can taste every drop. It was served rather cold, and I would imagine the beer would be better a good 6-8 degrees warmer, but even so, a heavy-handedness pervades it.
My next stop was Greenport Harbor Brewing from Long Island, and they were the first all-stars of the day. I was pulled aside to a stray table housing a few casks, and saw Greenport doing an old ale out of the EFFING CASK. Now while I doubt this was a traditional old ale (as in, aged in wood for a year or two), I immediately fell in love with the aroma, roasty and filled with coffee. The head was gorgeous, the feel was as smooth as could be, and the late toffee finish sealed the deal. It was elegant yet accessible, and I knew I had to check out the Greenport table proper. Their porter was not exactly my cup of tea, but I had to try their Leaf Pile Pumpkin Ale. The immediate flavor is just brilliant, a burst of pumpkin and cinnamon sugar. The aftertaste is a bit light relative to the initial burst of flavor, but it is hard to complain when the bulk of the beer is executed with such precision.
Their beers were good enough that I had to watch when their two founders, John Liegey and Rich Vandenburgh, gave a mini-seminar on starting a brewery. They did admirably under awful circumstances. The acoustics and set-up of the "seminars" were atrocious, but they kept their tremendous beer flowing through the session, and were kind to everyone. Without question, their old ale and Leaf Pile were two standouts of the day. Look out for these guys. They know what they're doing.
Another exciting booth awaited me just a few kiosks down. Fire Island Brewing Co., also from Long Island, was repping hard with both their excellent Lighthouse Ale (which I had tried previously) and their Red Wagon IPA. Just released last week, this IPA is just phenomenal. It sports a 7% ABV, which goes by almost unnoticed on the tongue. Delightfully spicy hops coat the mouth, but the brilliance lies not just in the utilization of the hops for an uncommonly rich IPA flavor, but in dispatching with the astringent, rubbery aftertaste some ultra-hoppy beers bring. Instead, Red Wagon finishes with a hint of malty sweetness that made me want to go back to the beer for another sip all the more. As I told them, this stands up with the best IPAs I've ever had, including Stone Levitation. In addition to making incredible beer, founders Bert, Jeff, and Tom were SO hospitable and forthcoming with info about the brews. They only make two so far, but they are absolutely for real.
Next up was John Harvard's from Little Grove, NY. I have no clue where this is. But when I heard they had an Irish Cream-flavored stout in a CASK, it was most certainly on. This beer was a great example of why I loved this event. I probably couldn't drink a pint (or even a half-pint) of this beer but it was such a unique, bold flavor, I won't forget it. Texturally, and sweetness-wise, it is sort of in league with Southern Tier's Creme Brulee Stout: heavy, syrupy, and packed with alcohol. Aged three weeks in the cask, it rocked about 7-8% ABV and tasted like a pre-made car bomb, which I suppose isnt surprising. It was sweet for my taste, but it felt like they got the exact flavor they wanted. The craft was there and the beer was exciting.
They also make a brew called Amarillo Anonymous. It was medium gold, inching into light brown, with a sweet caramel aroma. The initial flavor skews hoppy, but it blossoms into a zesty orange sweet/spicy combo that makes it difficult to classify and thoroughly enjoyable.
It was at this point that I was . . . ugh . . . actually a little tired of beer. To be respectful of the brewers, acknowledge the shortcomings of my own palate, and attempt to keep this in the friendly spirit that should pervade craft brewing and beer enjoyment in general, I have refrained from writing about any beers that I did not particularly enjoy. But if you are counting at home, at this point I had already tried ten different beers. The generally accepted max on a day's tasting is around twelve. Suffice it to say, I wrecklessly decimate this number. The rest of the beers will be brought out tomorrow. Another cask, some NYC love, and Stone Brewery shows up fashionably late . . . .