Jun 21, 2010
The NY Brewfest (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blog)
Boasting 100 breweries, most showcasing two or three beers, I was a kid in a candy store. (The only trick at a festival like this? MAKE A WISHLIST. I did, and I got to every beer I wanted with my palate and sobriety intact.) I thought, "Wow, ten thousand people! A LOT of people love craft beer." But I was yet to experience event number two. As I was sipping my second sample of the day, a guy to my right exclaimed, "Oh my God. This is good. It tastes like Rolling Rock!" That was when I had to hang my head and sigh. Yes indeed, craft beer is rife with breweries, and its lovers are fifty fold what they were even ten years ago. But sadly, any event pouring tons of beer (particularly one accessible from Staten Island, Long Island, and New Jersey) is going to attract its fair share of binge drinkers with no interest in art or craft, but with lots of interest in keg stands and filling up a liter Poland Spring bottle with the beer from whichever brewery's rep allowed them to in exchange for a sneakily placed twenty. (Both of those things happened).
And that's what the day was like. On one hand, it was so crowded that I couldn't talk to the brewers, and each beer required a double-digit wait, but the beer was delicious, and after one or two exclamations of, "That guy has a notebook, he's my hero!", I was able to block out the douchebaggery and focus on enjoying a fantastic, perfectly placed display of craft beer.
My first beer was North Coast Red Seal Ale. These guys rep Cali and make two other beers I love: Old Rasputin Imperial Stout and Brother Thelonious, a fantastic Belgian-style dark ale. Red Seal is more of an amber I suppose, or perhaps a coppery pale ale. It brings a nice hoppy aroma with a hint of pine and a hint of grapefruit. These hops hit a bit up front, but are mellowed substantially by a nice malty backdrop of caramel and toffee, with even a butterscotch cookie note. The finish is full and sweet (but not overly so) with a complement on lemon-y hops. This was a fantastic brew, and was a perfect intro to the day. It was stylistically funky, blurring some genre lines, but woke up my palate and was executed with wonderful balance.
After that, I HAD to hit Captain Lawrence. These cats are from New York, and I have previously written about their Liquid Gold being God's gift to the taste buds. So naturally, when I saw they were there I had to get in the (lengthy) line. I had their Kolsch. Now a Kolsch technically can only come from Cologne in Germany, but as usual, American brewers can go loosey-goosey with this. If you've never had one, it is a VERY light ale, great as introduction to more complex beers, and perfect for sessions. Unsurprisingly, CL knocks it out of the park, showing wonderful reverence for the style while making this one unique. The aroma has almost an orange sherbet quality, as a light citrus hop mingles with a vanilla creaminess. This has a definite parallel in the beer, as it packs a lovely and creamy mouthfeel with note-perfect carbonation levels. The flavor also packs a nice summer grassiness and manages to strike a beautiful balance: both creamy and refreshing, flavorful and deceptively simple in profile. It's another home run from one of the better breweries in NY state.
I was excited for my next sample: Innis & Gunn, a Scottish oak-aged export. Unfortunately, I didn't particularly dig this beer. While the oak character was wonderful (smoky and rife with vanilla), the background sort of tasted like . . . um . . . malt liquor honestly. There were pleasant notes outside of the oak (a hint of roasted caramel, a bit of lemon), but I was unimpressed with this. Similarly, I was left wanting more with Elysian's The Wise ESB. As a primer, ESB stands for Extra Special Bitter. This is an English-style ale which ironically isn't necessarily bitter. It just generally contains a bit more booze and/or body than a brewery's regular Bitter. While I love Elysian (as I've written, their Night Owl Pumpkin Ale is officially an autumnal tradition for me) and this beer was rather drinkable, it lacked some character.
Next up was Sprecher Black Bavarian. Sprecher was introduced to me when I visited my friend Mike in Milwaukee where Sprecher is a well-known brewery. Outside of there, not so much. Which is a shame, because they make some funky German-inspired beer. They just keep a pretty low-profile, very workmanlike and Midwestern, quietly producing dope beer. Their Black Bavarian Lager has a deep flavor packed with maple syrup and rich (burnt?) molasses. It is a bit too carbonated for my taste, and finishes a tad metallic on some sips, but it mellows as it goes and reveals a rewarding choco
Defiant Brewing has been rocking out in NY for a bit now, but I've missed out on most of their beers. An opportunity to taste some was one I couldn't pass up. I had their porter which I am pleased to say I enjoyed, despite my bias against porters. The head was light with a nice tan, and the body was an opaque brown. The aroma brought a nice smoky, peppery tone. The mouthfeel was thin even by porter standards and presented more like a burnt brown ale, which is not necessarily a bad thing. There are tangy, fruity notes amidst the darkness, maybe apple or unripe peach, and these make it a nicely balanced beer that still manages some quirky character.
Of course, in addition to these, there was Orval (drop the $8 per bottle; it's worth it), and Sixpoint brought their Reighteous Rye and Sweet Action from Brooklyn. They don't need me to write about their greatness again, but I could. I also have to give a shout to Greenport Harbor, whom I first met at the IGBE in Long Island. Their Disorient IPA and Harbor Ale were total crowd-pleasers (myself included) and they are absolutely going places. Conversely, there was a blueberry wheat from a brewery I will leave anonymous that was without question our low point of the day. It was so watery, I didn't even need to rinse my glass. Also, despite the rousing endorsements Cisco's Witbier got from the drunken hordes next to us, we also found it be (sans review) not very good.
As I was writing this, I suddenly became repulsed by the idea of beginning my last paragraph with some "All in all . . . " bullshit. What did I learn about craft beer? Nothing. I tried some new ones, but I can't make any grand statements about next frontiers, or expanded palates, or some revelatory experience. I drank a bunch of brilliantly made beer, and I loved it. But I already knew that. So I would be remiss if I didn't mention my lack of blogging: laziness, pure laziness. "But not that many people read it," I whined like a bitch. But I LOVE. IT. So click on some of these breweries, learn about them, and demand your next night out drinking with friends be at a place with local, well-made beer - wherever you are. This, I'm happy to say, is my life.