Monday, June 4, 2012

2012 American Craft Beer Fest (Boston, MA)

The American Craft Beer Fest (ACBF) is the first, and thus far only, beer festival I have been to, and have now gone for consecutive years.  It is not only an opportunity to sample some fine beers, but also support BeerAdvocate and the many breweries that come to showcase their wares, while mingling with several thousand other fans of craft beer.

Craft breweries are a specific category, defined as producing fewer than six million barrels of beer each year.  This actually includes breweries that you wouldn't expect, such as Boston Beer Company (aka Samuel Adams) and D.G. Yuengling & Son, both of which are typically thought of as being "larger" independent breweries.  At the 2012 ACBF, there were at least 121 breweries serving more than 550 beers.  While I'd love to say I tried all of them, if I had tried to do so in the 3.5 hours of the event's "A" session, I'd have succumbed to alcohol poisoning long before succeeding.  However, I did try to take some brief notes on many of those I did try.  Each pour is two ounces or less; oftentimes the heartier (aka, higher ABV) beers are poured in smaller amounts, though that all depends on the brewery and/or person pouring.  So, in no particular order, here goes:

  • Brooklyn Brewery:  Mary's Maple Porter (English Porter, 7.2%)--The first beer I tried, mostly so that I'd have something to drink while waiting in the extensive Dogfish Head line, this was a truly lovely little porter, with a light maple flavor that was present in every sip.  The porter was exceptionally smooth, almost milk stout like in that fashion, but with a burst of flavor in every sip that belied that same lightness.  Absolutely one of the best beers I had all day.                                                                        
  •  Dogfish Head Brewery:  120 Minute IPA (American Double IPA, 18%)--This is a super strong, super flavorful IPA, though not hugely different from the 90 Minute IPA that is available year round.  I am certainly glad I tried it, but it did not hold up to the WorldWide Stout that they served last year.                         
  •  Stone Brewing Company:  Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale (American Black Ale, 8.7%)--I'd have sworn this was an IPA, based on the tremendous citrus-y flavor and strong bitterness, but apparently I was wrong, as this is considered a Black Ale.  That said, it doesn't lose any of its brilliance, as this was tied for the best beer I had at the ACBF.  If this were an IPA, it would be the best I'd ever had, which is impressive; instead, it's the best Black Ale I've ever had.
  • Kona Brewing Company:  Big Wave Golden Ale (American Blonde Ale, 4.4%)--This is actually pretty flavorful, which surprised me, because my only other experience with Kona had been their Longboard Island Lager, a super light lager that, while refreshingly enjoyable, isn't exactly flavor packed.  Big Wave is also light and refreshing (much needed at about halfway through the event, especially since most of the other beers I'd been drinking had been high ABV offerings), but doesn't sell itself short by skimping on flavor.  Highly recommended if you can get it and are going to be relaxing outside on a hot day.
  • Element Brewing Company:  Dark Element (American Black Ale, 8%)--I'm a big Element fan, as it is located in Millers Falls (MA), a village of Montague, where I've worked for the last couple years, and where my mother has worked for nearly 30 years.  As always, I love to support local businesses, and it's so much easier when the local business puts out a good product.  Dark Element is one of a few beers I've tried from Element, and it is my favorite thus far.  A strong, dark, and citrus-y offering (and available on tap at Hope and Olive), this is not a beer that everyone will enjoy, but if you like strong beers, try this.  
  • DL Geary Brewing Company:  Geary's Hampshire Special Ale (English Strong Ale (7%)--I'll admit, I'm a little biased when it comes to Geary's; it was my first beer, and I've been drinking it for...well, since before I could legally drink beer.  It's pretty much omnipresent in southern Maine, so I had easy access.  The Hampshire Special Ale (or "HSA") is the best that Geary's has, a porter-ish "Strong Ale" that always seems to hold up to my (very high) expectations for it, year after year.  It's quite hoppy, very malty, and just overall a fine choice, and among my all time favorite options.  
  • Kennebec River Pub & Brewery:  Penobscot Porter (English Porter, 6.4%)--The first beer I had of the night that I wasn't thrilled by.  Now, it wasn't bad, but it wasn't special either.  That said, it was from Maine and the girl giving out the samples was pretty damn cute, so it's an acceptable option for those simple reasons.

**Please note that from here on out, my reviews will be a little less informed; I had previously been typing my notes into my phone, but then I (finally) got a pen, and started writing them into the booklet, which I appear to have left at my friend's apartment in Boston, so this is entirely memory based now**
  • Rogue Ales:  Double Dead Guy Ale (American Strong Ale, 9%)--Strong, bitter, and tasty.  Well crafted beer, as almost all Rogue beers are.
  • Brewery Ommegang:  Hennepin (Farmhouse Ale/Saison, 7.7%)--This was a decent beer, not Ommegang's best, but certainly drinkable.  That being said, if offered any other similar beer I'd probably leave this one.
  • The People's Pint:  Farmer Brown (English Brown Ale, 5.4%)--The People's Pint is a brew-pub in Greenfield (MA) that serves solid beer and solid food and that I will absolutely, 100% not go to ever again.  The service is that bad.  However, since this isn't about their brew-pub, but just their beers, I'll give a pretty strong endorsement to the Farmer Brown; it's not nearly as strong as most beers that I'd recommend, but it's got a pleasant taste, and would make a fine introductory beer for those who think they don't like non-Budweiser options.  I would like to mention The Pint's sister restaurant, The Gill Tavern; great food and great service, one of the best restaurants in Western Massachusetts.
  • Maine Beer Company:  Mean Old Tom (American Stout, 6.5%)--Holy SHIT!  The best beer I had all night, and apparently, I didn't even have their best (that would be "Lunch," a strong 7% IPA that they were, quite sadly, out of by the time I meandered over at the end of the night).  I'm not even sure how to describe this, other than to say that this is the ultimate stout.  I cannot wait until I find some more, and I also cannot wait to find the Lunch.
I'm sad to say that the last beer I'm going to review is also by far the worst.  Not only that, but it's also a Dogfish Head beer, which surprised the hell out of me.  But, here goes:
  • Dogfish Head Brewery:  Festina Peche (Berliner Weissbier, 4.5%)--Wow.  Just wow.  Awful.  I think wasting beer should be a criminal act, and yet, I tossed the majority of the pour I received of this atrocity.  According to BeerAdvocate, this is actually a highly rated beer, but I couldn't stand it, and neither could my friends Joe and Sean who accompanied me to the ACBF.  Stay away, especially considering there are so many fantastic options from this standout company. 
So, in conclusion, the ACBF is a really fun, really informative event, well worth the money and the trip out to Boston.  The event is one of the premier beer events in the country at this point, and with a few more years of growth, it could well become the premier east coast event.  Kudos to the Alstrom brothers for their incredible work at BeerAdvocate, and to Harpoon Brewery for being the main sponsor of the event, showing their dedication to the craft of brewing and to fine beer remains the driving force behind their products, rather than simple profit or growth.


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