Monday, June 3, 2013

2013 American Craft Beer Fest (Boston, MA)


Harpoon Brewery©


Everyone has days they look forward to all year; for most, it is a birthday, an anniversary, Christmas, Thanksgiving, or any of a myriad of other major holidays and events.  For me, the American Craft Beer Fest is one of those days.  Sponsored by BeerAdvocate and Harpoon Brewery, this is the third year I have attended, and it has gotten bigger and better each time.  Held in the gigantic Seaport World Trade Center in Boston's Harborside, each of the three sessions, held over the course of two days, has the capacity for 5,000 guests, plus a couple hundred staff and somewhere close to 1,000 brewery workers from over 140 different craft breweries.  I went with my friend Sean, who also came with me last year.  You can find my review of last year's event here.

Last year, I was disorganized, and because of that, I missed out on a few things; this year, I planned ahead, checking out the list of beers that would be at the festival and determining which were the ones I most wanted to try.  This list consisted of 22 beers from 19 different breweries, which are located all over the country, from Maine to California.  I tasted all but two of these beers (the missing beers were the Jack's Abby Smoked Maple Lager, because I forgot what I wanted, and Stone Imperial Russian Stout, which they were out of), and when I was done with my list I found a couple more to try as well.  Overall, this was a great trip, and I had some delicious beers, as well as a few mediocre ones and even one or two that were just plain awful.  Virtually all of them were new to me beers, though I had a couple of old favorites as well.  My descriptions are going to be pretty short, just some quick observations.  Without further ado, in the order that I tried them:

Brewery Ommegang
Brewery Ommegang's Rare Vos (Belgian Pale Ale, 6.5%)--The first beer of the night, this was a light, citrusy beer packed with flavor; a great option for a warm day.

Brooklyn Brewery's Silver Anniversary Lager (Doppelbock, 9%)--A medium bodied, hoppy beer, it was drinkable but not their best.  I wish I had tried something else.

Oskar Blues Brewery's Mama's Little Yella Pils (Czech Pilsener, 5.3%)--One of my favorites of the night, this was a light, flavorful, delicious beer, perfect as a session beer or on a hot day while grilling.  This has a lot more flavor than your average Czech style pilsener.  Just what I expect from this company, a fine beer that is the equal of the previously reviewed Old Chub.  These guys are a definite leader in the movement of great beers packaged in cans rather than bottles.

Allagash Brewing Company's Interlude (Saison, 9.5%)--The first thing that hit me about the Interlude was that it smells like champagne as it first hits your nose, but this disappears as you taste it and are overwhelmed by the huge, classic flavor of this fantastic saison.  Wheaty, with a light body, this was among my favorites of the night as well.

Rogue Ales
Rogue Ales' OREgasmic Ale (American Pale Ale, 6%)--Boring.  That's the primary thought that was in my head after tasting this; it is mildly bitter, and not in a pleasant, IPA-ish fashion, and there just is not much else there.  I'm disappointed, I expect so much more from Rogue.

Victory Brewing Company's Prima Pils (German Pilsener, 5.3%)--This was another surprising disappointment, from another company I really have a lot of respect for.  The Prima Pils was too light, too fruity and citrusy, and had nothing special to offer.  The hops were too bitter, something that I would rarely say.

Maine Beer Company's Lunch (American IPA, 7%)--There really is not that much to say about the Lunch; it is the perfect IPA.  Try it and you will see, this is the best example of an incredible beer variety you will absolutely love.

Lagunitas Brewing Company's Imperial Stout (Russian Imperial Stout, 9.9%) and Hop Stoopid (American Double IPA, 8%)--Two very good beers from a company that has been at the forefront of California's craft beer movement for two decades.  The Imperial Stout is a spicily sweet, sharp, tart beer, with a lot of malt flavor; I absolutely loved it, but my friend Sean hated it, comparing it to a lambic, which was understandable, as the tartness was reminiscent of that.  He had the Hop Stoopid, which was a hoppily delicious IPA.

Stone Brewing Co.'s Cali-Belgique (Belgian IPA, 6.9%)--I did not write anything down for this; I'm not sure what that means.

Jack's Abby Brewery, llc.'s--Cascadian Schwarzbier (Schwarzbier, 7%)--This was a good, subtly hoppy beer, not as good as Jack's Abby's Hoponius Union, which is one of my favorite beers from Massachusetts, but this is a good option.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery's Burton Baton (American Double IPA, 10%)--This was a good beer, but yet again, I am disappointed by one of my favorite breweries.  I guess I expect something equal to the 90 Minute IPA or the WorldWide Stout every time I taste a new Dogfish beer, and this did not live up.  I did enjoy it though, and it does not taste like a 10% beer, so that's something good at least.

Widmer Brothers Brewing
Widmer Brothers Brewing's Omission Pale Ale (American Pale Ale/Gluten Free, 5.8%) and Hopside Down India Style Pale Lager (American Pale Lager, 5.5%)--I don't know what I was expecting with the Omission, my first gluten free beer, but I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy it. It is nothing particularly interesting, but it reminded me of Yuengling, which is never a bad thing.  The Hopside Down, which they referred to also an "IPL," was really great, one of the better beers I had all evening.

Kona Brewing Company
Kona Brewing Company's Wailua Wheat (American Pale Wheat Ale, 5.4%)--This was a bad beer, completely un-enjoyable, tasting like eating a bunch of wheat; who wants to do that?

Great Divide Brewing Company
Great Divide Brewing Company's Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti (American Double Stout, 9.5%)--This was the second best beer I had all night, just behind the Lunch.  I have some to rely on Great Divide, one of a number of spectacular Colorado breweries, for some fantastic beers, including the Claymore Scotch Ale and the Denver Pale Ale, but this is their best yet.  Smooth, chocolate-y, delicious, this heavily malted beer is incredible, and I will definitely be getting some in the future.  Great Divide is rapidly moving up my list of best breweries in the country.

The Cambridge House Brewpub's Abija Rowe IPA (English IPA, 6.9%)--This is a beer two of my coworkers have been recommending for months, so I had high expectations, and Cambridge House met them.  A wonderfully hoppy, slightly bitter beer, it is a quintessential IPA, a model beer for the variety.  It is not quite as incredible as the Lunch, or a few of Stone's offerings, but you cannot complain about anything involving this beer.

Element Brewing Company with a decent line
Element Brewing Company's 6:56 2012 Double Extra Special Oak (English Strong Ale, 15%)--At an event filled with super high ABV beers, the 6:56 was tied (with Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Stout) for the highest of all.  At three times the "normal" amount for a beer, aka Budweiser, this is not a gulping beer, but my lord, sipping it is wonderful.  Reminiscent of the WorldWide Stout, this smooth, sweet, malty, huge beer is just incredible.  Second best new beer for me, behind only the Yeti, and third best overall.  Points for Element also for walking around with a pitcher of Red Giant for people waiting in line.

Boston Beer Company's Samuel Adams Tetravis (Quadrupel, 10.2%)--Sam Adams is often forgotten when talking about craft beers, partially because they no longer officially qualify, since they are a publicly listed company on the NYSE, and partially because people tend to think of them as being much, much bigger than they really are.  Most of their beers are rather mundane, with a few of their regular beers being legitimately loved and respected in the beer community, but it is their special beers that show their roots and their ability.  The Tetravis is a strong, delicious beer, and while I did not take much in the way of notes and thus do not have much specifically to say about it, I can say that one word I wrote down was "spectacular."  Kudos to a company that I, and many others, do not often give enough respect to.

Banner Beer Company's American Summer (American Blonde Ale, 3.7%)--Banner is a new local brewery specializing in low ABV session beers, a nice idea, as I will admit that I do not really want to always be drinking super high alcohol brews.  The people involved seem really, really nice, and I wanted so badly to like this beer....but it just reminds me of Budweiser, and that is never, ever a positive thing.  It was just boring, and I really hope they improve, because more breweries in the area is always a good thing, especially when the people involved are so very friendly.

Olde Burnside Brewing Company's Father Christmas Highland Ale (Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy, 9.2%) and Stone of Destiny (Black and Tan, 12%)--By this point, my already poor handwriting had severely deteriorated, to the point that even I can barely read it.  This did not in any way decrease my enjoyment of the beers I was drinking, of course, but it does make my opinions slightly suspect.  That said, I thought that both of these were good beers, with the Father Christmas a nice example of a Scotch Ale; malty, slightly sweet, a good drinking beer with a nice mouth feel.  The Stone of Destiny, that rare bottled black and tan, was also a good one, a perfect example of what you're looking for in a black and tan.  This was my last scheduled stop.

Mad River Brewing Company

And on to the additional beers I tried, that were not on my original list. 

Mad River Brewing Company's Jamaica Red Ale (American Amber/Red Ale (6.5%)--I only wrote one word:  "Awful."  Cool sign though.

Otter Creek Brewing's Hop Session Ale (American Pale Ale, 4.25%)--A nice example of a session ale, light and tasty.

High Horse Brewing's Mr. White (Witbier w/ Grapefruit, 4.75%)--High Horse does some nice stuff, and this is a good witbier, with a decent, mild flavor.  Also super friendly people.  Read my review of the High Horse itself here.

All in all, this was a great success, for me personally and for BeerAdvocate and the ACBF; the event continues to be a blast for all participants, and grows year by year.  In the future, they may have to expand to offer a fourth, or even fifth session over three days.  After only six years, this event is already the largest beer festival on the east coast, one of the largest in the country, and attracts about 15,000 people over a two day period; that is distinctly impressive.  Well done BeerAdvocate, well done Harpoon, and well done to all the brewers and attendees.  Not a single fight, argument, or even disagreement seemed to break out while I was in the area, which considering the amounts of alcohol being consumed and the number of people involved is a true testament to the respect people have for this event.

View of the giant room
Another view of the giant room

Some swag from Kona

The all important guide to the ACBF
More swag, this time from Widmer Brothers

One more shot of the room...people of all ages
were there, a great event!
Long Trail and Otter Creek; two great Vermont
breweries side by side


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