Tuesday, June 12, 2012

American Craft Beer Fest - Bracket Madness Version

As promised, here are 2500 words on Beer Advocate's Festival, from frequent Guest Blogger and serial writer, Dan Cedrone.

Despite our countless night outs, brewery tours, weekend pub crawls, and obscenely expensive liquor store runs, last weekend marked only the second time that Josh and I were together for an actual beer festival. The last one was several years ago in Providence, Rhode Island and, while enjoyable, was nowhere near the level that the Boston Beer Festival in beautiful Seaport was. This one was the real deal. This was a serious beer sampling for serious beer drinkers. If Providence was the minor leagues, this was like the call up to Varsity.

And what better way to break down the big Varsity game than with an official beer tournament? So for my contribution here, I will be seeing over the "Frito Lays Presents Josh's Beer Blog's First Boston Festival Beer Tournament Brought To You by Hotels.com"

We're going to do this March Madness bracket style, simply pitting 2 beers against each other in each round until we have a Champion. I wasn't quite able to get to all the 557 beers the festival had to offer but I was able to pick out a list for a tournament of 32 (a perfect bracket size). One of those 32 was the best beer at the event. And I don't want to hear any complaining about certain beers not making the field. I don't want to hear about how I skipped over some great breweries (I've had them before and focused on mostly newer ones to me) or that I unfairly focused on any specific styles more than others (I did). The seeding was selected by a committee and there is nothing that will change that until you dedicate your time to electing a president that will take a stand against the BCS. Which you won't, because you're sitting there reading a beer blog. Anyway, here we go. (seedings were random and then done bracket style)

Round 1:

Ass Kisser Double IPA over Amherst Bloody Mary Ale - Ok, so right from the name you can gather this was an easy win for the oddly named brewer from San Jose. Amherst and I admittedly got off to a rocky start early in the day when I found out they were carefully scheduling the tapping of each of their offers. I stepped up to their stand looking to try something else but it wasn't available for another few hours. The gentleman there aggressively sold me on their Bloody Mary Ale instead, claiming they could only bring a small sample. He explained it was a pale ale made with the traditional ingredients of a bloody mary. Lets just say that beer doesn't mix well with tomato juice and celery. Moving on.
Big Boss Big Operator over Idle Hands Commemoration Saison - I was excited to try Idle Hands, one of the local offerings in Everett, MA. But while I usually love Saisons, this one was too much fruit and not enough yeast. Add in the fact that it was served way too cold and and it results in an early exit.
Bridge Works Tripel over Milwaukee Booyah - I feel like the guys from Wisconsin were less interested in making a quality saison and more into the idea of naming it after an ESPN slam dunk nick name. Booyah? BoooooooNo is more like it! Am I right? Nailed it.
Enlightenment Brut Biere De Cahmpagn over Martha's Exchange Citra IPA - The losing IPA from Nashua exhibited my biggest pet peeve regarding the style. The flavors were there. And they were good. But the product itself was too weak and watery. It's like it was a great IPA that just never put in the extra work in the weight room to fully realize its potential.
Twisted Pine Hoppy Knight India Black Ale over Twisted Pine Ghost Faced Killah - Our first matchup involving two beers from the same brewery. While the winner was deliciously hoppy, the loser was a chile beer that just didn't work. Props for the effort but the taste of spicy habeneros was way too overpowering for something I would ever actually order. I can't imagine it going well with anything. However, this otherwise fine brewer from Colorado at least has a representative in the sweet 16.
Defiant Brewing Triple over Samuel Adams Summer Ale - My disgust for Sam Adams has been well documented here. I only gave them a seeding so I could see this in print.
Uinta Brewing Dubhe Imperial Black IPA over Duck-Rabbit Barrel Aged Baltic Porter - The Baltic Porter from North Carolina was one I was particularly excited to try. It was actually quite tasty. However, when something is barrel aged, I expect to be wowed, and unfortunately I wasn't. Plus, going against an Imperial anything can be a tough matchup.
Ruckus Brewing Euphoria over Prodigal Brewing Brother Mutt's Smoked Marzenbier - This losing beer had the aroma of skunky bud lite. The taste wasn't much better and deserved a quick trip to the waste basket. I didn't even finish this one.
Haverhill Tap Leatherlips IPA over Boulevard Brewing Saison Brett - Full disclosure, I grew up in Haverhill and sneaked this one into the field. As I've mentioned here before, I can attest to the fact that The Tap is the only decent thing that wretched city has to offer. Leatherlips is easily one of my favorite IPA's. While the Saison Brett was quite good with some great yeast flavors, this beast from the Hill will be tough to take down. Almost an upset, but fell short in the 4th quarter.
Martha's Exchange Triple IPA over Lawson's Maple Tripel - A creative blend of a tripel with a double IPA against a cup filled with maple syrup that may or may not have had alcohol in it. This was an easier win than when Lebron dropped 45 on the Celtics in game 6.
Olde Burnside Stone of Density over Big Boss Monkey Bizz-ness - The winners from Connecticut are another favorite of mine but this was a slam dunk for them anyway against another brewer that was more excited about a silly name. The girl from Big Boss didn't even understand the style I was asking for until I explained to her that it was the one named after a monkey. Then she giggled, flipped her hair, asked me if i liked her shirt, and handed me a strong belgian ale that was way too watery.
NoDa Ghost Hop White IPA over Alltech's Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale - I'll never understand how the "experts" at Beer Advocate rated this losing ale from Kentucky so high. An overpoweringly sweet concoction of vanilla, coconut, and maple. A barely noticeable hint of oak despite the fact that it's supposedly aged in new barrels. Several ratings I've read suggest they detect flavors of bourbon. I'm not sure if they are forcing it or just dealing with some delusions. I'm a religious bourbon drinker. It's practically a second form of blood for me. Trust me when I say it's nowhere to be seen in Alltech's.
Olde Burnside Wild Ale over Amherst St. Valentine's Day Massatucky - A wild ale showdown! I love this particular style so it was a shame one of these had to bow out early. I thoroughly enjoyed the sampling of Amherst. However, the wild from the boys in Hartford was too deliciously tart and sour. We also learned that the tartness lends itself to a particular bacteria that infects the barrels the beer ages in. I mean, how cool is that? Point: Olde Burnside
Enlightenment Illumination Saison over Amherst Black Friday Russian Imperial Stout - We don't even need to address the victor in this matchup. With Amherst's crazy random tapping schedule, their Imperial Stout ended up being a literal no show for the first round. They didn't even dress. A shame too. I was looking forward to trying that one....
Lawson's Double Sunshine IPA over Idle Hands Triplication - I was bummed out by Idle Hands in general. Their tripel had some decent flavors, but was simply too watery in the finish. Not a bad beer, but not something I would seek out. However to be clear, there was no way in Hell that Lawson's literal explosion of hops was going home this early.
DC Brau Stone Of Arbroath over Prodigal Brewing Chocorua Kolsch - Prodigal Brewing is bad at what they do.

Sweet 16:

Lawson's Double Sunshine IPA over Enlightenment Illumination Saison -- Since the deciding factor is my own personal taste, Lawson's really came through here with an IPA beating out a favorite style of mine. Enlightenment's saison had those great yeast notes that I simply love. Had the bracket worked out differently, I could easily see this sampling from the rather obscure city of Lowell, MA continuing on. But again, the hops in Lawson's Sunshine is just too much. 
NoDa Ghost Hop White IPA over Olde Burnside Highland Wild Ale – Admittedly I sometimes get annoyed when brewers try to name new styles (I'm quite certain that there is no such thing as a White IPA) as though they want credit for inventing something. But if the flavors work, then more power to you. This was a new, interesting beer and I loved it. Kelly mentioned that the after taste had some medicinal tones to it and I agreed. However, when that flavor presents itself in balance, it's actually a mouth-feel I tend to enjoy. The Wild ale from Olde Burnside was great but ultimately something I wouldn't have more than one of. The sourness can be a tad much at times. I could easily drink several of NoDa's “White IPA”
Haverhill Tap Leatherlips IPA over Ass Kisser Double IPA - The great chewy hops are everywhere in both of these beers. However, considering one is labeled a double, while the other simply holds it's own against it? Call me biased, but Haverhill earned it's trip to Lansing. (The next round is being held in Lansing).
Twisted Pine Hoppy Knight India Black Ale over Uinita Brewing Dubhe Imperial Black IPA – The guys from Utah claimed that their imperial black had a ton of hops. I mostly got the delicious chocolate and malts. The hops were there, but didn't quite make their presence known as much as they did in Twisted Pine's Black Ale. The winner from Boulder had the nice base of chocolate but still allowed the hops to come out in the perfect amount. That factor gets them the nod.
Ruckus Brewing Euphoria over DC Brau Stone of Arbroath – The brewer from New York gets the win essentially for being more complex. Sure, that's probably a little unfair since Scottish ales are what they are. The roasted dark malts from DC were delicious and probably would have beaten a beer of similar style. But when it goes up against a well crafted tripel with a wide variety of fruit and spices, it's tough to pull off the win.
Enlightenment Brut Biere De Champagne over Bridge Works Tripel – We can get more into Enlightenment later and trust me, Bridge Works makes a great Tripel. But this was a blowout.
Martha's Exchange Triple IPA over Big Boss Big Operator – To the girl serving Big Boss at the event, Big Boss had some great hops and yes your shirt was stunning. But flirting will get you nowhere against an amazingly creative and complex beer from the granite state.
Olde Burnside Stone of Density over Defiant Brewing Tripel – My favorite aspect of the Boston festival compared to Providence was that most brewers brought some rare extreme stuff and didn't try to coast by on any flagship brews. Again, tripel is a favorite style of mine so having Defiant go down to a black and tan speaks volumes of Stone of Density. Vanilla, chocolate, roasted malts, and finally...............Bourbon! Tie all that into an awesome velvet texture and Olde Burnside moves on.

Elite 8:

Enlightenment Brute Biere De Champagne over NoDa Ghost Hop White IPA – The boys from Lowell are going to the final 4. This beer is crisp, fruity, perfectly yeasty, and just continues to steamroll through the competition.
Martha's Exchange Triple IPA over Ruckus Brewing Euphoria – Once again, Martha's Exchange pulls off the win for creativity and complexity. Taking down a great tripel is no easy feat. But when you have a yeasty tripel with some nice hops thrown in, you win. You also win when the guy pouring the samples suggests to Josh that maybe he cannot handle the high alcohol content this beer has to offer. Yes that happened and yes it was my favorite moment of the day.
Lawson's Double Sunshine IPA over Haverhill Tap Leatherlips IPA – The king is dead. But this was not a 12 round fight to the death. This was more like a powerhouse getting punched in the mouth and falling down in round 2. Lawson's brought their overwhelming hops to the table. And combined with more citrus flavors than Leatherlips has to offer, simply tasted far and away better.
Olde Burnside Stone of Density over Twisted Pine Hoppy Knight India Black Ale – I'm glad I discovered Twisted Pine from Colorado. I'll be trying to find their stuff at local bars and stores. However, Olde Burnside took similar great flavors, brewed them to perfection, and combined it into a perfectly smooth texture.

Final 4:

Lawson's Double Sunshine IPA over Martha's Exchange Triple IPA - Have I mentioned the amazing hops in this beer from Vermont? I mean stop me if I have because........oh........I have? Well then. Umm.......see you at the championship game.
Enlightenment Brute Biere De Champagne over Olde Burnside Stone of Density – The heavy black and tan from Hartford is great. But this amazingly crisp and drinkable concoction from Enlightenment is simply something you'll want drink and have several more of. I could make the argument that this Champagne beer is suitable for any of the four seasons. As suitable at a summer BBQ with ribs as it would be at a Christmas party in mid winter with shrimp cocktail. There is no way this wouldn't be a tremendous crowd pleaser.


Enlightenment Brute Biere De Champagne over Lawson's Double Sunshine IPA – Lawson's was amazing. The chewy hops and citrus flavors made this a simply perfect beer. So how do we choose a champion of the "Frito Lays Presents Josh's Beer Blog's First Boston Festival Beer Tournament Brought To You by Hotels.com"? Let's just rely on the recorded transcript of my visit to the Enlightenment stand.
Ok let's see........Biere De Champagne........ok.....wait, is that the one you have on display there in a fine crystal flute? It is?........................Ok.......pretentious much?...........Yeah sure I'll try it.......thanks.......(takes sip)...............(takes another loner sip)..............Oh my god.............(josh next to me yelling “yeah!!!!! this is awesome!!!!!!)...........................wow............more please...............”


Enlightenment Brute Biere De Champagne Spluge on some crystal flutes to serve it in. It's that good.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

American Craft Beer Fest

For years, Beer Advocate's American Craft Beer Fest has resided at the top of my To Do List. This past weekend I got to check it off the list and, let me tell you, it was well worth the wait!

With 120 brewers bringing over 550 beers, this was one beer festival that you definitely needed a game plan for. My focus was not only new beers, but new brewers as well. I more than succeeded on this account by checking off 14 new brewers! (Kelly and Dan were pretty happy with their haul as well, which hopefully we will get to hear a bit about in the coming weeks...)

So here they are, my Top 10 beers for the festival and a list of all the new beers I sampled. No regrets, but the beers I was most sorry to have missed were Maine Beer MO Pale Ale, Bridge Brew Works Black Lager, and Amherst Pistachio Crème Pie. There's always next year!

1) Lawson’s Finest Liquids Double Sunshine IPA
a shot of hops, just what i wanted!

2) Allagash Peeterman, 10
nice sourness. a very good wild.

3) Enlightenment Brut- Biere De Champagne, 10
a light and lively biere de champagne. very pleasant tasting grains and yeast.

4) Martha’s Exchange Tripel IPA, 9
interestingly, the yeast takes center stage in this 10% abv imperial.

5) Gardner Ale House Face-off, 8
double ipa stocked with piney and grapefruit hops that linger on palate.

6) Boulevard Saison – Brett, 8
a complex yet drinkable farmhouse.

7) The Olde Mecklenburg OMB Copper, 8
great take on rarely seen style. clean and clear.

8) Big Boss Big Operator, 8
a belgian strong dark ale made with raspberries. the only dark beer of the day for me but it was a good one.

9) Olde Burnside Highland Wild Ale, 7
an amber colored wild scotch ale. extremely tart.

10) DC Brau On The Wings Of Armageddon, 7
impressive flavor for a single hop beer.

Amherst Cascade I.P.A., 6
Amherst St. Valentines Day Massatucky, 7
Boulevard Test Saison Noir, 6
Brooklyn Blast Pale Ale, 7
Cottrell Mystic Bridge IPA, 5
Idle Hands Pandora, 6
Lawson’s Finest Liquids Permagrin Rye Pale Ale, 5
Martha’s Exchange Citra IPA, 7
Night Shift Viva Habanera, 6
NoDa Ghost Hop White IPA, 7
Pioneer American India Pale Ale, 7
Prodigal Chocorua Kolsch, 2
The Defiant Belgian Tripel, 7
Twisted Pine Le Petit Saison, 7
Twisted Pine Ghost Face Killah, 5
White Birch Berliner Weisse, 4