So this past weekend I volunteered at the American Craft Beer Festival put on by BeerAdvocate.com, a website and magazine dedicated to spreading the word about good beer. Well, they spread more than word. They spread beer, too, all over the floors of the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston. That's where I spent a couple of afternoons hauling ice, moving kegs, dumping buckets of "slop" (a harmless, slurpy mixture of beer and rinse water), and taking out the trash for several thousand festival attendees. I won't bore you with romanticized narrations of my volunteer duties, but needless to say it involved a lot of standing and smelling like stale beer.
If you've never been to a beer "festival", I suggest you attend one. Just one, though. One's enough. It's exactly as you'd picture it: this one had booths from 75 breweries (serving over 250 different beers) lined up in a giant open space packed with eager imbibers that roam the floor, line up for samples, and slowly (or quickly, depending on your size and/or drinking rate) become louder, less inhibited, and more likely to stumble and bump into each other. The fests I have experience with usually have multiple sessions, each around 3.5 hours long, and allow unlimited sampling in 2 oz. serving cups. It's a lot of fun, of course, as long as you pace yourself (eat a sizable meal beforehand) and appreciate many different styles of beer. And there's usually a lot of really, really tasty beer. You may even have a brewer pour you a beer.
As a volunteer, I was able to sample a surprising amount of the good stuff. Due to venue rules, we weren't allowed to drink on the floor, so periodically we'd grab a sample and have to sulk back behind the curtains for some secret drinking. I now can somewhat sympathize with smokers. Among some of the stellar brews I sampled were a few mind-blowing ones worth mentioning. Surly Brewing had a Russian Imperial Stout simply called "Darkness," which is thick and black as ink and tastes like alcoholic molasses. Foothills Brewing also had a RIS called "Sexual Chocolate" (brewed with cocoa), and the sample I tasted had been aged in oak bourbon barrels. Brooklyn Brewery offered a fruity, spicy Belgian-style beer called "Cuvee de Cardoz," brewed with a healthy amount of anise. All of the beers I tried stole the show from anything else I consumed during the fests, including peanut butter crackers, granola bars, slim jims, and bathroom water.
Oh, and people! I saw a number of familiar and famous faces. Erica Reisman and I enjoyed some lamb and chicken slamwiches at a place called Flour. Erica also attended one of the sessions and was looking like she was enjoying herself quite a bit. The legendary Colin Mahoney made a tall appearance, and I also got to see Alec Pinkham and Julie Cap-low! on the festival floor. My childhood (and current) friends Lyra and Larsson Burch and Jessie Beecher were spectacular in their hosting and Taboo abilities.
Present at the fest were some celebrities in the brewing world. You will probably have no idea nor any interest in these people, but I'll mention them for my own gratification. In the picture you can see me with Jason Alstrom, co-founder of the BeerAdvocate empire. Brewers and presidents from respectable establishments were also present, from Harpoon to Otter Creek/Wolaver's to Odell.
All in all, it was a rewarding experience. I wouldn't be telling the whole truth, though, if I didn't mention that, after observing (and participating in) a weekend of beer saturation, I felt more than a bit of both physical and mental fatigue. I enjoy beer, of course, and I enjoy trying different kinds of beer. But when perhaps a year's worth of sampling different kinds of beers is crammed into a weekend, the ritual loses its enjoyment. To me, a high-quality beer is meant to be enjoyed singularly and slowly. That is why I suggest attending just one or a few beer fests. Get the feel for them, try a few new or special brews, but realize that enjoying just one or a couple at a concert or with friends at a cookout is usually a more satisfying experience. Cheers, nonetheless!