Battleship Brewfest blasts bodacious beers

Slumbrew reps pour some Attic and Eaves.

Slumbrew reps pour some Attic and Eaves.

What’s gray, hoppy, and 35 tons of fun? The Battleship Brewfest, of course! Held October 12, the third annual brewfest was a blast of brews, food, music, and friendly folks.

Set up under a tent or two on the deck of the Battleship Massachusetts in Fall River, this year’s fest featured brews from 36 breweries/cideries that ranged in location from SouthCoast to California to the Czech Republic. The Pats game was on a giant TV provided by Saber TV and the live band Ryan Connearney and the Dirty O’Brien blasted out tunes for all to enjoy.

One big advantage of the event is that there’s food, food everywhere – quite a bit to eat. Not only is the inclusion of food a nice touch that provides some nifty pairing opportunities, but offering alcohol-absorbing carbs and other culinary delights helps keep attendees sober and the post-fest roads safer. Ten different eateries provided a welcome variety of vittles to give the palate a break from all the delicious beer and cider.

The biggest surprise brew was from Somerville’s Slumbrew. To be honest, I haven’t loved their beer in the past, but their Attic and Eves toasted brown ale was a serious hit with myself and everyone I talked to. Roasty, toasty, nutty, and creamy, this complex 7.5% ABV brew was smooth on the tongue and had just enough bitterness to contrast with the multitude of other flavors. ‘Twas a truly excellent beer that’s definitely worth seeking out. In addition, their Flagraiser IPA is well-worth trying if you find it at your favorite watering hole or liquor store.

I have yet to have a sub-par beer from Connecticut’s Two Roads Brewing, and their brand-new Russian imperial stout “Unorthodox” didn’t disappoint. At 9.2%, the brew packs a serious punch, but does so in the balanced RIS style that makes this one of my favorite styles. What makes the beer unorthodox is the inclusion of malted rye, an ingredient one almost never sees in this style. The beer is well-balanced despite being incredibly rich, and includes standard RIS flavors like dark chocolate, coffee, a hint of hops, and a bit of vanilla.

People plugged into the New England beer scene, or who read my review of the Vermont Brewers’ Fest, are aware of how amazing Lawson’s Brewing is. Fortunately for attendees of this fest, Otter Creek served their amazing and hard-to-get Double Dose IPA, a collaboration with Lawson’s. The beer has only been brewed twice, so if you see it (and you may have to ask the beer buyer at your local liquor store to get some), BUY IT. This citrus bomb is amazingly drinkable considering how hoppy it is, and should be sought out by any hopheads in the area. It’s honestly one of the best double IPAs (at 8.5% ABV) that we can get down here, so try it if you find it.

My final beer to try isn’t a beer at all, it’s a cider: Bantam Cider Company’s Rojo. Bantam is based in Cambridge, and makes a fine, fine fermented apple drink. Rojo is aged on sour cherries and black peppercorns, which makes for a complex, slightly sour and slightly reddish cider. It’s only 5.4% ABV, so it can be sipped for a while. It’s subtle, with a deft balance of the dryly tart apple, the mildly sour flavors of the cherry, and the light bite of the peppercorns. Consider it another must-try drink.

Originally published on October 23

Fine brews will flow at New Bedford Oktoberfest

JENALINA SANTIAGO/Standard-Times Special file He may be known as The Whiskey Poet, but on Oct. 4, Craig DeMelo will be performing at a beer festival, the ninth annual New Bedford Oktoberfest.

JENALINA SANTIAGO/Standard-Times Special file He may be known as The Whiskey Poet, but on Oct. 4, Craig DeMelo will be performing at a beer festival, the ninth annual New Bedford Oktoberfest.

Don’t be surprised if you see lederhosen-wearing, bratwurst-gnawing people downtown next Saturday, when the New Bedford waterfront does its best Munich impression at the ninth annual New Bedford Oktoberfest.

To be held from 3 to midnight Oct. 4 at New Bedford State Pier, it’s the closest of four excellent local brewfests between now and Oct. 17 (see the list at the bottom of the column), and will probably be the biggest party of the bunch.

Sponsored by the South Coast Business Alliance, Oktoberfest is massive, featuring local German-inspired food, live music, and lots and lots of fall beers. More than 17 breweries will pour their best malt-bomb Oktoberfest-inspired brews, pumpkin beers galore, and a variety of other fall offerings.

Music will be on tap, too: the Felix Brown Band, Craig DeMelo & Friends, and Four Legged Faithful.

Tickets to this 21-plus event are only $15, but bring more cash, as beers will be $5 per (with a nifty $10 sampler card that supplies five 5-ounce samples), and the variety of food options will leave your mouth watering. Proceeds from the event go to several local charities, so you can attend and know you’re doing good while feeling good.

The toughest decision attendees may have is which of the incredible beers to try. Not only will local favorites Buzzards Bay, Pretty Things, Mayflower, Berkley, Cisco, Naukabout, Foolproof, and Narragansett be there, but they’ll be joined by regional favorites Cambridge, Sam Adams, Wachusett, Smuttynose (and their much-loved Pumpkinhead), Magic Hat, Traveler, and Woodstock.

If that wasn’t enough choice, the fest will also feature national brewers Yuengling, Left Hand, Southern Tier, Firestone Walker, and Brooklyn. Finally, German brewer Spaten will serve up their famous Oktoberfest.

I used some of my industrial espionage skills* to get a partial list of beers that will be poured (the rest of the list was covered in sticky malt from some Oktoberfest brewer), and there are some definite “must try” brews.

Three of the beers on my must-drink list come from local brewers. First, Buzzards Bay’s Boo! is a fantastic beer that defies categorization. The only thing that should scare you about this bready, malty, toffee-ey, smoky dark brown ale is that it’s so delicious and goes down so easily, you could unintentionally drink way too much of it.

Next up, Berkley will be pouring their excellent Harvest Ale, a straightforward Oktoberfest that’s just ridiculously easy-drinking. Creamy, malty, smooth, and surprisingly crisp, this beer could easily be packaged as a German Oktoberfest import and fool everyone.

Finally, Cisco’s Pumple Drumkin is a fascinating pumpkin beer that ain’t for the faint of heart. The Nantucket brewers might have gone a bit crazy when adding spices to this beer, as it contains just about every flavor one can imagine that goes with pumpkin. I find it complex and quite good, but others have been turned off by its cornucopia of flavors.

Since Southern Tier will be there, I’m hoping they’ll bring their Pumking, which may very well be my favorite pumpkin ale. Incredibly rich, full of flavor, and weighing in at 8.6 percent alcohol by volume, this is a titan of the pumpkin beer world, and must be experienced by anyone who enjoys, or even tolerates, pumpkin beers.

Just remember that you’ll have to get home from this fest, so please drink in moderation and/or bring a designated driver. Nothing ruins a great night like drunk driving.

* Industrial espionage skills = emailing the folks in charge of the event.

Originally published on September 25, 2014

The view from the other side of the table


Being behind the table at a beer tasting can be as much fun as being a taster. Perhaps the camels in the background at Roger Williams Zoo’s “Brew at the Zoo” were thirsting for a sample?

Beer tastings. Most of us have, at the minimum, gone to a liquor store while someone is offering beer samples. Some readers have been fortunate enough to attend a brewfest (like the ones listed at the bottom of this column). Beer events are always fun to attend, but working at them is also surprisingly enjoyable.

During the past three or four months, I’ve worked tastings at a variety of events, including a half-dozen tastings at liquor stores, for Berkley Beer or other beers for Craft Brew Tastings, and last weekend’s Brew at the Zoo at Roger Williams Park Zoo. Working these events has given me insight into the other side of beer tastings, and has given me a new appreciation for the “beeristas” who pour our favorite beverage.

In some ways, store tastings like an imperial IPA — more challenging, but in the end, often more rewarding. People aren’t at the store to taste beer, they’re there to buy beer/liquor/wine, and 99 percent of the time aren’t buying YOUR beer, so a lot of folks will walk on by. Because of this, the job requires more salesmanship than at a beer fest, where people have come for the express purpose of tasting beers.

That being said, it’s quite rewarding to be at a store and turn people on to a new beer, then see them walk out with your beer in hand. There’s a real enjoyment in broadening someone’s beer horizons, especially when it’s a quality local product like Berkley‘s.

Store tastings can also be frustrating. It’s a lot of standing around, punctuated by trying to persuade people to try your beer. As a beer enthusiast and all-around flavor addict, I simply don’t understand those who turn down samples of beer (or wine, or hard alcohol). I know there are legitimate reasons people say no. But I’ll always try new drinks (or foods), especially if they’re free!

Fortunately, I’ve never experienced anyone being rude about not tasting what I’m offering. They’re usually quite polite, with either a simple “No, thank you” or they give a reason, such as “I’m a wine drinker,” or “I only drink beer XYZ.”

Thankfully, on the other end of the spectrum are enthusiastic tasters: those who are eager to try your beer and talk about what you’re offering. I’m definitely one of these tasters when I’m on the customer side of the table. These people are a blast, and will often pick up your beer just to show appreciation.

Somewhere in between these two poles are the really rewarding customers — those who need a little coaxing to try the brew, but will often end up buying some, or, at minimum, will leave with a new appreciation for your product. These folks are often surprised to like your beer so much, and are sometimes even thankful to the brewery rep for introducing them to the beer. I’ve received a couple of “This is my new favorite beer!” comments that are always a blast.

Attendees of beer fests and events are a much easier sell. Their whole purpose is to try beer, get drunk, or both. (A designated driver is a must.)

Heck, these folks will form lines to try your beer if it builds a buzz (as happened for me at “Brew at the Zoo,” where people were freaking out about the Schofferhofer grapefruit wheat beer from Germany). They’re all beer enthusiasts, and while there’s the occasional beer snob in the crowd, they’re mostly psyched to try your stuff and vocal about how it tastes.

The next time you’re at a tasting, such as the ones listed in the Beer Events section of the site, make sure you remember the person behind the table. They care what you think, and are psyched to get feedback about their beer, even if it’s not a glowing review.

Originally published on September 11, 2014

Beautiful beers, beautiful Vermont

Courtesy of Liane Byrnes Sipping a tasty brew in Burlington, Vt., as the sun sets over Lake Champlain. The Vermont Brewer's Festival is a must-attend event.

Courtesy of Liane Byrnes Sipping a tasty brew in Burlington, Vt., as the sun sets over Lake Champlain. The Vermont Brewer’s Festival is a must-attend event.

Ah, Vermont! The rustic land of mountains, farms, villages, and friendly folk is famous for its maple syrup, cheese, and (recently) beer. Oodles and oodles of beer. Vermont has the most breweries per capita in these United States of beer, and is a beer geek’s paradise.

The problem for beer lovers is that most of Vermont’s 32 breweries and brewpubs only distribute locally. While Magic Hat, Long Trail, and Otter Creek all have regional or national presences, almost none of the other breweries’ products are available out of state. This scarcity drives the incredible beer trading power of brewers like the Alchemist, Lawsons, and Hill Farmstead, and it also makes the annual Vermont Brewer’s Festival a must-attend event. Continue reading

Intriguing discoveries at the ACBF

The “East Coast’s largest celebration of craft beer” happened last weekend in Boston, when more than 140 breweries came to the 2014 American Craft Beer Fest (ACBF) to share their wares with thousands of thirsty beer geeks. It was a festival of fun, a mountain of malts, a harvest of hops, and a litany of ludicrously long lines.

Beer fests are a blast, but popularity and hype makes some breweries end up with lines that are simply not worth standing in for a 2-ounce pour. My wife and I often use the strategy of one-person waits while the other goes to a shorter line for a pour, then we switch places and person two heads out for beer. Continue reading