Friday, June 29, 2012

The Festival -- An Attendee's Perspective

All I want for Christmas is 20 cases of Cantillon.
In the previous post we covered what it was like to be a volunteer at The Festival. I dare say, it was more fun to be a volunteer worker than an attendee, as the volunteers got an inside view that regular patrons did not. And they also got free admission to a session themselves!

Most of our volunteer work was set-up before each session was open and breakdown after it closed, so we got to be "regular attendees" for the majority of each session. And what was that like? WOW. Imagine a two-day concert with 75 of your favorite bands playing exclusive sets -- AND you were able to meet and talk to them! That's kind of what it was like. Except with beer.

A week afterwards, I'm thinking about what I missed! With roughly 75 tables, clearly, it wasn't likely that I'd have sampled everything on offer. And I found myself going back twice, three times and sometimes four times for certain beers, at the expense of missing others. Some of those which I didn't try I later found out were not-to-be-missed. Damn.

There's no reason to dwell on the disappointments of beers missed and the few beers that didn't live up to expectations. They simply went to the dump buckets, appropriately. Yes -- while all the breweries were amazing, not every beer was for everyone's taste. And I'm sure that some of my "dump beers" were exulted by others.

At most beer fests, you're lucky if 10% of beers are interesting, unusual, exclusive or amazing. At The Festival is was more like 90%. Possibly the most "mundane" brewery was Sixpoint. But even they stood out, having brought the only spruce beer at the fest! (I didn't try it there -- my biggest regret --though I did get to enjoy it, happily, at Barcade a week later.) This fest was filled with brewing artists. The choices were overwhelming. Looking over the list of those represented was a dream-list.
One of the big stories of The Festival was the inclusion of Westvleteren. They were the only participating brewery that didn't have the actual brewer present. But since their brewer is a monk, who could object? Certainly not Dieu du Ciel. (Though possibly Trou du Diable...)

Westvleteren, a truly authentic Trappist beer (and one of two Trappist breweries where the monks are involved in the day-to-day brewing process). Their highly regarded beers are not available anywhere but at the Belgian monastery... officially. And they keep pretty tight control on that, so profiteers can't take advantage of its high demand and limited availability. But they worked out a limited term arrangement so that their Westvleteren 12 could be sold in a gift-pack of six bottles and two glasses for $85. All of the proceeds to go to building restoration of the monastery. Forget turning water into wine -- they turn beer into churches!

I had one experience at The Festival which helps to bring into focus just how extraordinary the beers were, and how one can get creative when the glass is bottomless. My pal Jim from NYC and I traded recommendations as we passed by one another throughout The Festival. At one point he insisted that I have a glass of DeRanke Guldenberg on tap -- but not the beer! Only the foam! What? At a NYC beer bar, I'm paying $8-$10 for Guldenberg on tap -- NO foam, thank you! But here, why not? I asked for a foamy pour, and got it -- direct from the man who brews it! Wow. Beer-cream. The smoothest, cloudiest, dreamiest beer imaginable.
Stefan of Dieu Du Ciel and B.R.

The Festival had a kind of Willy Wonka/Disneyland feel to it. It was the magic beer kingdom for 2 days. Though I was disappointed that I wasn't given a tour by Shelly Shelton. But Will "Willy" Shelton was there! The brewers also felt the magic vibe. They were just as impressed and just as eager to meet the other brewers. The brewers in attendance got as much, or more, out of the experience as anyone else.

Some, and certainly not all, of the beer highlights...

Freigeist had a delightful Gose which had a well balanced sourness, and also offered their Abraxxxas (6%) which is a sour, smoked wheat beer! The style is Lichtenhainer Weisse, which is a Berliner Weisse made with smoked malt. It was an incredible combination of flavors. We got to try their Pimock, a hoppy Rheinland Hefeweizen. And a few days later at Spuyten Duyvil, we enjoyed their Pink Panther, a 5.8% light and refreshing wheat beer made with hibiscus.
The DDC team has to all share one stick.
Dieu Du Ciel had a number of very dark, very strong beers, such as a Péché Mortel Bourbon, aged in oak, which was extremely rich, heavy and flavorful. But we were really impressed by their 4% Blanche de Plateau, a very mild wit style, having the palest yellow color and the most refreshing mildly sour taste.

Brouwerij De Graal had a very clean, dry and powerful 9% triple called Quest, which has all residual sugars fermented out of the beer. We interviewed brewer Wim about it.
Wim of De Graal

Jolly Pumpkin brought, it seemed, everything! Their table was mini-sour fest of its own!

Les Trois Mousquetaires from Brossard, Quebec brought some tasty German style beers -- a malty Kellerbier and not-too-commonly-seen Sticke Alt.

Westvleteren 12 was poured for lucky fest goers at the table at which they signed up to reserve their Westvleteren gift pack, a fundraiser for the monastery. Often times when you get those super rare imports, they're in terrible condition, because they've been handled badly and have spent way too long in transit. But this Westvleteren was in as good a condition as an imported bottle of monk-brewed beer can be -- heavenly!
Proletariat bartender Cory, Daniel Thiriez and B.R.
Thiriez brought their thirst quenching 4.5% abv northern french saison, which we had the privilege of enjoying in May at the brewery. And they debuted their new double IPA, Dalva.

Nøgne-Ø had a very rich, viscous oak aged version of their 11% Sunturnbrew, which was best enjoyed in very small sips. Kjetil the brewer also had his sake on hand, which was a delicious, light bodied, light flavored contrast to his heavy hitting ales.

Pretty Things offered their standard brews, all of which are anything but "standard". I was happy to be able to enjoy some St-Botolph's Town, one of my favorite brown ales of all time, since it's disappeared from the NYC market lately. Their latest seasonal, ¡Magnifico!, had also just been released so we enjoyed this refreshing 3.4% beer.

Mikkeller was in attendance, and I sampled the always satisfying Beer Geek Breakfast, but only by good fortune. While dumping out an ice bucket, as part of my work as a volunteer, an unscathed bottle of BGB fell out of the supposedly empty tub! It was a welcome break from the hard work on the loading dock!

Le Trou du Diable of Shawinigan, Quebec had one of the most intriguing beers on tap, due to its simplicity -- one type of malt, one type of hops, one yeast strain. And the result? Their SMaSH Citra was the most wonderful, clean, crisp, palate cleansing drink -- the perfect interlude amidst the wide range of sour, smokey, roasty, oaky, hoppy, etc. flavors inundating the tongue.
All the Quebec brewers came prepared for game of shinny.
Page 24/ Brasserie St Germain: I'm not even sure which beer I had. Since we visited my good "biloute" Stephane a few weeks ago and since we have some of his fine beers at home, I didn't sample much. But whatever it was, it was sturdy, malty and delicious. Ch'ti strong!

West County Cider, among their other ciders, offered their exquisite Reine de Pomme, which is made from an apple that originated in Normandy, France. This is possibly my favorite cider in the world, with its rich, honest apple aroma and flavor, effervescent body and tannic apple-skin bitterness. If there were an award given for "best looking table", West County would have won it with an attractive array of dwarf apples amidst the bottles.

Fred from Hopfenstark
Hopfenstark's Saison Station 55 had a rustic malt character offset by slight citrus spiciness and good hop bitterness. But I cautiously avoided experimenting with the Boson de Higgs, lest I help create the formation of a black hole. The brewery is located just north of Montréal.

Mahr’s from Bamberg had an unfiltered (ungespundet) pils, which we put into a water bottle and took outside to enjoy with lunch on Sunday. We drove from NYC to Worcester with their brewer. When I met him I asked, "So, you're Stephan from Mahrs?" "Yes!" he replied. "Pleased to meet you! I'm Bob from Earth!" I'm sure that it was the very first time that he had heard that...

De Ranke's Guldenberg, as previously mentioned, was smooth and delicious, and their Kriek tangy and refreshing.
Sebastian from Freigeist can be seen on the far left among the crowd.
Brasserie de la Senne from Brussels had the simple, uncomplicated and delicious Brussels Calling, a 6% Belgian Pale Ale with a lot of yeast character, and Taras Boulba, a floral-hopped, aromatic 4.5% Belgian Pale Ale -- both beers exceptionally refreshing and so easy drinking, they nearly drank themselves.

Cabinet Artisanal Brewhouse of Alexandria, VA had an impressive Gose, though perhaps a bit more sour than a traditional version of this sour Leipzig-style beer, uniquely made with salt, and a mouth-puckeringly sour Red Wine Barrel-Aged Grisette. When I saw their Flyers bottle opener on Saturday, I had to wear my NY Rangers t-shirt on Sunday to give them a little friendly ribbing!

Anchorage Brewing Company was pouring their Galaxy, a 7% white IPA fermented with brett, which was uniquely tasty. Gabe came further than most every other brewer, save for Brian Baird (Japan) and the New Zealand brewers!

Gueuzerie Tilquin is a lambic blender, utilizing lambic beer from Cantillon, Lindemans, Girardin and Boon. They had a bottled gueuze and one on tap -- the bottled beer being a bit rounder than the very aggressively sour draft.

Brasserie de Blaugies, an authentic French family farmhouse brewery, offered the rustic 5.8% Darbyste, made with fig juice, and La Moneuse, a simple, delicious 8% farmhouse saison, the namesake for which was a highway robber in the 1700s, of whom brewer Marie-Noelle is a descendent.

It should be noted that originally there was to be food served inside the venue. But the response from brewers wishing to attend was so overwhelming, they decided to make room for more beer and have food trucks outside, instead.
Clover at the left, FroYo at the right.
The Shuckintruck was our first stop for oysters and clams at the raw bar and super rich lobster rolls! There was the veggie/vegan Clover truck that served very satisfying BBQ seitan sandwiches and chickpea fritter sandwiches along with lipsmacking rosemary french fries. For those looking for a more traditional BBQ, there was BT's Smokehouse Southern Style BBQ with pulled pork, smoked beef and the like, as well as some mouthwatering crabmeat-and-corn fritters and sweet potato tater tots! ("You gunna eat yer tots?")
Far left, the white Shuckintruck; far right, BT BBQ.
Julian's had their double decker bus food truck, with dining tables on the open-air upper deck! They served some quality modern American fusion fare. In addition to all that, a FroYo frozen yogurt truck provided dessert. One of their treats was a tangy/creamy, almost sour fruit flavor frozen yogurt -- very refreshing to the palate!
Julian's in red.
They pretty much covered it all for food: BBQ meats, fried food, seafood, vegan fare, mixed American bistro chow. Too often at such an event, the non-meat alternatives are lackluster and disappointing, if they even have any non-meat servings. So, they killed it on this front, as well!
Dive Bar backyard.
The Festival wound up at 5pm, with attendees trying to squeeze in one more beer as blue shirted volunteers scrambled to pack up, clean up and clear out. At about 7pm the brewers and some volunteers started filtering into the backyard of the Dive Bar for a post-festival party thrown by Alec Lopez, the proprietor of Dive Bar and Armsby Abbey.

Julian's provided the eats for the party, which was pay as you go, and the beer was provided by The Festival free of charge, in the form of half-filled kegs and left over bottles from the fest. With about 7 different unmarked key kegs floating in icy water to choose from, it was a bit of beer roulette until you sussed out which kegs had what. The best tactic was to find a not-too-strong one that suited you, and then just stick to that, least you end up drinking an 11% heavy dark beer, followed by a 10% barley wine, then a 9% god-knows-what -- what I'm saying is that there were a LOT of strong beers!
The High and Mighty-mobile, which is low and tiny.
We were lucky to find the High and Mighty Beer of the Gods keg! Also scored at the party were drafts of Taras Boulba and Brussels Calling (how did those kegs not kick at The Festival?!), and some choice bottles, such as West County Cider's Reine de Pomme and a few Jolly Pumpkins! What a way to wrap up one of the beeriest weekends of a lifetime!

"A Big Pile Of Rocks", as listed on The Festival's area map.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Festival -- A Volunteer's Perspective

The Festival, a collaborative effort of Shelton Brothers Importers and 12 Percent Imports, took place on June 23 and 24, 2012, and featured over 70 artisan makers of beer, cider and mead. It's doubtful that there has been a better collection of beer offered in any other beer bash in history.
Armsby Abbey's tap list.
Armsby Abbey's tap list.
 We drove to Worcester, Mass. on Friday along with Joel Shelton and Stephan Michel, the brewer of Mahr's. We arrived in the early evening and met up with scores of brewers and Festival staffers at the Armsby Abbey, which is a few blocks from the Festival hall. The beer bistro was hosting a pre-Festival party in their side room, with a few kegs of Hill Farmstead's Edward Pale Ale free of charge. Though it was hard not to order from the bar, given the astonishing tap list -- 16 mind-blowing selections! Zero boring beers! On top of that, we had some incredibly delicious pizza and a savory mac & cheese dish.
Pre-party at Armsby Abbey's side room.
Also on Friday night, we stopped by a cider event a few doors down from Mechanics Hall at the Citizen Wine Bar, and a Danish beer event at Cigar Masters, next to the wine bar.
Pre-party at Armsby Abbey's side room.
Pre-party at Armsby Abbey's side room.
On Saturday morning at about 8am we made our way to Mechanics Hall, a 5 minute walk from the hotel. We had no idea about how beautiful, ornate and elegant the hall was to be! Built in 1857, it ranks as one of the top 12 concert halls between North America and Europe, thanks to its excellent acoustics. Soon, its a-brew-stics would be tested!
The main hall.

So... we're gunna fill this join with beer? O.K.

I can see Cantillon being served here.

Ticketmaster of the 1800s.

Sadly, nobody played Inna Gadda Da Vida.
Our early set up crew started out small, but eventually grew. Andrew and Big Jim ran the set-up show. And, man, what a project. We had to bring hundreds of cases, thousands of bottles, scores of kegs and a ton of ice to the roughly 75 stands!
A tangle of taps.
The feat of getting the tap lines set up was mind boggling! Our meager crew was eventually augmented with a massive corps of "citizen volunteers" in blue Festival shirts.
Volunteers - we love you.
We can't tell you how many blue-shirted volunteers there were (there were A LOT), but we can tell you this: they were a rock solid corps of dedicated, hard-working, "never say 'no'" people dedicated to getting the job done. We heard rumor of a few issues with a bad egg or two, but everyone who we worked with were pure of heart and dedicated to the mission of creating the best experience for both the patrons and the brewers. No event like this can be a success without people like that. That's a fact.
Empty tubs were distributed behind the tables of each brewery. Volunteers and staff brought pallets of cases and kegs from the refrigerated tractor-trailer at the loading dock up the freight elevator to Washburn Hall (3871 sq. ft.) on the 2nd floor, and to the Great Hall (8480 sq. ft.) on the 3rd.
The pallets were set down on each floor's kitchen, where workers took the boxes and kegs off and into their respective hall, to their appointed table. Other workers distributed the signage indicating the brewery, brewer and beers offered for each table, according to the floor plans. Yet other volunteers worked like a corps of ants bringing crumbs into the nest, shuttling between the ice truck and the halls with hand trucks stacked with six 35-lbs bags of ice. They'd drop their load as other worker-ants broke open the bags and distributed the ice around the beer, placed in the large plastic tubs. Where was NatGeo to record this?!
Don't worry Joel -- this is the EASY part.
Many of the volunteers were assigned the job of working the admission area, checking tickets, handing out glassware and guarding the doors. Some were conscripted to help the brewers pour beer. Many more were in charge of emptying out dump buckets and constantly refilling water coolers. Everyone did their part.

All the beer was kept in this refrigerated tractor-trailer.
Rebecca and Selena, who organized the volunteers, along with Big Jim and Andrew, did an incredible job at getting things done. There were a few other staffers, we think that some were from High and Mighty, who helped direct things as well. And many volunteers just jumped into problem-situations that needed to be rectified, and used common sense and muscle power to just git 'er done. It really was an unbelievable orchestration, and considering the complexity of the logistics and all the challenges, nothing really went wrong. Well, of course there were small issues, but by the end of the day, hundreds of visitors had sampled hundreds of beers, ciders and meads, and glowingly sauntered away quite content!
Ice had to be hauled from an ice truck, outside, to the halls. Ice sidewalk (hand) truckers.
Once set up was complete, we continued working to make sure that all the brewers had what they needed, and assisted them. But after a while, with things humming along, we were able to get out our own sample glasses and have at it! (That angle of the story is in part 2 of the blog post.) At the end of the 1st Saturday session, from noon to 4pm, we were charged with restocking the tables with beer  and ice, which was a scaled-down process, similar to the morning work.
There was absolutely no time for goofing around!
At the end of the 5:30pm-9:30pm Saturday session, there was a LOT of work to do, emptying out water in the tubs of melted ice, replenishing ice for the beer that would stay on the floor overnight, and cleaning up. But following a long day of hard work and sampling beer (some people consider them one in the same!), we were treated to another VIP party for the brewers and staff at Armsby, this time featuring High and Mighty's Beer of the Gods, gratis!
Seriously -- we were too wrapped up with work!
We'll tell you about our Festival experience that took place in between the work shifts in the next blog post. Prepare to be jealous!
The loading dock hockey stick. Yes... there was a $200 Warrior hockey stick
stashed on the dock, for God-knows-what purpose. Hockey and Beer...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Alewife Beer Bar in Queens

Alewife in Long Island City Queens is the subject of this week's podcast! There are two main points that can't be stressed enough about the place. #1: it's not at all far from Manhattan. In fact, it's the first stop on the 7-train, one station away from Grand Central. And #2: their goal is to have the very best draft beer list possible, and it could be argued that they succeed!
Patrick, formerly of Rattle & Hum, Bob and Daniel.
In addition to being a station of the Boston mass transit system, a Massachusetts state park, and a species of herring, "alewife" is also an old English term for a gal who manages a pub. And with founder Daniel Lanigan being from Boston, we're not sure which he was going for in the name. (Probably not the fish, but, who knows?) Daniel is also the man behind other elite Northeast beer destinations: The Moan and Dove in Amherst, Mass., Lord Hobo in Cambridge, Mass., The Dirty Truth in Northampton, Mass. and Alewife Baltimore, in Maryland, of course.
We've been to all but the Baltimore establishment, and -- yeah -- this guy is a bit of a fanatic about putting the best shzt on tap! The ever changing list at Alewife is almost threatening in its level of quality. They boast 28 taps, plus a beer engine for casks, and a respectable list of bottled beer, as well.
Having opened in October 2011, Alewife recently brought on Patrick Donagher to help with events and publicity. Patrick has been a key figure in the NYC craft beer scene, as manager of Rattle & Hum and as the driving force behind the touted Get Real! beer events, which he continues to run.
Being in LIC, the gastropub has some distinctive advantages, and unfortunate perception disadvantages. On the plus side, the non-Manhattan rent allows for a huge, airy, open, comfy space, with an upstairs dining area, a cozy fireplace nook, and an outdoor deck. On the (supposed) downside, it's not in Manhattan. But wait a minute -- neither is Spuyten Duyvil! In fact, S.D. is one subway stop further from Manhattan than Alewife! It takes about the same amount of time to bicycle to both places from the East Village. And rumor has it that another good beer bar is eying the neighborhood of Vernon/Jackson, which will make it all the more of a beer destination.
Alewife on Facebook
Notice the foam lacing resembling the USA on Chris' glass!
We haven't had too much experience with the food of Alewife just yet, but we can attest to the fact that their fries are pretty damn good! They come seasoned with a garlic topping, and rank as some of the best in NYC. Their pizza is respectable. And, judging by the look of the roast beef sandwiches au jus which we saw others wolfing down recently, the menu will please the carnivores among us.
We expect to see more and more special events driving folks beyond the East River to enjoy what Alfwife has to offer. Who knows -- maybe LIC will become our intra-NYC get away. Remember when the East Village became ruined by up-town yuppies and bridge-and-tunnelers, and we were forced to go to Brooklyn for sanctuary? And then Williamsburg became spoiled with the trendy-set? LIC is still far enough off the radar to provide a relaxing, non-unnerving pub experience! I'll take that train one stop!