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.

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