Friday, June 03, 2011
In honor of the now-in-progress Boston Beer Week, I'm letting the beer-geek in me take over for the music-geek that usually runs this place. I have few vices, but drinking quality beer is one of them - in fact, it's safe to say that many an Almanac post came to you courtesy of a preparatory pint.
Boston Beer Week, which officially kicked off last Friday and finishes up this Sunday, is centered around this weekend's 2-day, 3-session American Craft Beer Fest, put together by BeerAdvocate.com's Alström brothers. Tonight and tomorrow over 100 craft brewers will gather inside the waterfront's Seaport World Trade Center to deliver over 500 different beers in 2-ounce sample glasses. While this year marks the 4th annual fest, my first visit was last year, and it was glorious. I imbibed much, learned a lot, outlasted my low-tolerance co-pilot, and swore I'd do it again next year.
So here we are, hours away from the best selection of craft beers you're likely to find anywhere on planet Earth. I figured I'd use this space to share some of my thoughts on last year's fest, ramble a bit about the experience, and maybe add to the enjoyment of any first-time attendees. Some of these tips will be ridiculously obvious, some far less so...
12 Tips for Surviving Boston's American Craft Beer Fest
1. Buy advance tickets. Duh. There are three sessions to choose from (Friday evening, Saturday afternoon, and Saturday evening), and in all likelihood they'll each sell out. So make with the clicking or the rest of these tips won't do you any good at all.
2. Before you go, grab a festival guide from a Boston-area bar. Many local establishments have stacks of the well-designed and ultra-informative booklets with a list of all the brewers, the beers they plan to serve, a map of the fest floor, along with beer basics and tips for attendees. If you want to get anal about your pre-planning, this thing is perfect. I picked mine up at Allston's Deep Ellum (shocker to those who know me, I'm sure). Look over the list of brewers and beers, circle the ones that grab you, and mark their booths on the map. If you don't have time to grab a guide, hit up the online list of brewers & beers ahead of time.
3. Eat something, and hydrate well, before your session. Seriously. While there are plenty of concessions available inside the fest, you don't want to find yourself getting too tipsy too fast. Speaking of which...
4. Take public transportation. You will get buzzed at this thing. Especially if you're an Imperial IPA fan, like I am. You're not going to find a designated driver at a beer fest, and you aren't going to resist having 'just one more sample'. Two-ounce tastes add up quickly.
5. Bring a palette-cleanser. I was both amused and impressed by the handful of seasoned beerfest veterans wearing self-made pretzel-necklaces. If you're not quite that resourceful, a little baggie of crackers will do. At the very least, make sure you rinse your sample glass between booth visits with the water coolers scattered around the floor - use them to keep your tastings experiences self-contained.
6. Arrive early. While the main entrance queue moves quickly, it's massive. You might want to show up 30 minutes before doors, at least.
7. Pick a few of must-taste brewers to start with, and cross them off your checklist first. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the choices, but it's good to get a couple in-demand booth visits under your belt right away. By far the longest booth lines of last year's ACBF were at Pretty Things and Dogfish Head, so if those are on your list, hit them up quickly.
8. Don't overplan. As much as mapping out your day helps, leave some room for spontaneity. Stroll down the aisles and look for displays that strike you. Stop by a lonely booth and take a chance - just because there's no line doesn't mean there's bad beer. Make an unexpected discovery.
9. Along those lines, support the little guys. Look for the mom-n-pop brewers without slick banners and merchandise, because these are the places that could give you the most unique tasting experiences. They're also the ones without large distribution, so this may be your only easy chance to try them. The booth I'm most excited about visiting this year is Lawson's Finest Liquids from Warren, Vermont, whose Triple Play IPA won this year's Brewing News National IPA Championship. While they won't have that beer at the fest, I'm looking forward to trying their Double Sunshine IPA.
10. Step out of your beer comfort zone. I know what I like, and what I like is a strong IPA. Doubles, Imperials, whatever. My mission last year was to find new favorites, and while I did just that (Paper City's Hop Monster, Wachusett's Larry, McNeill's Warlord, and above all, Uinta's Detour), I also found a few non-IPAs I dug. I'm generally not a dark beer fan, but Duck-Rabbit's Milk Stout was damn delicious.
11. Don't finish bad samples. Yes, they're only two ounce pours, but if you're not into that first sip, dump the rest in one of the many barrels scattered around the floor. Save your relative sobriety for better beers.
12. Take notes! The festival guidebooks have handy little boxes to fill in next to every beer where you can grade your tastings. I'm guessing the guys will provide pencils at the fest, but bring something to write with just in case. It's highly unlikely you'll remember every beer you try, especially with a, um, healthy buzz on. Don't just look at the ACBF as a few hours of fun, but as a chance to make you a more informed beer drinker.
The Alström brothers also have a few tips of their own inside the ACBF guide, including the ever-important "beer fest line etiquette", which can be summarized thusly: When you get your sample, move the heck outta the way. If you want to chat with the brewer, do it from the side of the booth, not from the front of a long line. Also very important: Pace yourself - enjoy each sip rather than rushing to get the most samples for your entry fee.
For the latest ACBF news, follow Beer Advocate on Twitter (use the #ACBF hashtag if you tweet) or hit them up on Facebook. If you're looking to do more at the fest than just sample suds, check out the special guests at the "beer forum" seminars happening at each session, and snag tickets if the subjects strike you. For a visual look at what you're in for, have a look at my photos from last year's ACBF. Lastly, check out the huge list of Boston Beer Week events happening all over the area through Sunday.
And if you're going to the Saturday afternoon ACBF session, I'll see ya down at the Seaport.
live in cambridge, ma
on november 14th, 2008
previously: joy formidable - boston 2011
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