I am always skeptical when it comes to beer festivals. If they are not done right, they can be outright disastrous. A trend I have seen in the past is that when a festival is held for the first time, things go wrong. Now, not to say it’s anyone’s fault in particular; there are many unseen problems, some totally unavoidable. However, when the going gets tough, a lot of the times, it just gets worse. Whether it be the crowd, the amount of beer brought, the food, the friendliness and knowledge of the vendors, or otherwise, things tend to go wrong. Would the NYC American Craft Beer Festival fall into some pitfalls, turning an event sour?…..
….. Fortunately for us, and everyone else who attended, the answer is no. I was very impressed by the way this event was put together and handled. Here’s a list of what I thought made this an amazing event.
-They did not try and cram us into a tiny venue like a can of sardines.
-The breweries did not bring an overwhelming amount of beer for everyone to choose from (they also brought the right volume of each individual beer).
-The crowd itself was fantastic; no obnoxious, drunken fools making it difficult for the rest of us, everyone was cordial and civil, lines were not insane and people were not fighting to try and get any specific beers.
-The vendors were very knowledgeable in terms of the product brought, as well as extremely polite and well spoken.
-All areas of the country were represented well.
-The extra merchandise being sold was fairly relevant and just downright awesome. (my favorite was the bourbon dipped cigars.)
-Local breweries, even the lesser known ones, were represented very well. (A note on this one; Let’s face it, New York is not California in terms of craft beer. It made me proud to see some of our guys holding up against some of the bigger ones.)
-The venue was large enough to hold a large crowd. The location was great, too; Only a 15 minute walk from Grand Central.
-The fact that connoisseur package ticket holders were kept in a separate room from us, so we did not attack them for their beers.
-They allow you to bring your own pretzels/pretzel necklaces to clean your palate between beers.
-The fact that they give you glass tasting cups instead of the usual plastic ones that snap while you’re drinking.
For certain, this was a great event and was put together very well. That being said, it was not perfect, and being a skeptic, I have to find things that bother me in a situation. Here’s a list of things I did not enjoy.
-The price of the tickets for what was received. $55 from 1:30pm-4:00pm, no food included. I have been to events that cost this much where food was included, as well as an extra hour, at least. (Other options were available; $75 for the VIP package which included an extra hour of drinking or $125 for the Connoisseur’s package, which included hors d’oeuvres, special beers to taste, as well as the extra hour given to the VIP members. If I could do it over, I would have gotten VIP tickets. The Connoisseur’s package was far too pricey for what was offered. The special beers they received were good, but nothing that would compel me to spend $125 on.)
-The food brought was far too expensive, as well. $15 for a bratwurst kind of did it for me.
-The diversity of the beers. It’s hard for me to say, I mean, I can’t even believe I’m saying it, but there were too many IPAs. My palate was wrecked halfway through. It would have been nice to see more barleywines, a few sours, some belgian beers thrown in there.
That’s pretty much it, though. Considering how cynical I am, I think that’s pretty damn good. As I stated, it was a stellar event and I will be attending for many more years to come.
Enough of my ranting and praising, on to the beer!
We sampled quite a lot of beers that day, but I am going to list for you my favorites for the day.
1. Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Yeti
I’ve had the pleasure of having this beer bottled and tapped before, and I have to say, I can never get enough of it. Out of all of the Yeti variations, this one is my personal favorite. The malts are nice an roasty, the espresso that comes through does not taste like cheap coffee as I have seen with some beers, but a very fine, gourmet espresso, big notes of chocolate and toffee, a creamy vanilla note comes through from the oak, the hop profile is not overwhelming, just enough to keep your palate light and unsaturated. Hands down, my favorite of the show.
2. Founders Dirty Bastard
I am not a big fan of Scotch Ales/Wee Heavies, and to be honest, I’ve never had this beer before. I’ve had it’s barrel aged older brother, Backwoods Bastard, which is a real stunner, but I was never intrigued by this beer. I can honestly say that I am glad to have tried it though. The malt character on this is like rum soaked bread. A slight alcohol burn is there, but it is welcome. Caramel sweetness and toffee notes coat your mouth throughout. The hop bitterness on the back end keeps you wanting more. Very good beer.
3. Captain Lawrence Captain’s Reserve Double IPA
I was floored by this one. I’ve had it before, but only in bottles. The problem with the bottled version of it is that it does not hold up well, and is so plentiful in our area, that you never know if you’re getting a fresh bottle. On tap, it was like I blind taste tested Pliny the Elder. There were huge pine, citrus, grassy, earthy notes, a solid malt backbone, very nice carbonation and mouthfeel. I was stunned, to say the very least.
4. Ballast Point Sculpin
One of my absolute favorite beers to have on tap. I would have came here just for this beer. The amount of bitter grapefruit and sweet, juicy orange and pineapple is overwhelming, the sweet malt that resides beneath plays very well with the hop bitterness, the grassy, piney notes on the back end round it out very well. I absolutely love this beer.
5. (TIE) Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA and Walker’s Reserve Robust Porter
Firestone Walker is in my top 5 favorite breweries, so anything they put out is like liquid gold to me. Union Jack, along with Sculpin, is one of my favorite beers to have on tap. IPAs hold up so much better when they’re in a fresh keg. The flavor is an explosion of citrus; grapefruit, mango, pineapple, orange peel, ripe apricot. The malt bill is equally impressive with a slight caramel flavor coming through, but an overall biscuity quality holding the forefront. The bitter finish keeps your palate intrigued, but is not enough to render it useless.
Moving on to the Robust Porter…. holy crap. Those who know me will tell you I am not the biggest fan of porters (I think they taste sort of like watered down stouts), but this one changed my mind for good. Massive amounts of coffee and chocolate come through, a walnut and pecan character play around underneath the more upfront notes, the roasted malts perfectly complement a vanilla ice cream flavor I can’t wrap my head around. I feel like buying a case of this beer now.
The day was complete, and I left feeling satisfied. I sampled many great beers, at a great venue, with great people. I will most definitely be joining them for their upcoming events.
Be sure to like their Facebook page….