On Saturday 3/12 I attended the 2016 Drink Craft Beer Boston Beer & Cheese Fest at Cyclorama. This festival offered beers from 25 local craft breweries/cideries and cheese from 10 New England Creameries. While this certainly wasn’t the largest beer festival I attended all year, I think it was the best.
The main reason I enjoyed this festival so much is that there was no filler. All 30 brewers were true craft/micro brews and all had something new or interesting that I really wanted to try, which is why I go to craft beer festivals in the first place. What good is having 50+ brewers present when you have tables taken up by Blue Moon, Shock Top, Narraganasett, Leinenkugel, Angry Orchard, Woodchuck Cider, etc.? And let’s not forget Guinness when they try to push their Blonde American Lager and Nitro IPA on us. It’s no fun skipping tables, but here I never had to. I literally had 1 or more beers/ciders from every vendor.
Also, the idea of incorporating artisan cheeses into a beer festival is brilliant. As you circle the room you run into a cheese vendor every fourth table or so, which is not only delicious but a great palate cleanser. Not to mention that the brewers often suggested certain cheese pairings with certain beers that they were offering. This event was well-coordinated and the venue is great. A historical brink rotunda with a wooden ceiling featuring a huge center skylight. It sure beats the tacky wallpaper and lack-of-character you find at a usual rental function hall.
Now on to the awards portion:
Best in Show: Hidden Cove Brewing Co. in Wells, ME. They had 4 beers available including a sour blueberry ale aged in Hungarian wine barrels (Bouillon), a well-balanced Belgian tripel (Trinal), an American IPA (Patroon) and a Jalapeno Apricot Sour aged in tequila barrels (Jali). When you combine this level of variety and creativity, not to mention the fact that these beers were all excellent, the winner wasn’t that hard to pick. It was hard to pick my favorite beer, but if you could only taste one I’d say try the Bouillon. It was also nice to see a brewery offer their more expensive and high ABV options, which some hold back at events like this. Congrats, Hidden Cove.
Runner-Up: Idle Hands Craft Ales in Everett, MA (soon to be moved to Malden, MA this Spring). Another brewer offering 4 beers which included a Flemish-style sour red ale aged in red wine barrels (Charlton Rouge), an American stout (Check Raise), a Spring Saison (Croupier) and a Double Pale Ale (Head Up Play: AUS/NZ). Again, variety and quality played into our choice of Idle Hands as Runner-Up, but also the fact that Charlton Rouge was one of the best beers we tried all day. If my fridge was stocked with that I can assure you that my hands (and mouth) would never be idle. We can’t wait to head over to their new facility in Malden, MA once it opens and see what magic they have in store for us there.
Most Surprising/Interesting Beer: Blunderbuss Barleywine from Cambridge Brewing Co. in Cambridge, MA. This used to be a category called “Honorable Mention”, but we realized that it usually went to a brewer for having a really surprising or interesting beer, so we’ve changed the category to just that. Blunderbuss is an American-style barleywine that comes in at 12.8% ABV, so I was anticipating a syrupy malt bomb with an alcohol finish. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised when it was a well-balanced and very complex beer, with bitter notes and tangy fruit tones, as well as being smooth and lacking in boozy bite. Nice job CBC.
Best in Show (Cidery): Urban Farm Fermentory in Portland, ME. This is a new category for us, as we are seeing more and more cideries represented at craft beer events like this one, and thought they also deserved some recognition. There were 6 cideries at this event and all were very good actually, offering really innovative products and flavors. Urban Farm Fermentory edged out the competition with its offering of Dry Cidah (wild feremented) and Baby Jimmy (aged in Jim Beam barrels). They also had an alcoholic Kombucha available, which I had never tried before. Since all the cideries performed so well, we chose UFF because they had our favorite cider of the day, which was Baby Jimmy. This is somewhat ironic because when it comes to bourbon, I really don’t like Jim Beam at all.
Worst in Show (the lowlights): No One! Normally we would take this opportunity to bash Shock Top’s Spiced Banana Wheat or Corona’s new IPA (not a real thing, yet), but this festival had none of that, which is why it was so great.
Drink Craft Beer (drinkcraftbeer.com), who put on this festival has another one coming up on July 15th & 16th in Boston. This time they are doing Beer & BBQ instead of Beer & Cheese. That could be an interesting twist, except you run the risk of running into Guy Fieri and Toby Keith (both big fans of beer and BBQ). If this festival was any indication, it’ll be worth the risk.