On Saturday 9/24/16 we attended the daytime session of the Copenhagen Beer Festival at Boston’s City Hall Plaza. This is the first time the festival has been held in the U.S. and that made it a can’t miss event. The festival featured 55 brewers from around the world, with a few meaderies and a cherry wine maker sprinkled in. For those of you obsessed with asking me “How was the weather?” or telling other people about the weather, it was a perfect New England Fall day, sunny and mid 60s.
I think we should say right up front that this was the best beer festival we have been to all year, and probably in several years for that matter. Now, we will explain the reasons why. The primary reason was the amount of rare breweries and beers that were on-hand, which normally are not available in the U.S. or would take a great deal of effort to acquire. You can find the complete brewers list here, but let’s just say there were 6 breweries from Denmark, 6 from the U.K., 4 from Sweden and 5 more combined from Belgium, Norway, Italy and The Netherlands, many of whom don’t distribute to the U.S. or do so in such limited quantities that you’re not likely to ever run into them. Then there was the U.S. breweries, which read like a “who’s who” of places with huge cult followings, like 3 Floyds, Crooked Stave, Jester King, Hill Farmstead, Stillwater Artisanal and many more. Another point worth making is that there was no dead space because there were no macrobrewers taking up booths here (with the exception of Samuel Adams, but we will get to that later). This festival had a better lineup than the 1931 Yankees.
Then, there was the actual beers. This festival had a different format than most that I’ve been to, with each brewery only offering 2 beers at each of the sessions. Usually you’ll see 3-4 selections per brewer, but that was offset by the ridiculous rarity of the choices that were available. Almost everyone brought their A-Game with stuff that is usually only available at their brewery, or something experimental, or something aged for 4 years, etc. You can see the full list of beers offered here. There were literally dozens of beers at this festival that I could not obtain again even if I had the money to fly all over the world looking for them, although doing that would really increase my street cred as a beer snob.
The organizers of this event also had the forethought to bring in local food vendors, some of them food trucks, and have them set up at booths within the venue. Nothing is worse that 3.5 hours of drinking on an empty stomach, except maybe the possible aftermath of drinking for 3.5 hours on an empty stomach.
Normally at this point in an event recap we would give out our awards, like “Best in Show”, “Most Surprising/Interesting Beer”, “Best Cidery”, “Worst in Show” etc. However, because this show was so amazing across the board, it was really tough for anyone to distinguish themselves that much. So instead of the usual awards we are going to give out “Awards of Distinction” to anything we though was a little extra special and worth mentioning. So here are our “Award of Distinction” winners:
Cigar City Brewing (Tampa, FL): They deserve a shout out for sneaking some cider into a beer party. As I stated earlier, most breweries had only 2 offerings, but Cigar City managed to double up, having beers on one side of their booth and 2 hard ciders on the other, and then creating 2 separate lines as if it was 2 separate vendors. There are 3 reasons this is great. 1.) I didn’t even know they made hard cider. 2.) There were no cideries set up at this festival, so if you needed a quick cider fix Cigar City had you covered. 3.) They managed to have a more diverse booth than anyone else (maybe they cheated for all I know, but I’m not complaining). Not to mention the 2 cider selections they offered were quite different from one another, and well done.
Siren Craft Brew (Wokingham, England): They get the award for having the 2 most diverse styles of beer that were both still excellent. It’s easy to be really good at only one thing, but at the session we were at they offered their Barrel-Aged Caribbean Chocolate Stout and their Tschüss Blueberry Mint Sour. I don’t think I saw 2 beers further apart on the beer spectrum all day (at least not from one brewer), and they were both tremendous. We felt this was an accomplishment worth mentioning.
Mikkeller (Copenhagen, Denmark): They get an award for the best outside-the-box idea that actually worked. At the Mikkeller Copenhagen booth (not to be confused with the Mikkeller San Diego booth that was also there), you couldn’t help but notice that the servers were dressed as flight attendants. Why is that? Oh, it’s because they were actually flight attendants from Scandinavian Airlines and they were pouring beer that is made by Mikkeller specifically for Scandinavian Airlines and served exclusively on their flights. Thankfully, we were able to join their exclusive Mile High Beer Club at this event without having to leave the ground. You can read a great article about it here.
Half Acre Beer Co. (Chicago, IL): This festival was a testament to sour beers and barrel-aged porters & stouts. They dominated the selections (which I am more than fine with), but that did make one beer really jump out at me when I tried it. Gin Pony (a gin barrel-aged version of Pony Pilsner) from Half Acre Beer Co. was the perfect beer to offer at this show. It was an ideal light botanical, savory palate cleanser in a sea of tart & funky or rich & sweet. For all of you Gin lovers out there (like myself), the flavor was spot-on and the pilsner body was the perfect style choice to prop up all that ginny goodness.
Boston City Hall Plaza: I guess this award is more for the organizers of the event since they picked this venue, but it was a great choice. Maybe if it was 45 degrees and rainy I would’ve felt differently, but honestly it had more advantages than just the pleasant open-air environment. The main advantage was that no matter how busy the festival was you never felt packed in like sardines or overwhelmed by crowds, lines and getting bumped into every 4 seconds. That’s because city hall plaza has tons of open space and the way they laid out the booths left plenty of places to slip away and enjoy your beer, especially if you were with a group (which we were).
Some of you are probably saying, “This festival can’t be all rainbows and unicorns! There must have been something that wasn’t great.”. You’d be right, and we should sprinkle in a few less-than-memorable things just to give the article some balance. Call them “Awards of Indistinction”, if you will.
Stone Brewing (Escondido, CA): I don’t like to pick on Stone because they’ve always been a solid brewery, and have always been willing try a lot of new things (like the Mocha IPA they put out this June, which was delicious). However, at this particular festival, at least at my session they had the worst selection by far. When everyone else was offering the ultra-rare beers mentioned above, they offered us 2 beers that I could buy at any liquor store within a 10 block radius, Citrusy Wit and Go-To IPA. In a vacuum there is nothing wrong with these beers, but this was not a vacuum, and when you consider the amount of awesome small batch beers that Stone has in their arsenal (Chai-Spiced Russian Imperial Stout, Japanese Green Tea IPA, etc.) this wasn’t their best effort.
Which brings us to the Samuel Adams note I alluded to earlier. I would’ve expected Sam Adams to have the weakest selection, considering their macrobrewer status, but they actually came to play. They had a limited edition collaboration beer with Mikkeller called Bugs & Berries Wild Ale. Is it just me or is Sam Adams starting to come back from the dark side a bit with things like their Barrel Room and Small Batch Collections, not to mention collaborations like this one? Only time will tell…
The Restroom Situation: This is really no one’s fault, as we’re dealing with an outdoor venue and thus no public restrooms. An entire corner of City Hall Plaza was turned into a fortified wall of Porta-Potties (or Honey Buckets, if you prefer). For a lot of gatherings this would have been fine, but this is a beer festival. The 3rd scientific law of beer drinking (as proven by Dr. Efrum “Suds” Crumwaltz) is that the need to pee increases exponentially as the volume of beer consumption rises. Therefore, many patrons had to stick their tasting glass in their pocket, try not to touch any surface and deposit their urine as cleanly as possible before getting back to it, because there is no way to wash up. This process was then repeated multiple times over the 3.5 hours people spent there. Not ideal.
The best way to wrap up this article is to say that if this festival comes around again next year you should’t miss it. In fact, if you’re only going to go to one beer event next year, this should be the one. If Prince and Kurt Cobain (from Nirvana) both rose from the grave and united to do a “Smells Like Purple Rain” tour, and you had a chance to get tickets but the concert was on the same day as the Copenhagen Beer Festival, you should still go to the the Copenhagen Beer Festival. After all, they are now ghosts or zombies or something, meaning they are probably immortal, so you’ll probably get another chance to catch their show in the future.