The Brooklyn Waterfront Beer Festival

19 Jun

Beer festivals, love them or hate them, seem to serve various purposes in a craft beer drinker’s life.  It’s a way for smaller breweries just starting out to get their product out there and their beers tasted by a mass audience. For savvy drinkers looking for something new to taste, there is usually a rare or strictly seasonal beer on hand.  And then there’s the people who simply see the word “beer,” and try to get as loaded as possible and then act like drunken buffoons.  All of these types were gathered at one place on Saturday: The Brooklyn Waterfront Beer Festival on the Williamsburg Waterfront.

V.I.P.s were granted early entry but only “Connoisseurs” were able to access to some specialty rare beers in an air-conditioned area.  This lounge (what looked like a small break room in an office building?) was under tight security and also pretty cramped, but held limited releases from a few selected breweries including Kelso, Founders, and Stone.  We decided to start our beer fest journey here.

One of my particular favorites, even for the name alone, was “The Empire Strikes Bock.” Yeah, I’m a Star Wars nerd.  This particular “Bock” was a Maibock style of beer, which is traditionally consumed in the late days of spring (aka late May and early June).  Maibock literally translates to May Bock.  This strong spring lager was light and crisp and super refreshing on a day like Saturday.  It’s unfortunate its season is over because I could easily drink “Empire Strikes Bock” all summer long.

Other rare beers offered in the Connoisseur lounge included Kelso’s Brett IPA.  Since Brettanomyces are becoming all the rage in beers these days, it’s no surprise that one of Brooklyn’s local favorites would add this to their IPA.  The abundance of hops was able to balance the sourness the “brett” imparts, but was still tart on the tongue.  Fans of sour beers would enjoy this variation.

Innis & Gunn, the Scottish brewers responsible for the bevvy of barrel aged brews (including bourbon and rum) were pouring their “Independence Day,” a brand new beer brewed especially for our July 4th celebration and acknowledging the American relationship with Scotland, both through their brewing methods and historically.  It was interesting in that American hops were used, yet it still had that familiar “cream soda” taste that many of their beers do, a flavor imparted from the oak barrels.  This beer has a very limited release, so if you are a fan of Innis & Gunn and barrel-aged beers, definitely give it a try.  Also, “Brave,” comes out this weekend so maybe try to sneak one into the movie theatre.

Upstate Keegan Ales were offering “Joe Mama’s Imperial Coffee Stout,” and I don’t know Joe or his mama but this was a delicious (and strong—hence imperial) coffee stout, for fans of this style of beer.  It’s right up there with the brewery’s Milk Stout, and just the little zing I needed to wake me up.  Another stout offered in the connoisseur lounge was Wandering Star’s “Bert’s Disqualified Imperial Stout.”  The stout was a “Brewer’s Choice” winner at a local competition, but became disqualified due to a label not being removed from one of the bottles. Doh!  I’m glad this beer was given a second chance at being served to the masses, because it definitely deserved it.

While the connoisseur’s area had its perks (regular bathrooms versus the port-a-potties set up for everybody else), one couldn’t stay cooped up in a little room all day at an outdoor beer festival!  The main area offered pours from over 86 stations spread out over the entire festival area, where most breweries represented had two beers to pour into the 2 oz. tasting glass.  And it was made of glass, as throughout the festival a popular noise was of these baby glasses shattering all over the pavement.  I miraculously did not cut my feet.  They should probably make rubber cases for these guys.

Since I was familiar with many of the breweries and the beers being poured, I gravitated toward those I was unfamiliar with, like Massachusetts’ Clown Shoes.   While I’ve heard of Clown Shoes due to their raunchy beer names (Lubrication anyone?) and their controversial labels, I’ve never tried one of their beers.  The Clementine White Beer got my attention because I love the little fruit and thought the flavor would go nicely with a white beer.  The Belgian style ale was refreshing on this hot day although the clementine flavor was pretty subtle.  This beer would be a nice craft beer substitution for those Blue Moon lovers out there, and I think we’ll continue to see more from brewery in the future.

Many breweries were also pouring their summer beers including Sierra Nevada, Greenport, Empire, Southern Tier and Troegs.  On a beautiful summer day on the Brooklyn waterfront, it was refreshing to sip these in between heartier and heavier beers.  It was also great to see representation from some up-and-coming breweries like Oneonta’s “Ben’s Brews” and “Jona’s Bronck’s Beer Company,” a new craft brewer from the Bronx offering some competition to The Bronx Brewery (who was not at the festival).  There were also plenty of ciders, an alcoholic ginger beer (way too sweet for my taste), and mead to sample.  Once in a while it’s nice to change it up from beer, plus for those with a gluten-intolerance, cider is really the only option (with the exception of a of couple gluten-free beers floating around the market).

Time was limited, and as the session began waning, I had to make a difficult decision: Attend the “Women in Craft Beer” seminar, or continue sampling beers and mingling.  I decided to go to the seminar, as I was genuinely interested in what these ladies had to say and probably needed a little break from drinking anyway (after consuming imperial stouts, wheat beers, and Belgian triples one tends to get a little fuzzy in the head).  I enjoyed Olivia Cerio (brand manager for Empire Brewery), Jessica Tabac (Brewery Agent), and moderator Mary Izett (blogger/homebrewer extraordinaire) talk about their roles in the craft beer industry.  Unfortunately, the seminar tent’s location was by the bathrooms, making it difficult to hear the discussion over sounds of boisterous antics.  At one point, two extremely intoxicated morons (I’d call them gentleman but they weren’t) decided to crash the talk by rudely smoking cigars (which were being sold by vendors) and interjecting with unnecessary comments.  The crashing was ironic, given the seminar’s topic of women in craft beer and their struggle to be taken seriously and respected.  I applaud the ladies for keeping their cool as I tried my hardest not to use my tasting glass as a weapon.  Unfortunately, it seems like there’s always one (or several) of “those guys” at every beer festival.  Don’t be that guy.

As our session (which was the day—I can’t speak for the night) came to a close, we desperately tried to fit in a few more tastes and ended up at Wandering Star, where our last taste was that of their Ultimate Summer Session Rye (USSR) being offered in a firkin (a quarter barrel cask whose name is really fun to say).  Chris Cuzme was on hand to talk to us about cask ales and this particular brew, which I think is one of the best casks I’ve ever had.  The beer was great—a summer rye beer (self-explanatory) that had a sweet malty flavor and was reddish-brown in color.  I savored the beer as the taps closed down for the end of the session.  A great beer to end a great day.

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