Last Friday I hopped in my car, crossed the border, and headed South with one destination in mind: Boston, and the so-called ‘ultimate throwdown of craft beer creativity.’ I had only 8 hours before festival start time to make the 6 hour drive, and I did it in 5 and a half (with a pit-stop for soup at Panera Bread). I navigated the freeways, occasionally staying in the wrong lane and pulling up to Logan Airport, before I finally parked the car underground, and got into my fest best – a blue Paul Bunyan-esque Dogfish Head t-shirt that I bought from the brewery back in August. I was ready to go, but still had an hour to kill, so I took the short walk over to Trillium Brewing Company to pick up a growler of their delicious Fort Point Pale Ale and a bottle of their oatmeal porter. And while the line just to get from the street to the bar took over half an hour to move, it was worth it just to stand there and smell the pungent hops that seemed to waft right on out into the alley. I doubt it is intentional, but it sure makes standing there more pleasant.
After that, it was time for extreme beer. I had ordered my tickets within 5 minutes of them going on sale back in November, and had actually managed to snag VIP, which was supposed to include a one-hour private tasting session with Sam Calagione and friends. Unfortunately, the private tasting was cancelled at the last minute, but I was refunded in full and still able to enter the festival first with the other VIPs. But let me step back a minute before I bombard you with beer. Extreme Beer Fest is an annual beer festival event in Boston organized by Beeradvocate, and while it is not as big in terms of number of beers and brewers as their American Craft Beer Fest at the end of May (which will have upwards of 650 beers available and was a great time when I attended it two years ago), it is a lot bigger in terms of the styles of beer being poured. This year’s event was also the biggest one they’ve hosted, featuring 300 beers, 70 breweries, and three 2000+ ticket sessions. Dogfish Head sponsors the event, and the aim is for brewers to bring unique beer that might not be part of the brewing company’s regular line-up. To quote Beeradvocate: “Your mind will be blown. Your palate will be inspired.”
Palate inspiration was almost instantaneous. I came to the festival with the intention of trying a few different breweries specifically, some of which I knew were notorious for cranking out unthought-of beers; some of which just had some of the white whales you might not find again for a long time. Admittedly, as I ponder this white-whale philosophy more and more, it seems a little silly, especially at a festival where you only get a 2oz pour that you probably are going to share with your friend anyway, to be so focused on trying these rare beers, and I really don’t think I’m any better for having tried things like Dark Horse’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Plead the Fifth or Lost Abbey’s Deliverance. But I realized this during the festival, and was able to try lots of cool things from breweries I had never heard of, and beers I could never have even conceived of in my mind.
After stopping at Toppling Goliath first (I knew the line would get very long within 5 minutes), I hopped on over to Funky Buddha Brewery, knowing that they made some really unique beers that also happened to taste really awesome. Suffice it to say, the rumours were true. I first got their Last Snow porter, which is made with toasted coconut, and their No Crusts brown ale which was straight up peanut butter and brown sugar – it was like the classic breakfast I used to make as a kid (though I kept the crusts on). I was so impressed with both beers that I got right back in line again and tried the other two they were offering (a passionfruit berliner weisse, which is a sour wheat beer, and their Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, which is pretty much what it sounds like. I’ve had beers that advertised having bacon qualities about them, but this one was by far the best. By far.). I then turned my attention to Cigar City, whose recent Hunaphu Day fiasco really seems to signify a downward turn in craft beer culture in America. Sad. Then Firestone Walker, who weren’t pouring much (though I did get a fancy sticker) and The Bruery, whose Chocolate Rain was the equivalent of taking a shot of chocolaty hard liquor, and smelled like it too, before heading down to get some sour beers from Cascade Brewing from Oregon. This jumping around continued for a while before I started to feel the beers catching up with me, so I stopped and grabbed a grilled cheese. Recharged, I went back at it again for probably another hour, tasting smokey beers, spicy beers, sour beers, sweet beers, chocolaty beers, hoppy beers, salty beers, funky beers, fruity beers, and everything else in between. Again, I was starting to feel defeated, so I took a break and grabbed a cheese plate from a local cheese booth. You really can’t beat cheese with beer.
I came around and was ready for another go at the beer list. I had probably tried 50 by this point, and this Russian Imperial Stout was blending in with that Russian Imperial Stout, so I decided to be diligent with the beers I chose from then on. I decided to try a place from Jersey, called Carton Brewing, as they had friendly folks working the crowd a bit outside their booth. As it turned out, they weren’t just friendly, but also had some really interesting beers. I tried Swisher, which was explained to me as their interpretation of a cigar in beer form, so I should get some tobacco sweetness, cherry tartness and smokey flavour. Didn’t think I’d ever drink a cigar, but this is probably as close as it gets. They also do a beer called Regular Coffee, which is a 12% abv beer with all the smells and tastes of a coffee with a twist: it’s a pale cream ale. I didn’t get the chance to try it, but I pine for it now.
One final regret I have about the festival is that I missed out on the chance to meet Sam Calagione. Half the reason I bought the VIP ticket was to get to have a beer with the man, so I was a little disappointed when that was cancelled, but as it turns out, the brewmaster decided to work his own Dogfish Head booth and pour beer for those people in line. I saw that he was there, so I eventually jumped in line, but by the time I got to the front he had gone elsewhere. Just as well. A lot of people seemed to approach him and want pictures or have them in their video beer blog (some noob in a hockey jersey was running around with a camera-guy behind him trying to interview different brewers, from what I gathered). Then, when Jim Koch, founder of Sam Adams approached Sam and started talking to him, more fanboys and girls seemed to swarm looking for a picture or autograph, and I felt kind of stupid seeing them do that and wanting the same thing myself. Am I really ‘that guy?’ So I didn’t meet Sam Calagione (or Jim Koch), but it was okay, and I did meet a lot of other cool brewers and drinkers too.
By the time our three and a half hours was up, my taste-buds were toast, and not Funky Buddha’s French Toast brown ale. But I was happy, and still am. The beers were extreme, as advertised, and my palate was inspired. I’d never had so many unique beers before, and it sure beat having thirty IPA’s in a row from some other festival (unless, of course, they were excellent IPA’s). I went back to the room (which happened to be at the connected Seaport Hotel and therefore a very short elevator ride away) ordered a pizza, and cracked open my Trillium growler. All was well in Boston that night.
Extreme Beer Festival is, in my opinion, in a unique league of its own when it comes to beer festivals. Not many places will one find so many extreme (for lack of a better adjective) beers in one place, nor have your mind blown by so many different beers all in succession. I would love to make this an annual event. And maybe next year Sam will pour my beer.