Saint John Beer Fest 2014 Recap

I wouldn’t say that I’m still licking my wounds after the Saint John Beer Fest (today is National Beer Day, after all), but yesterday certainly consisted of a lot of naps and apple juice. But well worth it for another great local beer fest.
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Saint John Beer Fest, now in its third year this year, really has the advantage of having a great location, albeit a small one. Most festivals I’ve been to take place in a more-or-less rectangular area with brewers lined up against the walls. That’s fine. It makes it easy to be methodical about the booths you hit. SJBF was laid out in the same spirit as those others festivals, but where the Market Square Atrium is only so big, the festival seemed to be pushing its way out almost into the hallways. One thing I really liked about the venue was being able to go up to the second floor and get a bird’s eye view or even just catch your breath (it was getting stuffy at points, as beer festivals do). Having buskers there for entertainment was also a smart move (other than running the risk of having increasingly drunk people dodging around flying swords) – live music would just drown out conversation, which is part of the reason one goes to a beer fest, so why not just throw some silent buskers into the middle of the room instead? Admittedly, some of the boys I was with were there mostly for the conversation, taking up the strategy of choosing booths based on the attractiveness of the girls working at them. Why not, I guess?

SJBF from above

SJBF from above

I was also pretty excited to try my hand at the “beer geek challenge,” hosted by local liquor writer Craig Pinhey, but it didn’t necessarily pan out the way I may have hoped (and it’s not just because I didn’t win!). To me the challenge came down to a lot more luck than geekyness (I’m sure there were lots of geeks in the crowd), where a person had a 1-in-3 chance of being entered into the bingo-drum, from which 3 people were randomly selected. Out of pure luck I was one of the three chosen to compete, which consisted of the tasting of 3 different beers and having to name each beer’s general style. I still a little perplexed about how I lost (I know I got at least two right, and I talked to the winner who said that he wrote that the brown ale was a porter…), but, c’est la vie, and congrats to Tony on his win. This was the first year for this event, so I’m sure details will be more ironed out next time.

I still felt like a winner (and I’m sure most people there did after that many beer); I finally got to try some Hammond River beers compliments of owner Shane Steeves himself. His Hop Flash IPA ended up taking home 1st place at the fest, and it really was a treat. A lot of the other usual suspects were there too – Picaroons, who had an army of staff there, including both Sean Dunbar and Esty, as well as a nice cask of dry-hopped Yippee IPA; Garrison brought some more special one-offs, which, just like at the Fredericton Craft Beer Festival, were the highlights of their table; Pump House had a self-serve cask (not sure how it didn’t end up all over the floor); Derek from Shiretown was pouring beers – and if there were a prize for biggest smile in the house, I swear that guy would win. All the time. Then there were the big companies and imports and I was able to get my hands on a Steigl Radler again. One of my partners in crime for the night was making a big push to try to get that beer to win best of the fest, but I think his campaign fell a little short.

Getting on the Steigl Radler wagon

Getting on the Steigl Radler wagon

And a couple of the bigger guys really impressed me. Moosehead, who had a fairly decent chunk of real estate in the atrium, had two of their cask beers flowing all night, and they were great, as always. And Alexander Keith’s had some mini-infusers at their table, and they were filling them with different ingredients (different fruits, and I think I even saw a pepper) and their Hops Series beers. I didn’t stop by the table, but I probably should have.

All in all, another successful beer festival; the food there was good, the beers were great, and I probably talked to almost every brewer in that room (sorry! I like to ask questions). I’m a second-place beer geek, but a first-place festival appreciater (that’s really cheesy). My greatest disappointment is that I now have to wait until mid-July for the next fest in New Brunswick.

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