Monday, July 23, 2012

20th Annual Vermont Brewer's Festival: Drink Vermont Beer!

ok! if you say so!

This past Saturday we went up to Burlington, VT, for beer fest. Beer fest is quite fun, even back when I didn't actually drink beer. Now that I do (and also, that they have more options of the type of beer I like (i.e. wheaty), it's massively fun.

The first year I went, I enjoyed ciders and free sodas, Zero Gravity's Gruit (hops-less beer, the gateway beer for me), and gave my extra tickets to my boyfriend. The second year I went, I liked more beer so I drank more beer, but of course you only keep your head about you for so long, so I can't really tell you any of the good ones.

This year, I had a plan. I jotted down all the breweries that had something I particularly wanted to try (not what exactly I wanted, so towards the end, I really had no idea why I was going to this particular booth) and made a note of the order in which I tried each thing. This also slowed us down, and as a result, all 4 of us felt pretty fantastic on Sunday morning (that and the free ice water provided). We arrived an hour and a half before the session started (there are 3 sessions: Friday evening, Saturday day and Saturday evening, we always go to the Saturday day session, then have dinner in Burlington before heading back) and got an amazing spot in line (Clint's holding our spot in the first picture, he is beyond the stone sculpture thing, at the very, very front). They checked IDs before letting us into this little holding area, then at 11 scanned our tickets and gave us our tasting glasses and tasting tickets to let us into the actual festival area, where we were stopped by ropes and had to wait until the official start time, 11:30 (give or take 10 minutes) to go beyond the ropes to the beer tents.

We were pretty alert and excited while we waited to get across the ropes. During this time, I had the brilliant notion to scour the booklet and make a note of all the breweries I wanted to visit.

They had some real characters working. I can imagine this guy has never missed a beer fest. He wore a necklace of bottle caps.

And then we were in!! We made a beeline for Lawson's (of Waitsfield, VT), since they ran out last year. Here is Clint and his first tasting of the day, a collabeeration (ha) between Lawson's Finest Liquids and Maine Beer Company, with assistance from Valley Malting in Hadley, MA.

I had Session in the Rye, which had an interesting flavor that I can't identify- probably rye. It was wheaty but with a hint of something else, kind of like multigrain bread. I have a palette but it's not very well-educated.
Next we headed towards Dieu du Ciel, another brewery that ran out last year. Dieu du Ciel is from Quebec, so unlike most of the other breweries present, if you don't try it at the festival, you can't go out and get it (unless you go to Canada). Everyone else apparently had this same idea, because the line was incredibly long- I should have taken a picture. Think Space Mountain at Disney World.

On the way, however, we paused at Fiddlehead (Shelburne, VT) for the Mother Goose, which G got first and said wasn't great, so I let Clint get a tasting and I'd just try his. Well, I liked it! It was a pale, wheaty beer with a taste of gooseberries (and actual gooseberries added before serving), and since I like gooseberries, I thought it was pretty neat!

On the left is the Mother Goose, on the right is Zero Gravity's Juhlia, description below.

Anyway, now we're in line at Dieu du Ciel, and it's impossibly long. So D and I ran next door to Zero Gravity (of Burlington, VT) for our favorite Gruit. D took home a growler. This was a smart move, I wish I had done the same. However, I am actively trying to lose weight right now, and having a growler of delicious hops-less beer in my fridge is not conducive to the weight loss attempts (8lbs down so far! go me!)

Ok, now we started getting a little confused. While D and I were in line at Zero Gravity, Clint got in line a few people behind us, to try the Juhlia, a Finnish style beer (Juhlia is Finnish for celebration), which was a collabeeration with Earth, Bread and Beer Brewery from Mt Airy, PA. G held our places in the Dieu du Ciel line, and D and I were both hoping to try Rose d'hibiscus (Belgian Wit with hibiscus flowers) and G and Clint were going to try Umami (Morel Beer- very brief descriptions!), but the tap wasn't up yet for Umami so below Clint shows off Aphrodite, a cocoa and vanilla stout that we enjoyed at the first beer fest we attended. The hibiscus one was really good, like dunking a hisbiscus herbal tea bag in your belgian white. I know, not for everyone, but I liked it- especially on a hot day, it was pretty refreshing.

By this time, it was too much to deal with the camera anymore, so that's the end of the beer pictures. I tried, really I did!

So now I've used 3 tickets but finished off Clint's Mother Goose, so technically we're each on beer 4.

Beer 4: from Hopfenstark Brewery of L'Assumption, Quebec
Boson de Higgs (Berlinder rauch saison) and La Frambise (raspberry witbeer). I remember the raspberry as being good, but just standard raspberry witbeer good, not amazing.

Beer 5: from Defiant Brewing Co. of Pearl River, NY
Defiant Muddy Creek Lager  (Clint) and Defiant Raspberry Wheat (me)- the raspberry wheat was kinda sorta about the same as the previous raspberry wit.
D and G went to Wormtown, which was in the tent 2 down from Defiant. Clint and I declined to go there, since this place is about a half mile from our house and we could walk there. (Have we? We'll fix this). They tried the Charles II and Maizok, both of which were decent (I had one sip of each, so I can't elaborate)

Beer 6: Cape Ann Brewing in Gloucester, MA
Sunrise Saison, aka strawberry rhubarb beer (me- it was all I could do to mark down what I had, much less Clint). This beer was excellent. Have you had the strawberry rhubarb wine from Nashoba Valley Winery? This is the beer version- the strawberry and rhubarb flavor is apparent, but not overwhelming, and it's just a tiny bit sweet. I used my very last ticket for this one as well.

"Beer 7": Cheese tasting!
At beer fest, they have an "Education Tent" set up, where for the price one of your tickets, you can sit in a covered area and learn and eat and drink. We so enjoyed the beer and cheese pairing last year that we decided to do it again. It was hosted by Harpoon brewery and VT Farmstead Cheese. They paired UFO white with Brick Hause Tilsit (similar to a harvati), then Rye IPA with Windsordale, then the classic Harpoon IPA with alehouse cheddar (a cheddar made using beer, then soaked in beer, then beer is used a third time somehow), and then Munich Dark with a pepper windsordale. I think I liked the first pairing the best, but the alehouse and pepper windsordale cheeses the best. The pepper windsordale was hot but it was almost more smoky than hot. I didn't really care for the Munich Dark, too bitter for me.

Beer 8: Vermont Pub & Brewery (Burlington, VT)
This was a surprise- I went in for Forbidden Fruit (beer fermented with 500lb of fresh raspberries per batch), but D ordered (that) first, then asked the girl what her favorite was, and she replied that she loves the "Chocolate Raz"- half Forbidden Fruit and half Lake Champlain Chocolate Stout. So of course I tried that. And it was pretty ridiculously good. I'm not such a fan of chocolate stouts, they're just a little too heavy for me, but the lighter raspberry beer really cut it down to be drinkable for me. Love, love, love.

Beer 9: Harpoon of Windsor VT
Ginger wheat- not overly gingery, and since I really really love ginger, I would have liked it to be more gingery. But otherwise it was good.
Clint had the Pumpkin Imperial Spruce Stout from Rock Art of Morrisville, VT, which wasn't pumpkiny at all but you could taste the spruce (apparently spruce has a lot of Vitamin C, so if you need to prevent scurvy while drinking a lot of beer, go for a spruce beer)

Beer 10: Magic Hat (South Burlington, VT).
Normally I'm not such a Magic Hat fan, we had a ton of it (and Harpoon and Long Trail) in grad school (not that I drank any of it, since I didn't really like beer until more recently) but I've always enjoyed the fun labels Magic Hat has. Right now there's a contest to design the label on their newest beer.
Apple Pie Ale, using apples from Champlain Orchards. This was pretty good, you could definitely taste the apple flavor. I kind of want to try it again, when my taste buds aren't quite so shot.
and Clint had Captain Jack's Scurvy Syrum (a smoky spruce beer, pretty good!) from Vermont Beer Company in Bradford, VT

Beer 11: Brooklyn Brewery (South Deerfield, MA)
Brooklyn Mary's Maple Porter. My written comments (which are legible, I might add!) were "very good for a porter". I'm a Porter's Girl, but not a porter girl. This one had some maple flavor (again, can I try it when my tastebuds aren't shot?) but wasn't overwhelming. My parents keep pushing for lunch in Deerfield, so maybe we can go and then bop on down the road to Brooklyn Brewery.

Beer 12: Saranac Brewery of Utica, NY
Saranac Shandy, a bottled shandy (something I'd never heard of, gasp!) that was really, really tasty, especially this late in the day.
Clint had their High Peaks Ginger Saison, which, after the shandy, didn't taste like much! oops.

This is when I went over to Allaghash to try their Allaghash white (with coriander and curacao), and they were out. So instead we went over to...

Beer 13: Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, MI (ooh, exotic!)
Cerise, a beer with sour cherries added. I LOVE sour cherries so I thought this was pretty awesome. G didn't agree.
Clint tried the Curmudgeon, an old ale brewed with molasses. We don't remember much about it...

Beer 14: Trapp Lager, of Stowe, VT
Gose, a collabeeration with Magic Hat, wheaty with coriander and sea salt. I like sea salt, so I liked this. Others did not agree.

Finally, Beer 15: a revisit to Cape Ann for the Sunrise Saison (strawberry rhubarb). They're pretty strict about the end time of the festival (partly because they need to clear us all out to get ready for the next session), so they had announcers every few minutes announcing how much longer we had, and as the girl from Cape Ann handed me my beer, the horn sounded, signaling the official end. Just in time!

After that, we wandered over to American Flatbread for some delicious flatbread pizza. We saw many other beer fest attendees (recognizable by our red bracelets), and most of us were guzzling water with our meals.

American Flatbread has cool buzzers to let you know your table is ready.

Next year we'll see if I can be even more organized and actually get pictures of all the beers. Probably not, but I will try!

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