It was certainly a busy weekend for beer here in Boston with the fifth annual Extreme Beer Festival, sponsored by BeerAdvocate.com. Sold out weeks in advance, the festival was an unparalleled opportunity to sample some of the geekiest products out there, including popular Ebay favorites, Surly Darkness, Port Brewing Angel’s Share, Portsmouth Brewery’s Kate the Great, among dozens of others. The list was so strong that it was only after the event that it dawned on me that there were more than a dozens beers that I have wanted to try that I didn’t even know were going to be there.
One of the things that sets the BA festivals apart from most other events is its long-standing dedication to consumer education. Over the years, the BA fests have played host to a range of industry pioneers, stalwarts, and rock stars. Whether individual soapbox speeches, tutored tastings, or the more recent advent of panel discussions, the events give attendees a great opportunity to listen to and question their favorite brewers.
For the last several years, I’ve had the good fortune to play moderator on many of these panels (after participating as a member of the very first panel at the New England Beer Festival several years ago). This year’s panelists represented a wide swath of breweries from around the country and didn’t disappoint. For the second annual Friday ‘Night of the Barrels’ session, we played host to Bryan Selders, head brewer at Dogfish Head, Jason Perkins, head brewer at Allagash Brewing, Tomme Arthur, of Port Brewing and the Lost Abbey, Will Meyers, head brewer at the Cambridge Brewing Company, and Chris Lively, publican proprietor of Ebenezers in Lovell, Maine. While the topic was supposed to be, “Aging Beer in Wood; what it does to why this old-school technique has become popular with brewers and consumer,” we frequently veered off topic to hit some interesting areas. One of the most memorable exchanges was the point-counterpoint debate between Tomme and Chris on the positive and negative sides to beer trading on Ebay. Chris stood up on behalf of beer traders everywhere, sheepishly acknowledging that he had paid more than $2,000 for a single keg of beer during one auction. Tomme’s comments, following closely on the heels of his recent ‘Fuck Ebay’ article in BeerAdvocate Magazine, solicited a mixture of applause and boos from the active audience. One attendee from Pennsylvania, who lamented his inability to get the Port Brewing line in his local area, even took to the mic to chide Tomme about his article. The rest of the panelists judged the debate a draw and Tomme happily visited Chris’s pub for a beer dinner a few days later.
The Saturday afternoon session was no less lively. After some delays thanks to the MBTA, I hosted Matt Cohen, head brewer at Magic Hat, Jeremy Cowan, proprietor of Shmaltz Brewing, Jeff O’Neil, head brewer at Ithaca Beer, Todd Charbonneau, brewery at Harpoon Brewery, and social wallflower Jim Koch, founder and brewer of Boston Beer Company. I was impressed at how each of the panelists handled a wide range of questions on extreme beer and its impact on craft beer and beer drinking culture. I arrived to find more than a hundred people jammed into the friendly confines of the designated speaker section at the Cyclorama. With all the chairs filled, people sat on the floor and lined the walls all around. Without question, many attendees were there for the chance to hear Jim Koch speak, and as usual, he didn’t disappoint. Always quick with a joke, a story, or an amusing anecdote, Jim even recounted his brewery’s playful recreation of an old beer recipe using recently slaughtered chickens for a friend’s 50th birthday. The beer was aptly named, ‘Old Cock Ale.’ The story elicited a mixture of laughter and horror from the attendees. Looking down the table at Jim, Todd Charbonneau slyly inquired, ‘what’s the head retention on that beer?’ Without missing a beat, Jim replied, ‘At 50, not much.’
Congratulations to the folks at BeerAdvocate, and to all the brewers and attendees, for another successful festival.
–Disclosure: I write for BeerAdvocate Magazine and, as noted above, moderate many of the panel discussions at these festivals.