What’s Brewing: The American Craft Beer Fest

The fourth annual American Craft Beer Fest took place over the weekend at the World Trade Center: more than 100 brewers, 500 beers, and at least 10,000 people swarmed to the waterfront for the two-day, three-session event like ants to a pile of melting jellybeans. Armed with homemade pretzel necklaces and a strategic game plan (first stop: Cisco Brewers for Pechish Woods), we entered the venue along with 5,000 other beer geeks and nongeeks alike for the sold-out Saturday afternoon session.

Over the past couple of years we’ve been to several beer fests, and we have to say that this one was a supremely well-oiled machine. The line to enter the building, by the time we arrived, had easily stretched to 900 people. But once it started moving, we were inside the front door — ID’s checked and wristbanded — in less than 15 minutes. Event staffers were plentiful, water stations with dump buckets were refilled and emptied regularly, and any spills were cleaned up with a quickness. We’ll award an extra 800 bonus points for hyperawareness: Our buddy dropped his Charlie Card on the floor, and not three seconds later a staffer had run up to let him know.

While we accepted early on that there was simply no way to hit every brewery in the room in three hours, our efforts to strategize ahead of time paid off. Without further ado, here’s a list of our faves of the day:

Surly Brewing Company (Brooklyn Center, MN): Five (American Wild Ale)
This five-year anniversary beer is a dark ale aged in red wine barrels — we’ve always been partial to funky beers, so it’s no surprise this one ranked high on our list. Fermented with Brettanomyces, this sour beer had notes of cherry and oak and achieved that perfect balance between tang and malt. I’d tell you to run out and buy it, but chances are you won’t find it anywhere around here.

Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery (Athens, OH): Bourbon Barrel-Aged Raccoon Dubbel (Dubbel)
Dubbel + bourbon barrels + maple syrup = dark, sweet, and just unbelievably delicious.

White Birch (Hooksett, NH): Barrel-Aged Elysium (American Double/Imperial Stout)
Elysium refers to the blissful resting place of the heroic and virtuous. And if we’re talking paradise and happiness, then this is an apt name for this dark brew. At 11 percent ABV, it’s dry and light-bodied, with hints of cherry and plum, and surprisingly not too heavy on sweetness.

Bobcat Café & Brewery (Bristol, VT): Saison De Cassis (Saison/Farmhouse Ale)
As its name would suggest, this saison is brewed with black currants. Medium-bodied and just lightly sweet, it’s a fabulous brew to kick off the summer season. As one of my beer-drinking companions put it, “It’s what all those bullshit fruit wheat beers should strive to be. It allowed both the fruit and the Saison to shine.”

Were you at this year’s ABCF? Tell us what you thought and/or send us your picks for the day.